The photographs by Serge Fruehauf in Extra Normal could be described as aggressively boring. The publication, published last month by Scheidigger and Spiess with distribution by the University of Chicago Press, includes selections edited by Joerg Bader from Fruehauf’s two decades of documenting the strange, yet mundane, aspects of aging postwar structures. The Swiss photographer captured these architectural elements in Paris, Grenoble, Lyon, and Geneva, although they aren’t captioned with locations in the book, and they could be anywhere that experienced a concrete building frenzy in the second half of the 20th century.
“Here are buildings and architectural details that we encounter constantly in everyday life, although their ordinariness makes them barely noticeable,” Martino Stierli, chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art, writes in a foreword. “Fruehauf’s eye for detail, however, reveals the small absurdities and monstrosities that abound within this apparently all-too-urban environment, provoking a smile, at times, or inducing an aesthetic shudder.”
A brick garden path is suddenly severed by a charmless concrete wall in one image. In another, a staircase curiously forms out of a blocky wall, as if its segments fell like dominos. The modernist principles of functionality and embracing industrial materials are present, just filtered through one too many blueprints to keep their edge. A cluster of block shapes in an outdoor space appear like a lazy, half-finished tribute to Lawrence Halprin, while an angular intersection of concrete forms seems lifted from a Marcel Breuer sketch onto an otherwise nondescript apartment building. That’s not to say all of the buildings are eyesores; there’s something oddly charming about the care taken with these details, details that probably are overwhelmingly overlooked in their environments. They’re almost like urban glitches, with radical architectural concepts scratching through the sterility.