Mongrel Rapture: The Architecture of Ashton Raggatt McDougall

Buy Mongrel Rapture

Howard Raggatt is a founding director of ARM. Mark Raggatt is a director at ARM. Howard and Mark wrote a fair bit of Mongrel Rapture and Mark co-edited it. Mark cut his architectural publishing teeth as an undergraduate on Subaud magazine.

Why did you make a book about ARM?

MARK: Probably vanity and narcissism really.

HOWARD: Because no-one else was going to do it.

What’s it about?

HOWARD: I guess if people just heard that you’d done a book, they would assume it was some kind of monograph about your projects and explaining them with drawings and photos, which of course the book does have, but it’s not really about that. It tries to be about the idea of architecture I suppose, using the buildings as examples.

MARK: It’s a bit like a novel in that when someone asks you what it’s about there are the basic events—the things that happened—and then there are the themes that the book is really about. Architecture is like that. Architecture is so hard and it takes so long that it should be about things of substance, rather than just chasing the wind.

HOWARD: Most of all I guess it’s been wondering about the fundamentals of our trade, but also about The Book itself, about that link, or is it that hoped-for metamorphosis even, between what we call words and thoughts or ideas even for that matter, and this object thing, this body we call architecture.

Why is it called Mongrel Rapture?

HOWARD: Together, the words Mongrel Rapture just seemed to sound OK. It was something that we liked to say out loud. I think we thought that mongrel had a certain kind of local attitude, a certain derogatory connotation for sure, impure yes, hybrid, bitzer, necessarily of uncertain pedigree, but also a certain ungrudging fondness too. The mongrel dog is probably an iconic character of Australiana—it’s man’s best friend in a straightforward way. There’s a kind of charm and good-naturedness about ‘mongrel’. There’s a general goodwill, affection even, by all and sundry for something that has no yearning to be a status symbol, no need to demonstrate credentials, endless refinement or that connoisseur intent, even if we still admire those pure breeds in their correctness.

The good thing about mongrels is that they’ve got character. They tend to be a one-off, a bit of this and that, a bit of not quite sure. Perhaps the mongrel is something you really have to love, or something that loves you, because it’s no trophy dog. It’s no luxury thing but instead perhaps more likely battle scarred, more likely a lean and hungry look, unwashed, unshaven. And I guess we reckon mongrel has a healthy vigour too.

‘Rapture’, on the other hand, is about somehow being transported, ecstatic, enchanted, as if literally carried away. And we quite like the way that it incorporates a number of terms—‘rap’, which goes to something of the language within the book, and ‘rapt’, as if somewhere in that grey zone between what we recognise as speech and what is prose, or what is poetry or singing.

MARK: I think the idea of there being a rapture for the mongrels is quite nice too. It’s hard to know whether we’re with the mongrels or not.

Why does it look like a black Bible?

HOWARD: We got seduced into that, in that it gradually got very big, so it had to have very thin paper to maintain it as one volume.

MARK: And the black came from the inside out, really. The book is organised in colour-coded themes arranged across the visible colour spectrum and beyond that is darkness, so the outside of the book has to be invisible. Black. It was the bloody-minded logical conclusion for the design.

So, instead of 1616 thin pages, why not make it bigger, like a coffee table book?

HOWARD: We hadn’t ever thought of it as a coffee table book. We wanted it to be a real book.

MARK: A coffee table book is a book for looking at, and Mongrel is a book for using. It couldn’t have been a coffee table book because the content wouldn’t allow it.

Also, books have been a robust technology for so long because they have aspects about them that make them usable and make them good in the hand. There are really critical things about this book that lent it to feeling like a Bible—the way it opens and folds flat, the way a soft leather cover feels in your hands, the single thumb index, the way it takes you to a particular point in the book, the bookmark ribbon. I think it found its biblical aesthetic almost by accident, almost just by following the brief of a book.

Is that why you chose a Bible printer?

MARK: That was merely technical—it was a question of skill and capability more than anything else. Printing on thin paper in four-colour printing throws up a whole lot of problems and binding a book like this without it turning into a crinkly mess is a very difficult thing to do. Nanjing Amity Printing are just very good at printing these sorts of books.

HOWARD: They’ve printed 120 million Bibles.

MARK: So they’ve had 120 million practice goes and then they did this.

It’s full of QR codes. Where do they lead?

MARK: ARM has always produced material that isn’t easily encapsulated in a book, for example, digital technology has been part of our practice for a very long time now. Architecture itself is hard to get into a book. It’s famously difficult to exhibit and the QR codes allowed a way of dealing with animations and other types of imagery, audio and video that you can’t present easily in a book. There’s this cloud of other content that hangs around the book. Why ignore a whole world of technology when it’s possible to provide a portal from the bound pages of a book into that other world?

What are the best parts of the book?

HOWARD: That’s like being asked which is your favourite daughter.

MARK: I like that you could rip out almost any chapter and take that bit home with you and it would stand as a document in itself. I like that if there are bits of the book that you don’t like you could rip those pages out and not ultimately hurt the rest. The content is robust enough to contend with personal prejudice.

Also, there’s a series of pictures dedicated to the construction of Storey Hall, particularly the construction workers. It’s quite touching, and vaguely horrifying, to see the conditions. There’s a picture of a man cleaning blurry green spray paint off the concrete facade. There’s a seat that [Melbourne artist] Bruce Armstrong made from huge slabs of wood and there are images of it being craned directly over the heads of pedestrians to the grotto entry to the Storey Hall annexe building, which is just unbelievable.

HOWARD: And no-one’s even blinking. Everyone’s just walking past!

MARK: You also get pictures of builders in the laneway out the back and one’s mooning the camera. He’s actually mooning the architect and one of the other builders is about to kick him in the arse (p 325). I like that there are pictures of the people who built it, rather than just endless pristine pictures of the building.