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Book review: The ordinary and the extra ordinary

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AHMM founder Simon Allford has published a pocket essay setting out ‘some thoughts on architecture and the theatre of everyday life’

There’s something in the water in the world of miniature publishing. CZWG has recently released an illustrated guide to mark 40 years of practice. A Guide To The Built Work of CZWG Architects provides an enjoyable compendium of their buildings and a chance to reflect on the various success of nearly half a century in business. Only twelve years in to business Make architects have produced not one but two mini books, in landscape. With images on recto and text and information on the verso they work almost like large flick books, presenting a blur of colourful buildings in one volume and interiors in the other from across the 1,300 projects Make have worked on. 

Simon Allford of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris has written the text for a similarly diminutive imprint - but arguably more substantial - from the practice, published with FifthMan, entitled Extra Ordinary. This is far from a monograph of AHMM’s work, rather it puts forward ‘some thoughts on architecture and the theatre of everyday life’ illustrated with eclectic images ranging from Hogarth and Gillray etchings to Cedric Price’s ‘The City As An Egg’ to the Tees Transporter Bridge and musing on some of AHMM’s own work along the way.

Based on a talk given at the AHMM Spring Conference in 2015 and further developed in an RIBA lecture in December last year, Extra Ordinary presents the manifestation of and explores two key statements that have guided the practice since the four founding partners worked on their joint thesis at the Bartlett. Firstly that ‘it is in the field of everyday building that modern architecture has failed the city’ and secondly that ‘functional programme alone is not sufficient to generate architecture’. Basically the idea is that ‘boring can be good’ where boring doesn’t negate humanity and character. Fortunately Allford writes that his argument for ‘the universal building is not anti-form … to survive architecture must make a memorable impression’. His example is the Battleship Building in Paddington.

Extra Ordinary concludes with 12 AHMM case studies and the summation that ‘[their] architecture is about making the readymade bespoke’ which seems a clever contradiction but really summarises the consistent ideas at AHMM to make generic spaces (the readymade) that are ’specific (the bespoke) to their particular needs at their particular moment’.  From the opening musings on Mies van de Rohe to the ‘collage city’ of the TEA building this book is a thought-provoking discourse on what why and how our built environment could, and maybe should, be. Like the delight to be found in small books such as these, sometimes the small, humble idea is an equally delightful one. The form of Extra Ordinary to that end, pleasingly mirrors the argument laid out on its pages.

Czwg front cover

Make book

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