The architecture of youth centres has never been free of commitment. It had an educational function – certainly in the ideological view of communism in eastern Europe, or so the authorities believed. ‘In this house the walls shall teach,’ ordered Pravda when the Young Pioneer Palace opened in Moscow. In fourteen essays and twenty-five case studies, this remarkable publication examines where this architectural politics was to lead in the twentieth century. What remains of this ‘social constructivism’?
The designer has opted for an unusual structure but did elect for a clear visual logic, which is hammered into us from the table of contents onwards. Every chapter appears to have been provided with a watermark. On the cover we see the floor plan of one of these buildings for the young, complete with people doing things (on the back, some of them appear to be escaping). The lettering here is almost deliberately amateurish, as if stencilled. The whole thing has an academic air, and in graphic terms the ‘irregularity’ is slightly forced. Take for instance the option to place what would otherwise have been footnotes in a different alignment from the main text; the same goes for the captions. Sometimes the whole thing is reminiscent of an old newspaper with that coarse half-tone, though the typography is more careful.
Nevertheless, the general sense of calm and restraint is preserved by the choice of paper (Munken Polar Rough) and the fresh faint green palette. There is an insistent rhythm, provided by the Gill Sans: ‘All through the book you can hear a loud hiss,’ someone said. Some readers may need a degree of stamina before they can acquire its flavour and get the hang of it. Once you’re in the flow, however, you find your appreciation only growing. In Walls That Teach, designers Sandra Kassenaar and David Bennewith have endowed the notion of architecture as an ideological machine with surprising breadth. A cool book.