Gold Medal in the Book Design category at the European Design Award in Warsaw in 2019, winner of the student selection of the Best Dutch Book Design 2018, and more recently awarded the Architecture Book Prize by the Academy of Architecture in October 2019 (see our post), François Chaslin’s latest book is still being rewarded, in France and internationally.

In Rococo ou drôle d’oiseaux, published by Éditions Non Standard and modestly presented by the author as “entertainment”, Chaslin returns with humour and poetry to the recent controversies that surrounded Le Corbusier. A concise summary warns the reader that he is about to discover “The Le Corbusier affair as seen by one of its protagonists, with considerations on criticism, plagiarism, hogwash and denunciation” (1). But beyond apparent amusement and fable, Chaslin’s verve is also representative of quality writing in architecture, and his commitment is undoubtedly emblematic of a textuality specific to the discipline. The text can, moreover, be understood in turn alone or supported by the author’s drawings, hidden between the pages.

But what are the members of the prize juries looking for: the content – the text, the tropical horizon, even the literary quality? Or the form – the physical medium, the printed matter punctuated by admirable drawings that never cease to amaze us as we cut the paper?

In this award-winning book, the architect-writer depicts a disciplinary universe populated by colourful characters, a small world where proud roosters, croaking crows and cuckoo cuckoo looters intertwine. Such a work had to have a title that would make its mark; in “Prélude”, François Chaslin preferred “Drôles d’oiseaux” (“Funny Birds”), and with good reason: “Distracted booksellers would not present it next to Chopin’s twenty-four preludes or, even worse, in the architecture section, this confidential discipline relegated to a dark corridor, near the unsold stockroom” (2), in short, “where no one ever goes” (3). Books on architecture seem to be sidelined, or at least unknown to the general public – no one seems to read books written by architects; at most, they are leafed through.

In the video presentation of the publication, François Chaslin advises, not without humour, not to read his book in order to be able to talk about it better: “This is something I discovered: you talk much better about a book if you haven’t read it… this is why we could invite people not to buy it and not to read it” (4). To go further, architecture would have little aura or meaning without the text, as the architect and architectural historian Jean-Louis Cohen pointed out when he was awarded an honorary doctorate at the Université de Montréal, “The written word is crucial to the architectural culture that buildings and printed books, whether by architects or critics, constitute inseparably” (5).

In the eyes of François Chaslin, Rococo as a printed book remains “a beautiful object, but not a beautiful book; I don’t like the idea of a beautiful book, nor a book as an object – adds the author – it is a subject, it is a book with a personality” (6). While he was reluctant to add the drawings of birds, which could comment on the text and inject possible irony, Chaslin finally accepted his publisher’s idea by hiding the images in the folds of the book: “You can read the text without ever meeting a bird” (7).

So, let’s ask the question again: What do the jurors value in the prizes awarded to Rococo: the words or the audacity of the layout (8)? In a previous reflection on the Academy of Architecture Book Prizes, we had noted that the literary dimension of the work was targeted, the jury having appreciated its “literary, original and humorous form” (10). But the titles of the two other prizes won by Rococo lead us to believe that the “design” of the book is undoubtedly the element that prevails over textuality. This intuition would be confirmed by the criteria announced for the Best Dutch Book Design 2018 (note that this was the student selection): “the 295 entries were evaluated for their distinctive qualities by a panel of experts looking for outstanding work in aspects such as content, design, image editing, typography, choice of materials, printing and binding” (10).

Finally, with regard to the prize awarded by the European Design Award in Warsaw in 2019, the criteria focus on three areas of visuals: ‘1 – Quality of design, including the use of images, typography; 2 – Creativity, originality and artistic quality; 3 – Relevance, the extent to which the design meets the specific purpose for which it was conceived’ (11). The literary quality of Chaslin’s book would be secondary to image and composition. This observation echoes the observations of Pierre Chabard and Marilena Kourniati in their book Raisons d’écrire: “(…) from the point of view of material form, architects’ books privilege the articulation between text and images, between discourse and itinerary; from the point of view of reading, they are often less read than consulted, traversed in their visual narrative. (…) Indeed, more than writing books, architects know how to make hybrid editorial objects that have the ability to transform themselves to adjust to constantly changing conditions” (12).


  • (1) Back cover of the book; Chaslin, François. Rococo, ou drôles d’oiseaux (divertissement), Éditions Non Standard, Paris, 2018
  • (2) Chaslin, François. Rococo, ou drôles d’oiseaux (divertissement), Éditions Non Standard, Paris, 2018, p.32
  • (3) Chaslin, François. Rococo, ou drôles d’oiseaux (divertissement), Éditions Non Standard, Paris, 2018, p.32
  • (4) Transcription of an extract at 5’20 of the Rococo presentation video at the Librairie La Galerne (
  • (5) Extract from the speech for the honorary doctorate awarded to Professor Jean-Louis Cohen in 2019 (
  • (6) Transcript of an extract at 1’46 from the Rococo presentation video at the Librairie La Galerne (
  • (7) Transcript of an excerpt at 3’00 of the Rococo presentation video at the Librairie La Galerne (
  • (8) It should be noted that the design of the book is signed by Élodie Boyer and Patrick Doan (
  • (9) See, Note on the Architectural Book Awards (p.4/5), page consulted on 31 October 2019
  • (10) Information found at, accessed February 26, 2020
  • (11) Information found at, accessed February 26, 2020
  • (12) Pierre Chabard and Marilena Kourniati, Raisons d’écrire. Livres d’architectes 1945-1999, Éditions de la Villette, Paris, 2013, p.11


In October 2019, on the National Days of Architecture, the Academy of Architecture announced the winning work of its 25th edition of the Book Prize, and the 1st winner of the Book Prize for young people. The Academy Book Prize is annual, and rewards quality architectural works published the previous year, from May to May.

The distinction was created in 1994 by the Academy of Architecture, on an idea by Catherine Seyler and by Gérard Granval, who chaired the institution until 2018. In reaction to the observation that architectural culture is too little known in France despite the attempts to raise awareness deployed by cultural institutions, the mission of this award is to publicize architecture by presenting works of the discipline, whatever the nature of the writing proposed: “The objective of the Book Prize architecture is to enhance any form of architectural culture, whether scholarly, fictional, critical, sensitive or literary, or even committed to the major causes of architectural and urban space ”(1).

The book is therefore considered to be the favored means of provoking interest, a desire for architecture, at all ages. Through the implementation of the Children’s Book Prize, awareness is now spreading to the youth. Varied profiles are invited to participate. Judging by this one condition, that the prize-winning text offers a new perspective on the discipline or that it contributes to it … and that it is of quality, we begin to imagine that the criteria of the competition and the jury reports are likely to inform an understanding of the nature of quality writing in architecture, and even of its possible literary nature (2).

While the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) Architecture Book Award is based each year on the book’s design, the quality of its materials and its finish, as well as its level of innovation to pass judgment (see our post), the Academy Book Award risks defining quality in architectural writing. The first criterion would consist in “distinguishing a work carrying momentum, a question, a knowledge, a writing carrying meaning with regard to architecture, vis-à-vis history as vis-à-vis visuality” (3).

On this same note on the Architecture Book Awards, the organization is quick to add other criteria, deemed more precise: the theme and the work of the author are valued, although some exceptions may be identified. The writing must be clear, accessible and rigorous. The work must interest a large audience and be easily transmitted. The edition – or the argument of the collection of the work – must be of quality, and its reading must be comfortable. Finally, the criterion relating to the Children’s Book is located at the end of the same list, and relates to the quality of the illustrations, graphics and model (4).

The jury is made up each year of a dozen members from various backgrounds. The 2019 edition brought together 13 personalities. The deliberations took place on October 7, outside the premises of the Academy, at Centre d’architecture et d’urbanisme de Lille. This trip, during a judgment session, was an opportunity for the various players on the architectural scene to meet. The Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs, the City of Lille, the National Schools of Architecture, the Councils of Architecture, Urbanism and the Environment, the City Workshop, Architecture, Landscape, as well as the corresponding architects of the Academy of Architecture in Hauts de France were thus able to participate in decision-making.

The two Academy prizes were awarded by the Minister of Culture, in the presence of the President of the Academy of Architecture, on October 18, 2019 at the la Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine de Paris. The Architecture Award for Youth received 73 proposals for its first component. Note that all the publishers represented were French, and that the theme of the world was particularly represented (the word appears in 3 titles nominated out of 5). Habiter le monde (Éditions de La Martinière) by Anne Jonas and Lou Rihn was the book which won the prize for the illustrations presented, as well as “for the intelligence of his texts adapted to youth, clear and instructive. and connecting architecture and cities around the world to the diversity of their cultures” (5).

Note that a special Prize was awarded by the jury to Benjamin Mouton for Sens et Renaissance du patrimoine architectural (Éditions des Cendres, Cité de architecture et du Patrimoine – organization and place of the awarding of the prize), welcoming “a business that we would like to teach: the publication of thirty years of teaching on heritage ”(6). The only Book Prize awarded to Rococo (Éditions Non-Standard) by François Chaslin because of its “literary, original and humorous form” which “paints a portrait of his through his personal prism media environment that ignited around Le Corbusier” (7).

The appraisement by a jury of excellence awards of the literary character of an architectural text does not however guarantee that a book having received an award in architectural literature could receive a literary award. Architectural writing has an ambiguous status, as Emmanuel Rubio and Yannis Tsiomis point out in the introduction to the book L’architecte à la plume: “(…) falling under too much specialization for them, escaping too often for those … Perhaps this ambiguity is due to its very origin. In a way, the architect’s writing always occupies a secondary place: very often it accompanies the building, the image; at the very least, it seems to find its legitimacy in this other activity – founding – which precedes and exceeds it” (8). This writing which includes architecture, to paraphrase our two authors, would it not come from a textuality of architecture – in comparison with the materiality of architecture – rather than from a form of literature?

Lucie Palombi

Translated by Jade Swail

(1) See, Note sur les Prix du Livre d’architecture (p.1/5), consulted on October 31st 2019 : « Il s’agit de faire rayonner, par la lecture, la culture architecturale qui manque encore fortement en France. Il faut bien sûr saluer le développement des actions remarquables de sensibilisation (publications, expositions, films, reportages, etc) conduites par les institutions, publiques ou privées, dont c’est la mission, ainsi que les progrès de la connaissance apportés par la recherche. Mais il faut poursuivre l’effort et rendre la valeur et la nécessité de l’architecture plus visibles pour les citoyens, susciter l’envie d’architecture des citoyens ».

(2) See, Note sur les Prix du Livre d’architecture (p.1/5), consulted on October 31st 2019

(3) See, Note sur les Prix du Livre d’architecture (p.1/5), consulted on October 31st 2019  : « Tous les types de regards sont appréciés, sans aucun ostracisme pourvu que l’écrit primé apporte un éclairage particulier ou des connaissances sur l’architecture et qu’il soit de qualité »

(4) See, Note sur les Prix du Livre d’architecture (p.1/5), consulted on October 31st 2019  :

« – On s’attache en premier lieu au thème et on privilégie un travail d’auteur, même si des ouvrages savants issus de travaux d’équipe ont parfois été primés.

– L’écriture doit être claire, accessible et rigoureuse.

– On attend que l’ouvrage ait un pouvoir de transmission ou de conviction et puisse intéresser un large public.

– On est attentif à la qualité de l’édition, le cas échéant à l’argument de la collection, sans oublier les qualités de confort de lecture.

– Pour le Livre pour la jeunesse, la qualité des illustrations, graphisme et maquette. »

(5) See, Note sur les Prix du Livre d’architecture (p.3/5), consulted on October 31st 2019

(6) See, Note sur les Prix du Livre d’architecture (p.4/5), consulted on October 31st 2019

(7) See, Note sur les Prix du Livre d’architecture (p.4/5), consulted on October 31st 2019

(8) See Rubio, Emmanuel et Tsiomis, Yannis, L’architecte à la plume, Éditions de La Villette, Paris, 2019, p.5

Since the establishment of the DAM Architectural Book Award in 2008, one hundred and ten books have been granted awards: books that would potentially make for a library of contemporary excellence in architecture. However, these celebrations of writing in architecture seem to spark little reactions, even less so controversies.

October is generally marked by the Frankfurt Book Fair, where the winners of one of the four grand prizes solely dedicated to architecture books are being presented. A jury selects the propositions based on criteria of form and content: “design, ideas, quality of materials and finish, level of innovation and respect of delays” (1). Strictly speaking a “honorary distinction”, awards granted by the German Museum of Architecture does not involve a financial reward, though, as stated by its organizers, these distinctions “arouse more and more reactions” (2) as they believe that, in this period of increasing competition of new mediums of communication, architecture books remain reliable reference material.

All books on architecture with an ISBN published between June 2018 and August 2019 were eligible to compete: works edited for advertisement purposes or online publications and journals were not considered. The books presented to the DAM must match to one of the following categories: building monograph, illustrated books, documentaries (contemporary) history, children’s book, landscape architecture, textbooks, materials science, urbanism, and, finally, “special subject” — without further detail.

When a book is granted an award, his carrier — the person from the publishing house in charge of its dossier — grants their approval for the presentation of the book at the DAM’s kiosk at the Frankfurt Book Fair as well as in many other book fairs across the world through the same organization. The carrier also authorizes the publication of excerpts — several spreads containing text and illustrations — on the DAM’s website. In order to expose the award-winning books at the Frankfurt Book Fair as well as on the fair’s collective German and international stands, between six and ten additional copies must be made available free of charge at the disposition of the DAM by its editors.

The jury of external experts of this 2019 edition was composed of six representative members of many disciplines and book trades: Hendrik Hellige (Frankfurt Book Fair), Micheal Kraus (M Books Verlag publishers), Friedrike von Rauch (photography), Florian Schülter (architect and member of the board of directors of the Society of the Friends of the DAM), Adeline Seidel (journalist) and David Voss (designer). The four internal jurors reinforce the museum’s say over the award: Peter Cachola Schmal (director of the DAM), Anette Becker (curator at the DAM), Oliver Elser (curator at the DAM), Christina Budde (curator at the DAM) — a total jury, internal and external, of an even effective of ten members, five of whom are tied to the German museum.

Around a hundred editors of architecture books responded to the call worldwide. In total, two hundred and twenty-seven propositions were reviewed to determine tenwinning works. In the press release issued in late September (3), rather than the name of the authors, those of the publishers and their associated cities were highlighted.

While much of the competition was international and open to English books, Swiss editors were the most represented (four of ten), followed by Germans editors (three of ten), Belgian editors (two of ten) and Russian editors (one of ten). Half of the books granted an award had an English title. The 2019 Library of Excellence Award of the DAM is thus made up of the following works:

  • Architektur der 1950er bis 1970er Jahre im Ruhrgebiet. Als die Zukunft gebaut wurde / Kettler, Dortmund(Germany)
  • Oil and urbanism / Park Books, Zürich (Switzerland)
  • Bovenbouw Architectuur. Living the Exotic Everyday / Flanders Architecture Institute, Antwerpen (Belgium)
  • Die Welt der Giedions. Sigfried Giedion und Carola Giedion-Welcker im Dialog / Scheidegger & Spiess, Zürich (Switezerland)
  • Léon A Life of Architecture 1899-1990 / Flanders Architecture Institute, Antwerpen (Belgium)
  • Lochergut – Ein Portrait / Quart Verlag, Luzern (Switzerland)
  • Theodor & Otto Froebel. Gartenkultur in Zürich im 19. Jahrhundert / gta Verlag, Zürich (Switzerland)
  • The Object of Zionism. The Architecture of Israel / Spector Books, Leipzig (Germany)
  • Vom Baustoff zum Bauprodukt. Ausbaumaterialien in der Schweiz 1950-1970 / Hirmer Verlag, München(Germany)
  • Veneč. Welcome to the Ideal / Gluschenkoizdat, Moskau (Russia)

Awards dedicated to architectural writing proliferate, as do literary awards. Other than the DAM architectural book awards, the famous Alice Davies Hitchcock Book Awards (1945 — anglophone) as well as the Prix du Livre de l’Académie d’Architecture (1996 — francophone) and the Grand Prix du Livre de la ville de Briey (1994 — francophone) confirm that we no longer only celebrate quality through buildings in architecture: writing is securing a choice place for itself. The momentum of this “economy of prestige” would correspond to the observations of James F. English, with one exception: the prizes dedicated to books on architecture do not seem to face these controversies and “cults of scandal” that reinforce the media coverage of literary awards (4).

Lucie Palombi


  • (1) (page consulted October 10th 2019)
  • (2) See (page consulted October 10th 2019)
  • (3) See (page consulted October 10th 2019)
  • (4) English, James , The Economy of Prestige. Prizes, Awards and the Circulation of Cultural Value, Harvard University Press, 2005. p.192: « Every new prize is always already scandalous. The question is simply whether it will attract enough attention for this latent scandalousness to become manifest in the public sphere ».

Translated from French by Lucas Cormier-Affleck, October 23rd 2019.