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Before WWII, the intellectual level of the American architectural press was scarcely higher than a hardware catalogue. Howard Myers, editor of Architectural Forum, wanted to address this by introducing the European avant-garde to the US. So he announced a new supplement called “PLUS: Orientations of contemporary architecture” that was “to add opinion, exploration and new controversy to reporting.” It was to be published bi-monthly as a kind of free little magazine to its big sister, the Forum.
A 16 page PLUS 1 appeared in December 1938 and included “Toward a unity of the constructive arts” by Naum Gabo and a 5 page article called “Can expositions survive?” by Dr. S. Giedion.
Gabo bemoaned the fact that “The period in which we are now living has anything but an exact or definite social organization or consciousness.” Giedion gave a brief history of the exposition, entwining it with the evolution of the new ornamentationless design and showing the way forward for the architectural taste of the period: “The problem of harmoniously uniting man and time cannot be superficially treated.”
However, it's not what was bluntly expounded in these pieces that might have influenced the 30,000 unsuspecting subscribers, but the visual vocabulary within which it was presented. The credits show the typography and layout to be by Herbert Matter, a young, unknown Swiss graphic designer. The composition of photographs, text, drawings and copy must have been a revelation in itself. Compare the cover of PLUS – an ice skater leaping over a dowdy armchair amidst a celebration of wondering red title and line – with that of the spiral bound Forum – plain black with white title and date in Times New Roman. It wouldn't have mattered if Giedion and Gabo had been writing a hardware catalogue, the message was simple: “this is how the future should look.”
Sadly, due to the war starting, PLUS lasted only three issues, each now worth several hundred dollars.
First published in the Architects' Journal 13th November 2008.
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