November 2, 2022

Building Unique Collections: Graphic Novels in Architecture and Design

AASL Column

Building Unique Collections: Graphic Novels in Architecture and Design

Lucy Campbell and Barbara Opar, Column Editors
Column by Lucy Campbell, Librarian, NewSchool of Architecture and Design

Every July, just five blocks from the front door of NewSchool of Architecture and Design, San Diego hosts the word famous Comic-Con. Over the years, our school’s location in the East Village neighborhood has afforded exciting opportunities to experience the energy Comic-Con brings to downtown and participate as a host institution and attendee. This year I attended the Comic Conference for Educators and Librarians at the San Diego Public Library. Over the four-day program there was a range of inspiring panels, but one that really resonated was Comics Catalog Curation for Adults. Librarians and publishers shared their own experiences building comic collections for adults, including such niche collections as medical graphic novels. Following the conference, my own research, and communications with architecture librarians, revealed a dearth of graphic novel collections focused on architecture and design. So began my own initiative to grow these resources at our institution.

Graphic novels are a wonderful medium for the study and creation of stories using images alongside text. In recent years, graphic narrative as a form of educational instruction and learning has been growing in popularity. In architecture particularly, the graphic novel has become the favored communication tool for many of today’s starchitects. Bjarke Ingels of BIG famously aspired to be a cartoonist before discovering his passion for architecture. His 2009 design manifesto Yes Is More expressed his architectural agenda in comic book format, and since then he has used the style in presentations and publications around the world. Similarly, Jimenez Lai’s Citizens of No Place uses manga-style story boards to tell short stories about architecture. These are perhaps the most well-known examples of a growing field that provides new ways to think about architectural design.

After soliciting recommendations from our campus community and members of the Association of Architecture School Librarians, we selected 25 titles to initiate our collection. As an interdisciplinary design school, the graphics novels provide us with a lens for crossover between graphic design and architecture, both within the curriculum and for individual research.

I am now working with one instructor to develop a graphic design course around the collection, and another is incorporating it into an architecture and literature elective. Students have expressed interest in growing this unique collection. As a small academic discipline-specific library, we are continually looking for ways to distinguish ourselves, and interesting collections such as this can serve that purpose, while allowing for new connections to flourish.

You can explore our foundational collection here. We have a growing list of titles to acquire, and welcome additional suggestions.