Designing the Carlo Scarpa monograph

Designer Béla Stetzer talks us through his work on our forthcoming book on the mid-century modernist architect
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Our new Carlo Scarpa monograph, designed by Béla Stetzer
Our new Carlo Scarpa monograph, designed by Béla Stetzer

The Italian architect Carlo Scarpa, was as adept in designing glasswork as he was in creating beautiful buildings. In each case he imbued his work with particular creative idiosyncrasies: an attention to detail, a certain use of colour, as well as a peerless sense of craft and devotion to environmentalism. Little wonder Phaidon editor Tom Wright believes Scarpa "falls within the pantheon of 20th century modern masters."

Yet how do you do justice to so great a legacy when committing Scarpa's work to print? Here, Béla Stetzer, the graphic designer of Scarpa's first great monograph, discusses the architect's influence on his own labours, from Scarpa's use of concrete through to his fascination with the number 11.

How did the project come about for you?

I had the chance to work on two previous architectural books for Phaidon. The first was a monograph about the architect and Pritzker Prize laureate Fumihiko Maki; the second was a book called The Future of Architecture Since 1889, a kind of architectural standard work by the author Jean-Louis Cohen. I started to work with Phaidon on books about architecture (which I like a lot personally), and I've continued to do so.

 

The contents page from our new Carlo Scarpa monograph
The contents page from our new Carlo Scarpa monograph

This is the first definitive study of Scarpa's work. How did you feel when you were offered the project?

It was a great opportunity - and a great challenge, too to work on a book about someone who was so blessed with ideas, and who was so addicted to dealing with both the big picture and the little details.

 

An early design concept for our new Carlo Scarpa monograph
An early design concept for our new Carlo Scarpa monograph

What exactly is in the book?

Within 11 Chapters and 288 pages, the reader will get an ultimate overview of Scarpa's very complex and detailed work. It provides comprehensive information about his work as an architect and as an inventor, but also about, say, the period when he worked as a glass designer for Cappellin, the Murano glass manufacturer. The book is richly illustrated with both old and new photographs - particularly a number of full-colour reproductions of his unique and complex drawings and sketches. The drawings are outstanding!

 

Pages from our new Carlo Scarpa monograph
Pages from our new Carlo Scarpa monograph

Could you give an example of how exactly Scarpa's work influenced the design?

Sets of 11 are an important theme in Scarpa's work, so the grid system is built up by using 11 columns that suit for text and picture presentation. We've used indents of 11 milimetres and type sizes that refer to sets of 11, too. Also, quotes or accentuations with quotation marks are set in the typeface Alternate Gothic Bold, 100% black. Interpreted architecturally from Scarpa's work, these accentuations act like material enclaves in concrete walls.

 

Our new Carlo Scarpa monograph
Our new Carlo Scarpa monograph

How did you approach the design of the book?

Carlo Scarpa appears to be an architect that one could hardly fit into architectural categories. His work was driven by architectural counterparts: symmetry and asymmetry, composition and disarrangement, modernistic purism versus ornamental playfulness, rough surfaces against first-rate quality materials. Nevertheless, there seems to be an immanent order, a kind of superstructure behind his work out of which every little detail, even its opposite, develops quite necessarily. So the main approach for me was to pick up special characteristics that you can associate with Scarpa's architectural work and transform them into a specific language of graphic design. We implemented a graphic system that acted as a kind of generator, so the content itself led to changing graphic surfaces and typographic spaces. I hope the design mirrors the richness in detail one can feel and see in Scarpa's work.

 

Béla Stetzer self portrait
Béla Stetzer self portrait


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