The M-A-D Bookcases of Adigard & McShane

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday July 2, 2020

“Pimp Your Bookcases” continues with Erik Adigard and Patricia McShane, founding partners of M-A-D.  Erik divides his time between the Bay Area and Montpellier, FR.

Peggy Roalf: How many libraries do you have? How do they differ? Where are they located? 

Erik Adigard and Patricia McShane: Our primary library has its own room with comfortable seating, a coffee table and a table with chairs. This room, populated by so many pictorial and written thoughts, is our retreat away from screens. It is a place to think, meet up, sketch and explore books and magazines. We have additional bookcases in our design studio and in our home studios. Books travel between shelves.

PR: What were you involved in when you decided on your career choice?

EA/PMcS: We began our careers as artists, progressively migrating toward design studies at California College of Arts and Crafts, where we met while in our last year.

PR: Would you say that you are more of an “art/design reader” than a “lit reader”?

PMcS: We read art/design books at the office and literature at home. Our reading expanded in the last few years to include books on theory since Erik began teaching a graduate course on design and philosophy at the California College of the Arts.

PR: Is there anything you might want to include about favorite libraries for doing research in the pre-digital years—and today as well? 

EA: The spirit of great libraries stands for the best in humanism, for example: the Vasconcelos Library in Mexico City, the Seattle Central Library and the British Library, and so many other monumental libraries come to mind. But even our Berkeley Public Library and Montpellier’s huge Emile Zola Library are mesmerizing. 

PR: What went into your choice of bookcases — any research? Any seen/envied among friends/colleagues? Any particular manufacturer?

EA/PMcS: M-A-D is located in a commercial building that is shared with a mechanical designer and a computer engineer. Their sturdy modular steel shelving from the 70s inspired us to research industrial shelving, so we found a supplier who now manufactures these bookcases in bright powder coated finishes. We were thrilled when we found a yellow that is bright and upbeat, and that breaks the designer tendency to use only white, gray, or black. We also have yellow wood bookcases from the children’s department of IKEA that we turned horizontally so they are long and low, with casters we attached in order to roll them around as needed.

PR: What you like most about your bookcases? Are they everything you every hoped for or is there room for improvement? 

EA/PMcS: Our main industrial bookcase shelves can be hung from any of the holes spaced 1/2” apart on the vertical bars of the structure. This allowed us to arrange shelves based on the height of the books, and also to stack a few shelves as close as 6” apart in order for tiny books and oversized books to lay flat. The shelf configuration can be changed at any time. At first we were concerned that the colors of book spines would look hideous on a yellow bookcase, but as we loaded the shelves we discovered the books are framed and enhanced by yellow. This industrial shelving is manufactured to hold a massive weight, but being in this earthquake region, the San Francisco Bay Area, means the structure has been bolted in several places to the wall.

PR: How do you organize your photo, design and-art books? 

EA/PMcS: The library bookcase extends wall to wall. The four bookcase sections have eight distinct categories: reference, design, typography, art, photography, industrial, architecture and urban issues.

Our yellow bookcases on casters in our work room have magazines and books M-A-D is featured in and books we have published.

Our wood bookcase/cabinet in the work area is used as a sort of cabinet of curiosities where symbolic and cultural objects are arranged in the square cube sections. One might think of these cubes as journals with their own stories. In fact these symbolic objects carry their own narratives for those who know their origins.

PR: What do you do when you run out of shelf space?

EA/PMcS: We have a warehouse to archive as many books as needed. We are at a stage in our careers where we do not acquire as many books as we used to. In turn, we routinely donate books to friends, libraries or schools and archived books reappear on our main shelves.

PR: Have you ever had to move your library? What are the best and worst things about moving this kind of collection? 

EA/PMcS: In 2008 when we left our Sausalito studio where we had been for 14 years, we moved our 65 boxes of books to shelves in the back of our warehouse. For the next 10 years we only brought books out of storage when we needed them. In 2018 we created the library. Before unpacking all the boxes of books we imagined donating a majority of them, but as we removed these “old friends” from the boxes and held them in our hands, we knew we couldn’t yet part with them. Organizing the bookcases took longer than expected, since we spent time looking through these books we hadn’t seen for years.

Q: What is the first photo-or-artbook you ever bought and why did it catch your attention?

EA/PMcS: We both grew up with art books, but there are a few that probably triggered our life long vocations in art and design. More than the books as designed objects of images and texts, is the wealth of wonders they represent, whether Lautrec, Van Gogh, Di Vinci, Lartigue, Le Corbusier. Forgotten classics like Delirious New York, The Situationist City, Empire of Signs or some old manga that escape the pressure of shelves to our coffee table.

Many of our books were gifts or trades. One early memorable present was Graphic Design in Japan, 1989, which had a strong influence on our work. Inspiring books have continued to arrive ever since. A recent book was the Bouroullec brothers’ Drawing Book. We also collect exhibit catalogues that are conceived a unique art objects.

PR: Do you consider being bibliophiles a form of madness?

EA/PMcS: The madness of our collection is in how we mix books and artifacts. They all move from shelf to shelf to desk and countertop, each carrying their own stories.

The library bookcase can sometimes feel like a cosmic space always revealing forgotten treasures. It is like a building of so many windows into singular worlds. Many of the architecture and urbanism books in our collection have permanent impressions from the cables that tethered them to reading tables at the Chicago Cultural Center during our Spontaneous Intervention exhibit.

Ultimately, the library is like our personal depository of knowledge and memories since books are often related to past projects. Most books are still to be fully read or explored and one can sometimes feel a sort of vertigo when contemplating this wall of book spines. Our digital library is secondary to the physical library that is the center of our studio. Every one of the shelves is a microcosm of near-infinite inspiration. Books and objects speak to each other and we have this incredible power to shift the conversations just by moving them around or even by introducing something new, like a MAD magazine paperback collection that we recently inherited.

Patricia McShane and Erik Adigard, are co-founders of M-A-D, an interdisciplinary studio combining brand positioning, interaction design, visual communication, video, media installations and environmental design.
M-A-D routinely works on the relationships between technology and socio-cultural concerns. 

Erik also teaches communication design at the California College of the Arts. He divides his time between M-A-D’s main office in Berkeley and his studio in Montpellier, France.  +    @adigard   


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