Citizens of No Place

Monday 16 Apr 2012

Matthew Goodwill reviews Jimenez Lai's new text: an architectural graphic novel

The idea of an architectural graphic novel may seem odd, as graphic novels tend to depict dark and fictional worlds, yet reading through Jimenez Lai’s Citizens of No Place: An Architectural Graphic Novel it feels like the genre was made for architecture. The story explores the idea of the human race having to leave Planet Earth in a distant future, and uses ‘lessons’ of history throughout to show how architecture evolved and shaped society before the migration. The book is not text-heavy so does not take long to finish, however the drawings make up for this.

Throughout the novel, the cartoons and graphics are consistently of a high standard and explore architectural drawings in a way that allows the story to develop; this architectural undertone allows the book to live up to its name, An Architectural Graphic Novel. The drawings range from infographics to typical graphical novel cartoons and all are drawn clearly and placed coherently in a readable order. The exploration of form drives the story, as the search for the perfect form is approached in various manners, some questioning the notion of plans and sections as tools of design, where other parts of the book see anthropometric studies shaping the subject of the drawing. This exploration of form through the slightly informal medium of cartoon is actually very engaging and whilst reading made me think about how I approach the way I design as an architecture student.

The story itself - whilst slightly surreal and strange in places - is also thought-provoking. In one chapter the story approaches the need for buildings to become taller and the hypothetical scenario that humans began building to the highest levels of the atmosphere develops. Whilst only fictional it raises some interesting questions about the way architecture currently strives to be bigger and taller than all previous attempts, coming to the logical conclusions that we would eventually end up pushing human limits along with architectural limits. All the way through the book, questions like these are raised, with intriguing entries of text that are then cleverly examined through drawing.

From the outset, the author (Jimenez Lai) explains the premise of the book as a pursuit of paper architecture. Paper architecture allows its illustrator to devise completely fictional buildings and scenarios that are completely expressed through the written word and drawings. This book is no doubt a piece of paper architecture, yet the twist of a graphic novel keeps it fresh. The philosophical nature of the storyline is interesting and intellectually stimulating but what makes the book are the brilliant drawings. Some are extremely complex and some are very simple, however this contrast does not render one or the other less fascinating. This book not only provides a good read but its content is something that you can continue to study once you have finished the story.

Matthew Goodwill

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