agenda by The Editors

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Venture inside the notebooks of some of the world’s leading architects bringing a unique perspective to their craft.

Detour, published by Moleskine, was conceived to bring the behind-the-scenes of imagination out of the dark and into the light. The archive of over 250 notebooks that once belonged to some of the industry’s finest can be discovered in The Detour Book, which reproduces these precious pages for all to see. In the final part of our Detour series, we zoom in on some of the architects who got involved. The architects in the selection provide a huge spectrum of skills and styles. Within their pages, some of the greatest minds in the industry reveal the inspirations, processes and unique perspectives that result in the built environment around us.

Ron Arad
Perennial rulebreaker Ron Arad is as much an architect as he is a designer, artist and free thinker.“I am not very good with doing what I am supposed to do. That’s why I invent different rules that I am good at.”[1] This from the man who refused to submit a portfolio with his application to the Architectural Association in London. He was accepted anyway but rejected rulers and drawing tools despite the pressure to adopt them in his first year.

It’s fitting therefore that his ‘notebook’ is actually a container of individual sheets of sketches and scribbles stuffed between the covers. Seemingly inspired by the Dolce & Gabbana Milan Show in 2007, it reveals his boundless approach to creativity.


Rising sea levels are affecting Venice like never before, with scientists warning that the Floating City may disappear within a century. It’s a fear that is shared by communities on the Belgian coast, the home of Julien De Smedt Architects. As specialists in waterfront developments, the firm chose to draw attention to this environmental issue with a unique proposal that springs from the pages of the notebook.

The vision involves constructing a ring of skyscrapers around the edge of the archipelago to protect its historical centre from high water. The page is sliced into hundreds of little lines that are raised to turn the two-dimensional plane of the notebook into a three-dimensional model. This craft-led approach lends softness and intimacy to an otherwise huge, industrial project, imbuing it with a touching human element.

Renzo Piano

The towering 52-storey The New York Times Building is scaled down into a few lines on the page by Renzo Piano’s hand. The sketch, which he produced while working on the project, sheds light on the importance he placed on some of the building’s key features from the get-go.

At the base of the building, a group of dots mark the nucleus: the newsroom and the lobby. From here, a spiral extends out and around this central point. This could be an illustration of the way in which the company revolves around this crucial axis, or it may refer to the central courtyard, which houses a garden dotted with birch trees. Empty space is a recurring element in Piano’s works, leaving room for the unexpected, or the unplanned.

Above the tower is a drawing of the sun’s movement during the course of a day. This is a reference to the responsive nature of the building’s facade to the time of day and weather conditions. The 175,000 ceramic rods that clad the exterior change colour depending on light levels, whilst blocking up to 50% of the sun’s rays to increase energy efficiency and allow natural light to flood the interior in a metaphorical representation of the paper’s transparent ethos.

Kengo Kuma

Japanese architect Kengo Kuma is known for his extensive use of new materials to build with. His projects are light and airy, constructed from natural materials such as cedar wood, bamboo, brick, stone and even paper, in contrast to the ubiquity of concrete and steel in much of modern architecture. His notebook bursts with photographs, drawings, plans and writings that have been cut and pasted in amongst the concertina pages of a Japanese Album. Its flaps and folds are like doorways that lead you deeper into the structure, becoming a complex piece of architecture in itself.

Unfolding the notebook is like going on a journey through the architect’s mind. Kuma’s extensive notes and visual references reveal his obsession with discovering sustainable materials that can achieve high function and durability. His ultimate aim is to ‘eradicate’ architecture and find harmony between buildings and their surrounding landscapes, man and the environment. With this notebook, he is able to achieve this harmonious blend, eroding the boundary between himself and his work across its pages.

Kuehn Malvezzi

For a firm that usually earns its stripes designing art galleries and exhibition venues, it’s nice to see the architect becoming the artist. The elastic band closure is hacked and reconfigured to prevent it from being prised open. Thoughts, observations and ideas are locked within it, inaccessible to the beholder. The double seal only tempts further, leaving us no option but to imagine its secrets. The notebook is both the work of art and the frame that surrounds it.

The notebooks featured in this post belong to the Moleskine Foundation.


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