Back in the ‘80s I remember applying for a position that seemed promising as a graphic designer for Dover Publications. As I recollect, perhaps incorrectly, I dutifully trooped down some side street off Broadway to Dover’s New York city office, huffed up multiple floors of stairs, and ended up in this truly dusty and fusty office that seemed like a throwback to the late 1800s, with plank flooring the color of pitch from years of ground in dirt and tottering stacks of paper galleys that were the stuffing of actual books. Not a cubicle partition in sight.
Problematically, I hadn’t realized that Dover was not a publisher-from-scratch, but rather, a niche marketer for quick cheap copies of out-of-print though valuable old monographs. You know: the kinds of books that intelligent aliens seeking to understand human culture might find informative, like Serlio on Domestic Architecture, or Hugh Ferriss on The Power of Buildings.
|"Palladio? Alberti? Mere punters! Ragazzi!"-- Serlio|
|Serlio's notion of a vacation villa in Vicenza...and this is not Vicenza, Kansas, Dorothy!|
Take Dover’s resurrection of Serlio, who contributed significant Renaissance-era treatises on architecture (and a fabulous typeface), but always seemed overshadowed by Alberti and Palladio. Those Renaissance treatises offered measurable plans and facades from Roman monuments, ultimately influencing the classical revivals that directly shaped Washington...or virtually every major post office or municipal library built between 1900 and the 1950s in America.
|Jones' version of Celtic...um, How did he know already about Pepto-Bismol pink?|
If your tastes incline towards the sheer power of massive, plain-faced modernist volumes rather than decorated boxes, check out Dover’s version of Hugh Ferriss’ The Power of Buildings 1920-1950: A Master Draftsman’s Record. During the peak of his career in the 30s and 40s, Ferriss crafted a firm reputation as a ‘delineator,’ providing passionate renderings. Today, these can be pumped out dispassionately by computer programs like AutoCAD or Revit. There is sexiness and mystery in his foggy, chiaroscuro versions of New York’s terracotta tiled Woolworth Building, or the setback art deco masterpiece, the Daily News Building, or Rockefeller Center and the United Nations in their fetal stages. His thickly textured lines practically threaten to flake graphite or charcoal off the printed page and onto your lap. The originals are archived at Columbia University, and an annual prize in his name singles out individuals for excellence in rendering. Although trained as an architect, Ferriss made images of buildings that ‘sold’ modernism to the client and the public, in magazines like Harper’s or Vanity Fair, before commentators and critics made the structures iconic. Cultural maven Dan Okrent once noted that Ferriss’ futuristic renderings of skyscrapers and grandiose projects in development, like the 1939 World’s Fair Trilon and Perisphere, influenced a generation of modernist more than any single architect, despite the fact that Ferriss never designed a single building of note. Essentially, Ferriss’ drawings put the Gotham in Gotham City, Batman’s hometown.
|From the Metropolis of Tomorrow by Hugh Ferriss|
Karen L. Mulder passed on Dover’s need for quick and dirty graphics, taking a job on Madison Avenue designing the first generation of 'singing' cards. But those $5 to $15 Dover Books on art and architecture eventually became invaluable staples in her graduate education right through the doctorate in architectural history, in fact.