Forms of Formalism


An -ism is a distinctive practice, philosophy, or ideology within a particular field. The issue with -isms is that they are often taken as doctrine with no room for varying perspectives.

Which is why we were quite interested in Forms of Formalism, a series of little books that showcase big design concepts. We caught up with Louis De Belle, the founding editor, who explains why he prefers to survey (vs. critique) unique perspectives within the field of photography and architecture.

What is your background story?  

Forms of Formalism originated at the Bauhaus University of Weimar and is currently being run by two people: Louis De Belle (myself) as editor and Michael Romtöck as graphic designer.

So far, we've been involving six authors for each book (three writers and three photographers), with whom we discuss and make decisions about the content of the publication. Keeping a small team and involving few people each time, allows us to have a clear and effective work flow.

How did you come up with the concept? 

I've always been intrigued by small books as platforms to diffuse and reflect on topics. The first Forms of Formalism had a very small print run and was released on the occasion of an exhibition with our own works accompanied by essays of fellow architecture students.

I was interested in creating a chance for photographers and architects to confront the broad topic of "form". The feedback was great and we thought of keeping the project alive by involving people from abroad, while keeping a foot in the academic environment.

The Forms of Formalism books are very small … really pocket size! I like the idea that people can read it on the airplane, in the train, etc. In my opinion, that's one of its strengths. Also, it allows us to keep production and shipping costs low.

It probably wouldn't have the same feedback if it was a blog or a web magazine. It is based on what I myself would like to find in a bookshop: a simple book, carefully put together, half images/half text, with intriguing contributors. 

How do you curate for the books?

Simply put: by not following trend. The 50/50 split between images and texts is radical. I tend to include the works of photographers I admire or I'm in touch with. Forms of Formalism N3 features the works of three artists, who are very different: Bas Princen, a big name in architecture photography; Mishka Henner, a name probably closer to the art scene; Maxime Guyon, a very young photographer, fresh from the studies at ECAL in Lausanne. The same with our writers. 

What do you mean by "form and its -ism?"

Formalism is a broad term. It can assume various connotations: some may see in it a critical, or even negative, aspect; others might think of it as a fundamental aspect of many disciplines. The idea behind this book series is not to define, praise or condemn it. It's a survey around it.

We decided to relate it to the fields of photography and architecture. Hence, whether through aerial photographs of feedlots, close up images of technical components, or essays about maps and geo politics, each book provides six different points of view that can be all read in the same perspective.

What value are you trying to add? 

One of the written pieces in book N3, "Towards a Digital Talking Architecture", had an interesting line. The author states that architecture has been transformed "into a competition machine that merely produces projects each year, only good for filling the databases of Dezeen and ArchDaily". One may argue that this sentiment is applicable to other categories of design as well. How do you see Forms of Formalism being more that just a pretty instagram-worthy coffee table book?

I was interested in having Parasite 2.0's contribution, as it puts a very critical light on the notion of form. The resulting essay is linked to a project of theirs, that was specifically aiming towards the realm of digitalised architecture consumption mechanisms.

If someone perceives Forms of Formalism as a "just a pretty instagram-worthy coffee table book" I'd be totally fine with it. But probably it would mean that s/he didn't open it. Which is also ok with me, as long as s/he bought it. You see, the book needs to be both alluring and meaningful. By keeping the essays connected to a PhD network, I'm sure the bookworms will also appreciate our series!


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