According to Plan
The only bit of original text in Rob Kovitz's diverting According to Plan is a last-page mission statement about his imprint, Treyf Books. The objective of that publishing project is described there as making "unusual books of an indeterminate type, sort of story-picture remix books for people who can't stomach any more schmaltzy Chicken Soup for the Soul." If we are to take that title, volume one of the enormously popular self-help series, as a stand-in for all things that limit creative possibility through oversimplification, overdetermination, and, yes, schmaltz, then Kovitz is serving up a proper antidote: books that mean absolutely nothing until you make meaning out of them yourself.
Like Treyf's other books, According to Plan is a compilation, a collection, a farrago of found objects. Reading it is like holding in your hands a discrete piece of that great, galling, joyous abyss we're used to falling into via our search boxes-in this case, a search for writing (and associated images) that contains the loaded word "plan."
Even the book's about-the-author blurb is poached-from a literary biography of the novelist Chaim Potok ("I don't ever have an idea . . . The material does it all . . . I know I could never plan a plot . . ."). Between those end-thoughts and the first excerpt, from a policy statement by the Association of Newfoundland Land Surveyors ("Therefore, under fair use, a surveyor has the right to use the information from a plan in the preparation of another plan . . ."), we find a rich, strange, very broad sampling-from poems and instruction manuals, television and film, Moby Dick and urbandictionary.com. Along the way, the idea of making, following, and even completing that thing we call a plan is subjected to a furious and entertaining, if purposefully vague, curatorial critique.
The book is arranged as a sequence of excerpts in (possibly) thematic chapters; allusion and smash-cut are the principal techniques. There is always the specter of irony; a chapter called "Easy Enough to Plan" contains every sentence in Don Quixote that uses the subject word. But According to Plan is never winking: the author, so epically absent, is never there to wink. So, flipping through, skipping over, diving into its many pages, one may experience something else: a sort of pleasurable tug at your habits of ratiocination, an insistent voice (perhaps that of Kovitz himself) telling you that there are a host of connections to be made, if you feel like making them.
Whether the book offers a way forward for architects is, by design, an unanswerable question. The material is far from architecture-centric; there are, for instance, many well-placed excerpts from Battlestar Galactica where the plan in question was to eradicate, not build for, the human race. But with a photograph of Paul Rudolph's Manhattan office on the front cover and a paragraph on architectural composition on the back, architects appear to be intended as a primary audience.
And what might the book tell us about our field, and the hopeful, limiting, optimistic, outdated, futile, and necessary habit of planning at its core? What insight might it contain about the best plans for an era of rippling change, one that can produce a wonderful book made of nothing but repurposed words and pictures? Perhaps not a single thing. Or, possibly, that, like Kovitz's book, the best plans now are different from what we were taught to make and draw in simpler times: nimble and inclusive, open-ended and brave, unafraid to break the rules.
Not plans at all, maybe. Just loosely framed action.
Philip Nobel is the editorial director of SHoP Architects and the author of Sixteen Acres: Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for the Future of Ground Zero.