Page maker

Over the last three decades the Dutch designer Irma Boom has rev­o­lu­tionised how books look and work. She is also a first-choice col­lab­o­ra­tor for a gen­er­ous clutch of A-list cre­atives who call Am­s­ter­dam home, from Rem Kool­haas through Vik­tor & Rolf and Rin

Wallpaper - - October - pho­tog­ra­phy: jaap Scheeran WRITER: YOKO choy

Irma Boom, and col­lab­o­ra­tors, at her new Am­s­ter­dam stu­dio and li­brary

Irma Boom has a sig­na­ture look: a dress or skirt in black or deep blue (al­ways by Alexander van Slobbe) and a cardi­gan in the same shade. ‘I al­ways dress the same, so I don’t have to think about it,’ she says. ‘There are so many other things to think about.’ Her wardrobe man­age­ment stands in stark con­trast to her work: each Irma Boom book is dif­fer­ent, and unique.

The Dutch book designer, now 56, as­pired to be a pain­ter and at­tended the AKI Academy of Art & De­sign in the Nether­lands, where she quickly re­alised art had been just ‘a ro­man­tic idea’. ‘There was not the ur­gency or the drive to make art,’ she says. She tried ar­chi­tec­ture and pho­tog­ra­phy, then one day she walked into the class of Abe Kuipers, a vis­ual artist and ty­pog­ra­pher. ‘He came with suit­cases of books, and he’d read them and ex­plain them. I had never re­alised the im­pact of a book, but from then I was ob­sessed.’

In 2014, Boom was hon­oured with the Jo­hannes Ver­meer Award, the Dutch state prize for the arts, which came with €100,000 to put to­wards a ‘special project’. Nat­u­rally, Boom opted to spend the money on a li­brary. Lo­cated above her stu­dio on Am­s­ter­dam’s Koningin­neweg, near Von­del­park, the li­brary will house a col­lec­tion that spans from the 1600s, when books were first pro­duced on an in­dus­trial scale, to the avant-garde tomes of the 1960s and 1970s. In her award ac­cep­tance speech, Boom said she wanted to cre­ate a place ‘where dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines meet, where an ex­change can take place to dis­cuss the book phe­nom­e­non; to talk and fan­ta­sise’. The space is sched­uled to open this au­tumn.

Among the 330 (and count­ing) books cre­ated by Boom in the past three decades, only her top ten, which she con­sid­ers both time­less and ex­per­i­men­tal, will be put on the li­brary’s shelves. Her favourite – and the one that es­tab­lished her name – is Ned­er­landse

Postzegels 87+88, a two-vol­ume cat­a­logue of stamps she de­signed dur­ing her first job at the Dutch Gov­ern­ment Print­ing and Pub­lish­ing Of­fice (SDU). It was Ootje Ox­e­naar, designer of the fa­mous Dutch ban­knotes from the 1960s to 1980s, who spot­ted her tal­ent and com­mis­sioned her to fol­low in the foot­steps of Wim Crouwel and Karel Martens, who had de­signed the previous edi­tions. ‘It was to­tal free­dom,’ says Boom. ‘I was an an­gry young girl. I was naive, fear­less.’

‘A book cap­tures time and it’s a re­sult of that mo­ment’ – Irma Boom

The re­sult was bold and chal­leng­ing: the pages were held in Ja­panese-style bind­ing, and fea­tured rich lay­ers of images and text run­ning across pages that were some­times folded and some­times translu­cent. The book was highly con­tro­ver­sial, but it brought Boom’s name into the pub­lic arena and earned her her first Best Dutch Book De­sign award. Boom be­gan to see the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the role of book designer – the di­rec­tor of texts and images whose treat­ment of con­tent is es­sen­tial to a vol­ume’s suc­cess.

In 1991, Boom left the SDU and set up her own stu­dio in Am­s­ter­dam. Then came an­other turn­ing point in her ca­reer. To­gether with art his­to­rian Jo­han Pi­j­nap­pel, she spent five years cre­at­ing a book to com­mem­o­rate the cen­te­nary of Dutch in­dus­trial gi­ant SHV Hold­ings. Think Book has 2,136 pages and weighs over 3.5kg. Only 4,500 copies were printed for share­hold­ers, but it turned Boom into a brand, and one of the world’s most in-de­mand book­mak­ers.

Back then, Boom was dev­as­tated to dis­cover that an­other ‘fat book’ had ap­peared just months be­fore her own – Rem Kool­haas’ sem­i­nal work S,M,L,XL. ‘It’s ter­ri­ble, some­body has come be­fore us,’ she told the late Paul Fen­tener van Vlissin­gen, then chief ex­ec­u­tive of SHV. His re­ply? ‘Well, we are in such good com­pany, Irma. It’s to­tally fine.’ As it turned out, the books brought Boom and Kool­haas to­gether and they have since be­come close friends and col­lab­o­ra­tors. Kool­haas wrote a trib­ute to his friend in

Irma Boom: The Ar­chi­tec­ture of the Book (2013). ‘Irma of­fers books that have bod­ies, al­beit some­times very small ones. Books that smell, have weight, take off, are sawed, pum­melled, have sharp edges or eroded bor­ders to the point of bleed­ing; they’re bru­tal, beau­ti­fully del­i­cate but never slick.’ The mono­graph, now in its sec­ond edi­tion, mea­sures just 1.5 x 2in but runs to 800 pages. ‘The book grows 3 per cent ev­ery year, so when I am 80 I will have a reg­u­lar-sized book,’ Boom says.

Like an ar­chi­tect, Boom makes mod­els to test out ideas and ma­te­ri­als – to ex­am­ine the bal­ance of text and images, and to look in an ab­stract way at the rhythm of the piece. The so­lu­tion is of­ten hid­den in the con­tent, and the de­sign will re­veal it­self if one pays enough at­ten­tion. ‘A book is a con­tainer of thoughts and con­tent,’ says Boom. ‘It cap­tures time and it’s a re­sult of that mo­ment. It’s frozen and un­change­able. For me, a book is an edited ver­sion of a thought, of an idea. The no­tion of freez­ing time and thoughts – I think that’s es­sen­tial. That’s why I make books.’ irma­

Irma Boom’s Book club Barend Kool­haas Ar­chi­tect

The build­ing de­signed for Boom and her part­ner, Julius Ver­meulen, epit­o­mises Barend Kool­haas’ pro­fes­sional out­look. ‘Ar­chi­tec­ture is about cre­at­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties and spa­ces for the imag­i­na­tion,’ says the ar­chi­tect, who re­placed the garage of Boom’s newly ac­quired 1905 house with a multi-floor struc­ture.

The ground level con­nects to stu­dio space in the main build­ing; an­other floor houses a new art space, Een­werk; and a green­house sits at the top. An­gled glass win­dows and dark basalt-cov­ered walls com­mu­ni­cate a sense of light­ness, so the build­ing seems al­most to float. Viewed from the in­side, the struc­ture is a func­tional blur, in a good way, its dif­fer­ent el­e­ments fus­ing into one con­tin­u­ous space, al­beit with a range of at­mos­pheres. It of­fers un­ex­pected mo­ments that will chal­lenge the artists and de­sign­ers who are in­vited to col­lab­o­rate and ex­hibit there.

Kool­haas stud­ied in Delft and New York, then worked at Ideo in Sil­i­con Val­ley be­fore join­ing OMA in Rot­ter­dam and Hong Kong. He re­turned to the Nether­lands in 2011, where he de­signed a se­ries of shops for shoe­maker Jan Jansen; four years later he cre­ated his first house in Al­men. ‘I am re­ally ex­cited about these tai­lor-made com­mis­sions for peo­ple who re­ally love ar­chi­tec­ture and are will­ing to be cre­ative with it,’ Kool­haas says. His next project, a jazz cafe, is a col­lab­o­ra­tion with fel­low ar­chi­tect Reinier Su­uren­broek. barend­kool­

Julius Ver­meulen Art and de­sign con­sul­tant and gal­lerist

In Jan­uary this year, af­ter 28 years of ser­vice, Ver­meulen stepped down as art and de­sign con­sul­tant at Postnl, the Dutch postal ser­vice, hav­ing com­mis­sioned stamp de­signs from lead­ing Dutch tal­ents such as Jan Bons, Walter Nikkels, and his part­ner, Boom. ‘A good stamp acts as a mod­ern, dis­tinc­tive Dutch busi­ness card,’ he says. ‘It’s a very demo­cratic form of art – every­one can buy it.’

Ver­meulen be­came in­ter­ested in de­sign as a teenager, through his fa­ther, pi­o­neer­ing ty­pog­ra­pher Jan Ver­meulen. He is cur­rently im­mersed in his next project, the Een­werk (One Work) gallery. Just a sin­gle work by one artist, cre­ated spe­cially for Een­werk, will be shown at any one time. The in­au­gu­ral show in Oc­to­ber will present a piece by fel­low Am­s­ter­dam res­i­dent, flim­maker and artist Steve Mcqueen, to be fol­lowed by Ice­landic con­cep­tual artist Hreinn Fridfinns­son.

Scar­lett Hooft Graafland Vis­ual artist

From the salt flats of Bo­livia to iso­lated farm sheds in Ice­land, Hooft Graafland jour­neys to re­mote hu­man habi­tats to tell sto­ries of man and na­ture. But her work is care­fully stage-man­aged sur­re­al­ism, more Magritte than Na­tional Ge­o­graphic. Her pho­to­graph of an Inuit man lean­ing against an orange igloo made of lemon­ade, from the You Win­ter, Let’s

Get Di­vorced se­ries, was cho­sen by Boom for the cover of the artist’s book, Shores Like You (2016). ‘The scenery is al­ways staged, but the set­ting re­flects the lo­cal cul­ture and re­minds us of the small­ness of hu­mans amid na­ture,’ says Hooft Graafland, whose next project is to write the sto­ries of her ex­pe­di­tions. scar­letthooft­

Pe­tra Blaisse Land­scape and in­te­rior ar­chi­tect

In 2003, Blaisse in­vited Boom to join forces for a com­pe­ti­tion, ask­ing her: ‘Do you want to leave pa­per and come into na­ture?’ Boom helped her en­vis­age a botan­i­cal gar­den, the Li­brary of Trees, for a ten-hectare park in Mi­lan. Their win­ning de­sign is due to open next spring.

Blaisse set up her mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary prac­tice, In­side Out­side, in 1991. For her first solo show, at Store­front for Art and Ar­chi­tec­ture in New York in 2000, Boom cre­ated Move­ments 25%: In­tro­duc­tion to a Work­ing Process. Its pages have in­te­rior projects on one side, land­scape de­signs on the re­verse, while holes cut in the pages con­nect the two.

Blaisse is work­ing on her first house, in Ber­lin, an in­su­lated glass struc­ture that stands in­side the unin­su­lated at­tic of a for­mer hos­pi­tal. in­sid­e­out­

Rem Kool­haas Ar­chi­tect

Kool­haas and Boom have just re­worked for Taschen the 2,600-page El­e­ments of

Ar­chi­tec­ture, which fea­tured in Kool­haas’ ac­claimed ex­hi­bi­tion at the 2014 Venice È

‘I recog­nise in Irma an en­thu­si­asm for cre­at­ing’ – Vi­viane Sassen

Ar­chi­tec­ture Bi­en­nale. ‘We’re look­ing at the mo­ment when dig­i­tal tech­niques be­gan to have a deep in­flu­ence on ar­chi­tec­ture,’ says Kool­haas, who co-founded OMA in 1975. ‘Most of the build­ings today have to be fit for hu­man be­ings, but maybe in the near fu­ture, they will be robo­tised and prac­ti­cally un­in­hab­ited. I think we need to pre­pare for post-hu­man ar­chi­tec­ture.’

Taco Dib­bits Mu­seum di­rec­tor

When Am­s­ter­dam’s Ri­jksmu­seum re­opened in 2013 af­ter a ten-year, €375 mil­lion over­haul, it did so with a new min­i­mal logo, a fresh type­face and a Dutch Mas­ters-in­spired colour pal­ette, all cre­ated by Boom to re­place the 32-year-old de­sign by Stu­dio Dum­bar. ‘Our art is old, but the Ri­jksmu­seum has al­ways been a con­tem­po­rary plat­form,’ says Dib­bits, the mu­seum’s gen­eral di­rec­tor since 2016. ‘And the ef­fi­ciency of Irma’s de­sign is cru­cial to the mu­seum’s suc­cess.’ ri­jksmu­

Rineke Di­jk­stra Por­traitist

A Ja­panese 4×5in view cam­era with standard lens on a tri­pod, and a flash on an­other tri­pod be­hind it: Di­jk­stra has been work­ing with this sim­ple set-up for 25 years. ‘It de­mands a lot of con­cen­tra­tion, both from me and from the sit­ter,’ says the artist, whose work fo­cuses on the power and fragility of youth. Di­jk­stra won the 2017 Has­sel­blad Award for pho­tog­ra­phy, and Boom is mark­ing the oc­ca­sion with a book to ac­com­pany an ex­hi­bi­tion in Gothenburg in Oc­to­ber. mar­i­an­good­

Vi­viane Sassen Fash­ion and fine art pho­tog­ra­pher

Sassen’s work has al­ways been a mir­ror of her per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences. The 2014 Um­bra se­ries was an at­tempt to deal with the death of her fa­ther, who passed away when Sassen was in her twen­ties; it was also her first col­lab­o­ra­tion with Boom, and it be­came an award-win­ning ti­tle for them both. ‘Irma’s work ethos is in­cred­i­ble,’ says Sassen. ‘I recog­nise in her a kind of en­thu­si­asm for cre­at­ing. She has that enor­mous drive to cre­ate beau­ti­ful things.’ Her next project is about wom­an­hood (‘It prob­a­bly has to do with the fact that I’m a mother now,’ she says), with a show at G/P Gallery in Tokyo in Oc­to­ber. vi­viane­ On the walls Of boom’s stu­dio, work in progress On her lat­est book projects is dis­played page by page, so she can view the bal­ance Of text and im­age

Vik­tor Horsting & Rolf Sno­eren Fash­ion artists

The duo be­gan their pro­fes­sional life in Paris af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 1992, and lived therwe for four years be­fore head­ing home: ‘Am­s­ter­dam is like a global vil­lage, ev­ery­thing here is just so close to you.’ Next year marks their la­bel Vik­tor & Rolf ’s 25th an­niver­sary and they asked Boom, their graphic de­sign teacher at Arn­hem Academy of Art and De­sign back in 1989, to cre­ate a mono­graph. ‘We don’t want a clichéd fash­ion book; it needs to be some­thing else. Irma is the best per­son to make a dif­fer­ence,’ they say. vik­

Jac­que­line Has­sink Con­cep­tual pho­tog­ra­pher

‘I was blown away by Irma’s Vi­tra mag­a­zine

[Work­spirit, 1998] and all my books have been de­signed by her since, says Has­sink, who made her name with The Ta­ble of Power (1996), images of the empty board­rooms of multi­na­tion­als. She re­vis­ited the project, with Boom, af­ter the 2008 fi­nan­cial col­lapse, pub­lish­ing Ta­ble of Power 2 in 2011. Her lat­est project, Un­wired, fo­cuses on in­ter­net ‘white spots’, with a book and a show, at Ned­er­lands Fo­to­mu­seum Rot­ter­dam in Jan­uary, both de­signed by Boom. jacque­line­has­

‘Irma is the best per­son to make a dif­fer­ence’ – Vik­tor & Rolf

this pic­ture, in Boom’s li­brary are a ‘smoke’ chair By maarten Baas and Jac­que­line has­sink’s pho­to­graph of a tran­quil moss gar­den from her (2011) se­ries View, Ky­oto Be­low, pe­tra Blaisse with her grand­child in Boom’s stu­dio, with a group zero art­work...

This pic­ture, boom and her Team at work; They usu­ally have about 15 projects on The go be­low, a model of The new ex­ten­sion


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