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  • La Jetée
    by John Hill on July 4, 2020 at 2:00 PM

    La Jetée: Ciné-RomanChris MarkerZone Books, 1992Hardcover | 9-1/2 x 7-1/2 inches | 258 pages | 290 illustrations | English/French | ISBN: 978-0942299663 | $39.95PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION:La Jetée is the book version of the legendary 1964 science fiction film about time and memory after a nuclear apocalypse. Chris Marker, the undisputed master of the filmic essay, composed the film almost entirely of still photographs.It traces a desperate experiment by the few remaining survivors of World War III to recover and change the past, and gain access to the future, through the action of memory. A man is chosen for his unique quality of having retained a single clear image from prewar days: no more than an ambiguous memory fragment from childhood — a visit to the jetty at Orly airport, the troubling glance of an unknown woman, the crumpling body of a dying man.Chris Marker is a filmmaker, photographer, traveler, and he likes cats.REFERRAL LINKS:    dDAB COMMENTARY:The first time I watched La Jetée, Chris Marker's classic 1964 sci-fi film, was about 20 years ago at Facets in Chicago, when it was on a double-bill with Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville. Much more than Godard's film, Marker's half-hour film has stuck with me ever since. La Jetée, which was co-opted by Terry Gilliam for 12 Monkeys, tells the story of a man from the future — when people live underground due to radioactive devastation on the surface — who travels through time to help humanity. Pivotal is a vision he had as a boy on the jetty at Orly airport, a scene that lends the film its name but which I won't spoil for anybody here. Most amazing is the way Marker tells the story solely through still images and voiceover narration; there is only one brief moving image, but I won't spoil that powerful scene either.Given its structure as a series of stills, Marker's film lends itself perfectly to a shot-by-shot documentation in print. First released in hardcover in 1992 (I have the 1996 paperback the below spreads are taken from), La Jetée was masterfully designed by Bruce Mau, who was involved in designing more than 100 titles by Zone Books starting with the famous Zone 1/2 published in 1985. Instead of giving each still its own full-bleed page (something he does occasionally), here he varies the size and layout of the images to give the book some variety as well as the same rhythm and tension as the film. The black-and-white images are set in deep, dark purplish blue background that gives them some definition and makes the transcription of the voiceover narration easy to read. This book is a must for fans of the film, but given that the binding of my paperback copy has come apart out over the years, I'd recommend the hardcover.SPREADS:

  • The Architecture of Cinematic Spaces by Interiors
    by John Hill on July 3, 2020 at 3:00 PM

    The Architecture of Cinematic Spaces by InteriorsMehruss Jon Ahi, Arman KaraoghlanianIntellect, The University of Chicago Press, April 2020Paperback | 9-1/2 x 9-1/2 inches | 95 pages | 10 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1789382051 | $26.50PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION:The Architecture of Cinematic Spaces by Interiors is an academic, graphic exploration of architectural spaces in cinema that provides a new perspective on the relationship between architecture and film. Combining critical essays with original architectural floor plan drawings, coauthors Arman Karaoghlanian and Mehruss Jon Ahi discuss production design in key films from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Rope, Le mépris, Playtime, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Home Alone, Panic Room, A Single Man, Her, and Columbus. Each chapter is accompanied by an original floor plan of a key scene, bridging the gap between film criticism and architectural practice. Written by the editors of the critically acclaimed online journal Interiors, the book will appeal to film and architecture communities and everyone in between. A must-read for fans and scholars alike, The Architecture of Cinematic Spaces by Interiors prompts us to reconsider the spaces our favorite characters occupy and to listen to the stories those spaces can tell.Armen Karaoghlanian is a filmmaker, entrepreneur, cofounder of the Armenian Film Society, and cofounder and editor-in-chief of the online publication Interiors. Mehruss Jon Ahi is an architectural designer, real estate developer, graphic artist, and cofounder and creative director of the online publication Interiors.REFERRAL LINKS:    dDAB COMMENTARY:I'm a big fan of architecture and film, particularly articles, websites, and books that explore the relationship between the two fields. The Architecture of Cinematic Spaces by Interiors is the latest entry in the books category, which also includes such notables as The Architecture of Image: Existential Space in Cinema by Juhani Pallasmaa, The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock by Steven Jacobs, and Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains edited by Chad Oppenheim and Andrea Gollin. What these three books have in abundance that the new Interiors book lacks are stills from the films discussed in their pages. The ten films analyzed in Interiors — more accurately, they are ten scenes from ten films — are documented visually with just two things: a symbol representing the film (first spread below) and a floor plan of the space (third spread) discussed in the text. Clearly, architects will be most interested in the floor plans, though in the end it's the texts that are the most revealing.The by Interiors of the book's title is Interiors, the nine-year-old project by Mehruss Jon Ahi and Arman Karaoghlanian that started as a digital magazine, shifted to online publications, and is now focusing on printed zines. With the last, the duo "plans to piece [all of] this information together in the hopes of creating a well-rounded Publication and the definitive place for analysis on the relationship between Architecture and Film." (emphasis in original) I'm guessing this book is not that definitive publication. The Architecture of Cinematic Spaces is a cursory look at the relationship between architecture and film. Each of the ten films is given eight pages, but with blank pages, oversized symbols, pull quotes, and large titles, the main content (text analysis and floor plan) takes up just three or four pages per film — it's hard to be more than cursory in that amount of space.Even so, I like the analyses of the authors, and it's nice to see the floor plans of the "extra-dimensional hotel" in 2001: A Space Odyssey (an obsession of mine in recent weeks); apartments from Playtime, Her, and Rope; and the house from Home Alone, among other primarily domestic spaces. I don't get the inclusion of Deboarh Berke's Irwin Union Bank (the one on the cover of her firm's 2009 monograph) from Columbus though. Admittedly, the 2017 film is one of the few that seems to be made for architects (it's set in Columbus, Indiana, after all), but the plan of the bank is a roof plan, not an interior. It would have been great to see a plan of one of the film's interiors, such as Eero Saarinen's Miller House or I.M. Pei's Cleo Rogers Memorial Library. But those would be floor plans of actual buildings, rather than floor plans of film sets, like the others. A minor distinction, perhaps, but one that brings up the issue of copyright, the same issue that might have kept film stills out of this book. Whatever the case, I hope the guys at Interiors expand greatly upon The Architecture of Cinematic Spaces for the definitive publication they have been working toward for nearly a decade.SPREADS:

  • City Lust
    by John Hill on July 1, 2020 at 12:00 PM

    City Lust: London Guangzhou Lagos Dubai HoustonCharlie KoolhaasScheidegger & Spiess, April 2020Hardcover | 8 x 11-3/4 inches | 412 pages | 354 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-3858818041 | $59.00PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION:City Lust is a timely dialogue between words and images about a crucial moment in our recent history: the apotheosis of globalization and its current unraveling. In this book, Charlie Koolhaas—an artist, photographer, and writer—takes us to London, Guangzhou, Lagos, Dubai, and Houston, cities in which she has either lived or worked. Her personal and humorous account explores the rapid changes taking place in these culturally vastly different metropolises that are being united by the influences of global trade and the evolution of a shared global culture.A captivating combination of photographic documentary and written testimony, City Lust portrays a global landscape that contradicts the current pessimism—to reveal unexpected creativities, connections, and collective references that emerge despite huge global and economic divides.Charlie Koolhaas lives and works as an artist, photographer, and writer in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. She has taught at various universities internationally, such as Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam, Strelka Institute in Moscow, ETH Zurich, and Harvard Graduate School of Design.REFERRAL LINKS:    dDAB COMMENTARY:On page 232, in the section of City Lust devoted to Dubai, is a photograph Charlie Koolhaas (daughter of architect Rem) took of a box of perfume sitting on a shelf. It is, as is apparent in the first spread below, labeled "City Lust" and carries a stylized skyline of a generic city of high-rises. In the text opposite the photograph, Koolhaas says the box that mimics the design of the Sex and the City perfume was "remade by a Chinese product designer hoping to communicate the sense of hedonism and urbanity that might appeal to women around the world ready to embrace 'Western values.'" Although the perfume that apparently inspired the name of this book might be a far cry from one's first impression upon hearing the phrase (I thought the book would be the passionate document of a passionate city-lover), it really does sum up what Koolhaas is trying to do with her diary of photographs and words. Through documentary-like images of a handful of cities around the world and personal experiences described in words, City Lust captures the paradoxes of contemporary life, namely a diversity of cultures clashing with a homogenizing Western capitalism.I'll admit that Koolhaas's photographs do not strike me as traditionally beautiful or even in some cases telling; at times I'm at a loss as to what was so interesting to make her take some of the photographs. But the images make complete sense when digested with her words. Koolhaas's writing — clear and sharp, humorous and honest — serves to "frame the world through a perspective" rather than record reality, as she admits in the section on Lagos, in which she explains why she contextualizes her images with her experiences. Some of the experiences are harrowing, such as a a run-in with police in Houston that confirmed the fear Koolhaas felt beforehand, given the state's open-carry gun laws, and led her to return to Europe. All of the experiences work with the photographs to describe places where the friction of cultural, economic, and other factors rub up against each other to create lived realities where considerations of authenticity, beauty, or other aesthetic concerns are just preposterous. Photos of perfume bottles, ugly buildings, uglier highways, and other subjects might not convey why some people lust for cities, but they certainly describe how cities accommodate so many people of different religions, ethnicities, and levels of income. It's an ugly mess beautifully captured in Koolhaas's images and words.SPREADS:

  • Animal Architecture
    by John Hill on June 27, 2020 at 1:00 PM

    Animal ArchitectureKarl von Frisch, with the collaboration of Otto von FrischHarcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974Hardcover | 6 x 8 inches | 306 pages | 282 illustrations | English (translated by Lisbeth Gombrich) | ISBN: 978-0151072514PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION:The creative building activity of animals of all species is surveyed in text, drawings, and photographs in this fascinating work by one of the most eminent of animal observers. With an unrivaled grasp of his subject, Professor von Frisch unfolds the marvels of instinct and inventiveness among insects, fish, birds, and mammals. Much earlier than human technicians, termites created systems of air conditioning, dug wells to a depth of 120 feet, and built central cities with satellite suburbs. Wasps may have shown the Chinese how to make paper. Bowerbirds decorate their nests with the aesthetic sense of a painter. Animals have ingeniously used stone, wood, reeds, clay, and wax as building material. They have devised hinged doors, traps, shelters with overhanging roofs, cells with waterproof lining. The precision of their architecture frequently surpasses that of humans.Karl von Frisch, a pioneer in the science of ethology — the comparative study of animal behavior — was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1973. His career began with the study of bees and culminated in his discovery of their mode of communication. He is the author of The Dancing Bees: An Account of the Life and Senses of the Honey Bee. Professor Otto von Frisch, his son and collaborator, is the author of Animal Camouflage and Animal Migration.REFERRAL LINKS:  dDAB COMMENTARY:A couple pages in Jean Dethier's The Art of Earth Architecture, which I featured a few days ago, are devoted to "animal architects": birds using earth to make nests, frogs building ring-shaped nests along shorelines, and crabs building vaults with sandy earth, but also — most remarkable, by far — termite mounds that reach heights of around 20 feet and have internal passive ventilation systems for optimum temperature and humidity. With just two pages among 500, that book can only touch upon how animals build shelters in stunning ways; ways that are sometimes aligned with human dwellings. People wanting more in-depth explorations of animal habitats should pick up Karl von Frisch's classic Animal Architecture, published in 1974, one year after he won, along with Nikolaas Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for their discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual and social behavior patterns."As von Frisch writes on the first pages of his book, "this book will be devoted to the activities of animals that actually build structures of the greatest diversity ... using techniques akin to those that humans employ in masonry, weaving, plaiting, digging, and so on." While here he points out parallels between the built environments of animals and humans, his book is devoted purely to the innate creations of some bugs, birds, and mammals. It is split into two parts: Arthropods and Vertebrates. Von Frisch devoted most of his career to studying bees, and accordingly they take up a large chunk of the first part. But so do wasps, ants, and termites, the last of which he calls "masters in building and civil engineering." Termitaries can be occupied by millions of termites, their oxygen consumption leading to suffocation over a half-day's time without proper ventilation. Through drawings, von Frisch explains the chambers, air spaces, fungus gardens, and structural supports that enable the termite mounds to stand up and vent the air automatically. But he also shows how termitaries in Australia (third spread), for instance, differ from those in Ethiopia (fourth spread); such variety is even evident when comparing the termite mounds in East Africa with those in West Africa.And while von Frisch focuses on the biology of creatures and the science behind their habitats throughout Animal Architecture, he also touches on the social aspects that allow such complex organizations. This draws further parallels with the dwellings of humans and makes me think that architects interested in biomimicry will find plenty of useful information in these pages, both in words and images: the former detailed but accessible, and the latter comprising photographs and drawings. Though given that this classic book is nearly 50 years old, I'm guessing most biomimicry-minded architects already own it.SPREADS:

  • A-frame
    by John Hill on June 25, 2020 at 12:00 PM

    A-frameChad RandlPrinceton Architectural Press, June 2020 (Second Edition)Paperback | 8 x 8-3/4 inches | 224 pages | 225 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1616899059 | $29.95PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION:The heyday of the national A-frame craze saw tens of thousands of these easy and affordable structures built as vacation homes, roadside restaurants, churches, and even pet stores. A-frame chronicles America's love affair with the A-frame, from postwar getaway to its recent revival among designers and DIYers. In a fascinating look at this architectural phenomenon, Chad Randl tells the story of the triangle house, from prehistoric Japan to its lifestyle-changing prime in the 1960s as a symbol of play, leisure, and outdoor living. Part architectural history and part cultural exploration, the book documents every aspect of A-frame living with cartoons, ads, high-style and do-it-yourself examples, family snapshots, and an appendix with a complete set of blueprints in case you want to build your own.Chad Randl is Art DeMuro Assistant Professor in the Historic Preservation Program, College of Design, at the University of Oregon in Portland. Previously, he taught at Cornell University and worked as an architectural historian for the National Park Service. He is the author of Revolving Architecture: A History of Buildings that Rotate, Swivel, and Pivot.REFERRAL LINKS:    dDAB COMMENTARY:Rudolph Schindler is known for a number of houses he designed after moving to California in 1920, most notably the eponymous dwelling he built for his family and the family of his friend Clyde Chace in 1922, and the beach house he built for Phillip Lovell in 1926. He's not particularly known for a mountain cabin he designed at Lake Arrowhead in the mid-1930s, even though that structure is considered "America's first A-frame house," at least according to USModernist. Chad Randl says as much too, in the first chapter of his excellent 2004 history of the A-frame, where he writes, "[A-frames] were fine for temporary shelters for animals and for storing things, but they were not lived in by choice. This changed in 1934, when Rudolph Schindler designed a triangular cabin for Gisela Bennati in the hills above Lake Arrowhead, California." Yet if this were the first American A-frame, it would take a full twenty years for the novel construction to become at trend in the US and another twenty years for its popularity to wane.Randl's definitive history on A-frames was rereleased last week in paperback. Although the publisher calls it a second edition, the only addition is a two-page preface, the rest staying the same: "perhaps it is best to let this little book stand as written," writes the author. For those wanting examples of residential A-frames beyond the roughly twenty-year period traced by Randl here in words and pictures — plenty of pictures — they need only look for The Modern A-Frame from 2018, with photographs by Ben Rahn (his studio is called A-Frame, in fact) and an introduction by Randl. But if you're looking for an in-depth history of a building form that was applied to churches and restaurants as well as vacation houses and ski chalets — and was even turned into a Fisher-Price play set (bottom spread) — A-frame is just what you need.While the book reminds me of A-frames from my youth (churches mainly, with some restaurants jostling here and there in my head), what's most interesting in the book's visual presentation is the prevalence of popular images: toys, yes, but also cartoons, advertisements, and stories from popular magazines, not architectural journals. The A-frame was a popular form/style, and now with children from that time able to build their own second homes outside of cities, no wonder it's come back in style. For them, this "second edition" is hitting at just the right time.SPREADS:

  • The Art of Earth Architecture
    by John Hill on June 24, 2020 at 12:00 PM

    The Art of Earth Architecture: Past, Present, FutureJean DethierPrinceton Architectural Press, March 2020Hardcover | 9-1/2 x 12 inches | 512 pages | 800 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1616898892 | $125.00PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION:For almost ten thousand years, unbaked earth has been used to build remarkable structures, from simple dwellings to palaces, temples, and fortresses both grand and durable. Jean Dethier spent fifty years researching this landmark global survey, which spans five continents and 250 sites. The Art of Earth Architecture demonstrates the wide-ranging applications and sustainability of this building material, while presenting a manifesto for its ecological significance. Featuring raw-earth masterpieces, monumental structures, and little known works, the book includes the temples and palaces of Mesopotamia, the Great Wall of China, large-scale urban developments in Tenochtitlan in Mexico, the medinas of Morocco, and housing in Marrakech and Bogota. This definitive reference features many UNESCO World Heritage sites and contains essays on the historical, technical, and cultural aspects of raw-earth construction from twenty experts in the field, as well as hundreds of photographs, illustrations, and architectural drawings.Jean Dethier has dedicated his life to the research, safeguarding, and development of earth structures around the world. Dethier worked at the Centre Pompidou as a curator of influential architectural exhibits for thirty years. Winner of the prestigious Grand Prix national de l'architecture, he sat on the jury of the 2016 Terra Award, the first international prize for contemporary earthen structures.REFERRAL LINKS:    dDAB COMMENTARY:The most sustainable thing that architects and builders could do is to abandon concrete, steel, and other materials that use excessive amounts of energy to produce; then they would build exclusively with earth: rammed earth, sun dried brick, etc. Such a pivot might be tenable if the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic found a parallel in areas of energy and climate. Although there is a strong sense of urgency with certain groups in dealing with climate change, too many people, corporations, and organizations see climate change as something that will happen in the future, that technology will save, or that will cripple the economy if addressed, much like measures against the coronavirus have disabled certain sectors of the economy and put millions out of work. In regards to the last, COVID-19 has highlighted structural deficiencies in economies and governments, too many of which are set up for the profits of the few rather than the welfare of the many. Likewise, the construction sector can be seen as a vital player in the capitalization of architecture, in which buildings are more important as assets than as dignified places of shelter, work, and the like. Witness the supertalls along 57th Street in Manhattan; these spaces for investment of often foreign money require extreme amounts of energy to build and operate. These and other tall buildings in concrete and steel could never be built in something as humble or labor-intensive as rammed earth.Perusing The Art of Earth Architecture made me think of many things. Some of those things, like the paragraph above, were about the disconnect between the many positive qualities of earth architecture and the realities of population centers around the world. A future of eco, earthen architecture doesn't see difficulties just in Manhattan and other rich places where energy-intensive materials are basically mandated by building codes. In areas where building with earth has been the norm for a long time, modern materials are often seen as a sign of progress and are therefore preferred; sticking with rammed earth, for instance, would be viewed as a step backward. So if shifting to earth architecture and sticking with earth architecture are both difficult prospects, what is to be done to sway societies to its benefits? One way is to promote the beauty of earth architecture.The book's name, The Art of Earth Architecture, expresses as much: building with earth is an art that can be beautiful and should be appreciated for its artfulness. The places inside the massive, expensive, but very worthwhile book span the globe and reach back hundreds or even thousands of years. The book's seven chapters basically work chronologically, from archaeological evidence of earth construction and its vernacular heritage to modern and contemporary examples, with essays looking at the future of earth architecture closing the book. It is very much a large picture book, but it is also very smart, with essays by Jean Dethier, his scientific committee from CRAterre (Patrice Doat, Hubert Guillaud, Hugo Houben), and others interspersed amongst the many projects of earthen eco-architecture. Does one project stand out above the rest to point a way forward? A favorite of mine (and Dethier, who calls it "a true masterpiece of contemporary earth architecture") is Amateur Architecture Studio's Wa Shan Guesthouse at the China Academy of Art, a building I heard Wang Shu talk about in 2013, the year it was completed. It's larger than most rammed earth buildings but also benefits, in my opinion, from not shouting, "I'm a rammed earth building!" as so many do. It's a playful, idiosyncratic design of earth, timber, bamboo, and other natural materials. Its beauty arises from the melange of materials as well as its form and considerations of use. No single building can overturn the negative trends of a whole industry, but the Wa Shan Guesthouse just might convince a developer who has visited it or seen it in these pages to build apartments or some other building from rammed earth. Such a thing would be an excellent start.SPREADS:

  • Tom Kundig: Working Title
    by John Hill on June 22, 2020 at 12:00 PM

    Tom Kundig: Working TitleTom KundigPrinceton Architectural Press, June 2020Hardcover | 10 x 12 inches | 368 pages | 300 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1616898991 | $80.00PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION:Striking, innovative, and dramatically sited, the twenty-nine projects in Tom Kundig: Working Title reveal the hand of a master of contextually astute, richly detailed architecture. As Kundig's work has increased in scale and variety, in diverse locations from his native Seattle to Hawaii and Rio de Janeiro, it continues to exhibit his signature sensitivity to material and locale and to feature his fascinating kinetic "gizmos." Projects range from inviting homes that integrate nature to large-scale commercial and public buildings: wineries, high-performance mixed-use skyscrapers, a Visitor Center for Tillamook Creamery, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, and the Wagner Education Center of the Center for Wooden Boats, among others. Tom Kundig: Working Title includes lush photography, sketches, and a dialogue between Tom Kundig and Michael Chaiken, curator of the Kundig-designed Bob Dylan Archive at the Helmerich Center for American Research.Tom Kundig, FAIA, RIBA, is a principal and owner of Seattle-based Olson Kundig. In 2016, he was elected to the National Academy of Design as an Academician in Architecture, and he received the AIA Seattle Gold Medal in 2018.REFERRAL LINKS:    dDAB COMMENTARY:When I've reviewed the monographs of Seattle architect Tom Kundig, I've mentioned the increasing size of the books. First was a jump up in paper size between Houses (2006) and Houses 2 (2011) and then, with the larger 10x12-inch format in place, the page count increased slightly with Works (2015). Five years later, with Working Title, the big book is bigger, adding 68 pages to its predecessor. Nineteen projects comprise Works, while 29 projects are in the 368 pages of Working Title, all of them completed between 2015 and 2019. If anything, this steady increase in the size of Kundig's monographs illustrates how busy and in-demand he is. That the latest monograph, released this week, begins with a 15-story tower in Seoul also points to a Kundig branching out into typographies well beyond the single-family houses that were the exclusive subject of his first two books. There are houses in Working Title, to be sure, but they are mixed in with wineries, restaurants, office buildings, and cultural venues.Beyond the size of Working Title, one aspect that bubbles to the top for me is the documentation of the 29 buildings through photographs. There are 300 images in the book but only seven of them, based on my count, are drawings: a few plans and a few sections. The photos are large, with typically one or two per each two-page spread. They are beautiful, with most shot by Nic Lehoux, and a preference for yellows, oranges, and blacks throughout. These colors arise from the buildings having been shot around dusk, a time that highlights the materials preferred by Kundig, namely wood and steel. With black backgrounds to the photos and the short texts and captions included for the projects, this coffee table book of photographs is cohesive from beginning to end. Fans of Kundig — and his clients — will surely like Working Title. Even though I'm a fan of his work, I can't help but feel the cohesion is a shortcoming. Although it would be worse if, for instance, all the wineries were grouped together instead of mixed in an apparently random order, the blacks and oranges on spread after spread of large photos are too repetitive, too much of the same. It's time for Kundig to take another look at Houses, which had fewer projects (five across 176 pages) but more photos and many more drawings of each. In Houses I felt like I really understood Kundig's buildings, but in Working Title it's like I'm just getting quick glances at them.SPREADS:

  • Egypt's Desert Dreams
    by John Hill on June 19, 2020 at 12:00 PM

    Egypt's Desert Dreams: Development or Disaster?David SimsAUC Press, September 2018 (New Edition)Paperback | 6 x 9 inches | 486 pages | 100 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-9774168574 | $29.95PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION:Egypt has placed its hopes on developing its vast and empty deserts as the ultimate solution to the country’s problems. New cities, new farms, new industrial zones, new tourism resorts, and new development corridors, all have been promoted for over half a century to create a modern Egypt and to pull tens of millions of people away from the increasingly crowded Nile Valley into the desert hinterland. The results, in spite of colossal expenditures and ever-grander government pronouncements, have been meager at best, and today Egypt’s desert is littered with stalled schemes, abandoned projects, and forlorn dreams. It also remains stubbornly uninhabited.Egypt’s Desert Dreams is the first attempt of its kind to look at Egypt’s desert development in its entirety. It recounts the failures of governmental schemes, analyzes why they have failed, and exposes the main winners of Egypt’s desert projects, as well as the underlying narratives and political necessities behind it, even in the post-revolutionary era.This fully updated paperback edition addresses the latest projects as well as the discourses relating to Egypt’s desert development since the publication of the hardcover edition nearly four years ago, particularly the scheme to built a gigantic new capital east of Cairo.David Sims is an economist and urban planner who has been based in Egypt since 1974. He is the author of Understanding Cairo: The Logic of a City out of Control and Egypt’s Desert Dreams: Development or Disaster?REFERRAL LINKS:    dDAB COMMENTARY:A couple days ago, in my review of Cairo since 1900, I mentioned going to a conference in 2019 that involved spending the bulk of its three days in New Cairo, a new town in the desert twenty miles east of Tahrir Square. Field trips were offered on one day of the conference, and I chose one that went through Old Cairo and to the Pyramids of Giza. My next choice would have been the bus tour devoted to the new towns spread out even farther into the desert between Cairo and Suez. Egypt's Deputy Minister of Housing gave a presentation on the 42 new towns built or under construction in the deserts around Cairo, and while the planning behind them reeked as illogical and reactionary, I found them fascinating, just like I've long found American suburbs fascinating while also disagreeable. One of those towns in his talk was the New Administrative Capital, under construction another twenty miles east of New Cairo. Planned for five million inhabitants, it is a 21st-century version of Brasilia or Chandigarh, but with the tallest building on the African continent at the center of its tabula rasa site. Learning about the new capital during the conference prompted me to buy the paperback edition of David Sims' Egypt's Desert Dreams, which adds a lengthy preface devoted to the capital to the first edition hardcover from 2014. I dove right into the book after returning from Cairo, but circumstances derailed finishing it. Looking at Cairo since 1900 prompted me to dig into it again, focusing on the sections devoted to the actual building of new towns in the desert. These places are feats of — or perhaps delusions of — governmental and economic might but also impressive displays of infrastructure, architecture, and planning.Sims' account of Egypt's desert cities is full of facts in words and images, the latter often consisting of aerial views pulled from Google Earth; this vantage point is fittingly best for capturing the shapes and sizes of these new settlements. (Just take a look at the Ministry of Defense's "Octagon" next to the new capital, a building complex surely meant to make the Pentagon in Washington, DC, pale in comparison.) But the book is also critical, with Sims seeing the efforts of building new cities — some of them have been built but many of them peter out — as a means of addressing the issues pervading the dense metropolis along the Nile River. Can't stop the informal housing sprouting up in Cairo? Build a new city and push the settlers into the desert. Sims is not as simple as this with his analysis, as he puts the new towns underway in 2014 into a deeper historical context while acknowledging the many factors (agriculture, land tenure, water, energy, etc.) that go into their conception, realization, and functioning. One thing is certain: most Egyptians will not follow the new towns, even if they're built, into the desert. But that doesn't mean Egypt will stop building them.SPREADS:

  • Under the Influence
    by John Hill on June 18, 2020 at 12:00 PM

    Under the Influence: A SymposiumAna Miljački (Editor)Actar Publishers, January 2020Paperback | 5-1/4 x 8-1/4 inches | 220 pages | English | ISBN: 978-1948765152 | $24.95PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION:The Under the Influence book is based on the eponymous symposium, which brought together scholars and practitioners of architecture in order to focus on one of the most anxious disciplinary topics: influence. The symposium invited each of the participants to illuminate a single term—a disciplinary synonym for appropriation—and through that term, the specific strategies, historical, and disciplinary circumstances in which it is enmeshed. It was organized and hosted by Ana Miljački, and presented by the MIT Department of Architecture. With some small additions this is a reprint of that book.Influence is not easily quantified. It is elusive, even when we casually admit to it as we ogle images on the internet, or feel ourselves softening our resolve on an important issue in light of a beautifully crafted piece of rhetoric; or as the mass-media drone imperceptibly rewires some of our most fundamental desires. When Under the Influence symposium took place at MIT in 2012, the invitation to discuss issues of originality and copying in architecture were still taboo. There have been a number of projects on the topic since, but they have hardly exhausted the topics of copying and copyright, whose importance increases with every act of scrolling or “liking” architectural images on Instagram.Ana Miljački, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she teaches theory and design.REFERRAL LINKS:    dDAB COMMENTARY:Seven years is a long time between a symposium and its publication. Under the Influence took place at the MIT Department of Architecture over two days in February 2013 (not 2012, per the publisher's description), but my copy of the accompanying publication of the same name arrived just shy of seven years later. Why the delay? Turns out that Under the Influence from Actar is a republication of the 2014 edition by SA+P Press, with some changes. First are some postscripts, which ironically preface the proceedings; these find some of the symposium participants revisiting their papers or remarks, expanding upon them with work they've done in the interim. Second are occasional comments in the following texts that provide context or make the notes more accurate. On the whole, though, the book is close to the original, therefore acting as an accurate document of the symposium and arguing for the continued relevance of the theme. (Based on the first book's page on the MIT website, it looks like the design of the book remains the same as well, though I prefer the graphic on the cover of the SA+P edition to the Actar edition.)Under the Influence features a dozen architects and educators tackling a variation on the term "appropriation." Florian Idenburg (SO-IL), for example, discusses "allusion" while Michael Meredith (MOS) talks about "collection" and Amanda Reeser Lawrence focuses on "revision." It appears that Ana Miljački, who organized the symposium and edited the book, selected words aligned strongly with the work of the participants. Reeser Lawrence, for instance, revisits her book on James Stirling (a book that revisited her dissertation on him), who she describes as "one of post-war Modernism's most accomplished and provocative revisioners." Following the symposium structure, the book groups the dozen contributions into three groups of four, each followed by transcripts of the discussions that took place on February 23, 2013. Departures from this structure are a few: Mario Carpo's keynote from February 22 and an essay by Nader Tehrani, then chairing the MIT Department of Architecture, both at the beginning; at the end of the book is documentation of Fair Use, an exhibition that accompanied the symposium and was based on a workshop led by Miljacki and Sarah Hirschman. As can be grasped in the spreads below, the exhibition gathered modern and contemporary projects by formal similarities, showing how even architects striving for invention are guilty of appropriation. With architecture's slowness, these sorts of formal memes continue to the present, spread by such websites as ArchDaily, Designboom, and Dezeen. In some ways then, very little has changed in seven years.SPREADS:

  • Cairo since 1900
    by John Hill on June 17, 2020 at 12:00 PM

    Cairo since 1900: An Architectural GuideMohamed ElshahedAUC Press, December 2019Flexicover | 5-1/2 x 7-1/2 inches | 410 pages | 330 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-9774168697 | $39.95PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION:The city of a thousand minarets is also the city of eclectic modern constructions, turn-of-the-century revivalism and romanticism, concrete expressionism, and modernist design. Yet while much has been published on Cairo’s ancient, medieval, and early-modern architectural heritage, the city’s modern architecture has to date not received the attention it deserves. Cairo since 1900: An Architectural Guide is the first comprehensive architectural guide to the constructions that have shaped and continue to shape the Egyptian capital since the early twentieth century.From the sleek apartment tower for Inji Zada in Ghamra designed by Antoine Selim Nahas in 1937, to the city’s many examples of experimental church architecture, and visible landmarks such as the Mugamma and Arab League buildings, Cairo is home to a rich store of modernist building styles. Arranged by geographical area, the guide includes entries for more than 220 buildings and sites of note, each entry consisting of concise, explanatory text describing the building and its significance accompanied by photographs, drawings, and maps. This pocket-sized volume is an ideal companion for the city’s visitors and residents as well as an invaluable resource for scholars and students of Cairo’s architecture and urban history.Mohamed Elshahed is a researcher, curator, and specialist on architecture, design, and material culture in Egypt. He holds a PhD from New York University and an MA from MIT. He is the curator of the Modern Egypt Project at the British Museum and founder of Cairobserver.com.REFERRAL LINKS:    dDAB COMMENTARY:Just over a year ago I was fortunate enough to be invited on a junket for a conference taking place in Cairo. Specifically, the 6th LafargeHolcim Forum, Re-materializing Construction (I recently reviewed the conference catalog), was held at the American University of Cairo's campus in New Cairo, located about 20 miles east of AUC's early 20th-century home at Tahrir Square. That setting made my first and so far only experience of Cairo a strange one, full of bus rides, metal detectors, more bus rides, and more metal detectors. Most of the time we were shuttled between the hotel and the campus, though one day consisted of field trips and I opted for the one to the city's historical center – the antithesis of New Cairo – and the Pyramids in Giza. Those areas ended up having just as much security, but the army escort our bus received that day made it clear this was not the typical visitor's journey through the Egyptian capital.When I first heard about Mohamed Elshahed's Cairo since 1900, my first thought was that it was too bad it was too late for my trip. But as I type the above, I wonder now if the excellent guidebook would have actually been useful "on the ground." For sure, Elshahed's book capably paints a picture of modern Cairo and orients the reader within the sprawling city along the Nile, but I'm not sure about using the guidebook to visit any of the 226 buildings/projects between its covers. Take, for instance, the AUC New Cairo Campus, which is included in the book's final chapter, "Outskirts." It was laid out just over a decade ago by Abdelhalim CDC and Sasaki Associates and has building designed by Ricardo Legorreta, Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, and Ellerbe Beckett. Having wandered about campus between sessions, I would recommend a visit to anyone in the area, but the layers of security at the entrances makes me thinks such a thing would be nearly impossible. I'm guessing the same restrictions apply to other projects in the book, although I'll grant that most of them are individual buildings that can be glimpsed from the street.For the above reason, I think Cairo since 1900 functions best as an armchair guide to the city's modern architecture, though the same can also be said because of Elshahed's inclusion of proposals that will never happen. Zaha Hadid's Nile Tower from 2007 is in the book but described in "would have beens" language, while the nearby Maspero Triangle masterplan from Foster + Partners might happen but is unlikely. These kinds of projects add a layer to the architectural guidebook; it melds Cairo's built reality and its ambitions, its unrealized dreams. Architecturally, many of the buildings in the book are unexceptional. But as Mercedes Volait writes in the foreword, "Mohamed is not trying to force Cairo into the canon of avant-garde architecture ... [he shows] that the city possesses a genuine modern built landscape that has value per se." As accumulated, the buildings give a vivid impression of a bustling city that, I'll admit, in many ways exceeds the sight of it from a bus window.SPREADS:

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