A Daily Dose of Architecture

  • 42 Years of Critical Regionalism
    by John Hill on September 25, 2023 at 12:00 PM

    (Covers of some of the books discussed in this post)If your first reaction to the title of this post is something along the lines of, "Wait, isn't critical regionalism just 40 years old?," then everything you think know about critical regionalism is partial, in both senses of the term: incomplete and biased. Yes, Kenneth Frampton's "Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance" was published in Hal Foster's The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture in 1983, exactly 40 years ago, but the term "critical regionalism" was coined two years earlier by Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre in their article "The Grid and the Pathway: An Introduction to the Work of Dimitris and Susana Antonakakis" in Architecture in Greece. But as the term took hold in architectural circles that decade, and to a lesser but still lasting degree in the decades since, it has more often been associated with Frampton's essay, even though he acknowledged the earlier essay at the time and that acknowledgment brought Tzonis and Lefaivre a good deal of attention beyond their native Greece. Yet, if critical regionalism is some sort of –ism, then should it be defined by just one critic? Is it unfair, in other words, that Frampton's take should take precedence over Tzonis and Lefaivre's?First thing's first: what is critical regionalism? If we take a step back and look at the more general term "regionalism," the entry for it in the three-volume Encyclopedia of 20th-Century Architecture (2004, edited by R. Stephen Sennott) describes regionalism in architecture as "the desire to shape buildings according to the particular characteristics of a specific place." Further describing it as "the oldest and most pervasive of all building ideas," the entry omits mention of critical regionalism but includes Frampton's essay in its bibliography. Richard Weston, in his excellent introduction to architecture from 2011, 100 Ideas that Changed Architecture, while he doesn't include critical regionalism among the hundred, he describes it in the entry for regionalism like so: "Attempting to come to terms with the ethical dilemmas of practicing in a globalized world, [... Tzonis and Lefaivre] argued that while welcoming the benefits of interaction and exchange, designers should think critically about their impact and value the uniqueness of the local/regional culture, environment, and resources." Furthermore, they "hoped to avoid both the commercialization of 'folk' traditions and their political use — as in Hitler's promotion of volkisch culture — as a means of excluding others." Weston goes on to describe how Frampton took up the couple's approach but "argued for an emphasis on topography, climate, light, and the tactile rather than the visual [...] advocating tectonic rather than scenographic form as exemplary of the approach," as found in the work of Alvar Aalto and Jørn Utzon.In just a few sentences, Weston draws a basic distinction between the concepts of critical regionalism proffered by Tzonis, Lefaivre, and Frampton, namely that the social and political implications of regionalism nullified the concept for Tzonis and Lefaivre, thereby requiring a critical approach to regionalism, while Frampton saw critical regionalism as a valid response to "scenographic form," by which he means the postmodern architecture that was taking hold of the American architecture profession at the time. Although the architecture and ideas influencing Frampton's "Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance" date back to at least the mid-1960s, the direct impetus for his essay was the 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale, curated by Paolo Portoghesi with its famous "street," the Strada Novissima. Frampton was invited by Portoghesi, alongside fellow critics Charles Jencks, Christian Norberg-Schultz, and Vincent Scully, to contribute to the inaugural architecture biennale in Venice, but he stepped down, writing in a letter to Robert A. M. Stern (a page of it is shown in OASE #103: Critical Regionalism Revisited) that the exhibition "seems to represent the triumph of Post-Modernism" and that he had already "written a text which is categorically critical of this position."Frampton's letter to Stern was dated May 13, 1980, but the text he mentions he had already written was not "Towards a Critical Regionalism" as it would be found in The Anti-Aesthetic. Most likely it was "The Need for Roots: Venice 1980," which was published in the winter 1981 issue of GA Document. (I have not seen that essay so can't comment on it.) Between the Biennale in 1980 and the release of Foster's collection of postmodern essays, Frampton worked out his concept of critical regionalism, or at least the seeds of the concept can be seen in those years. Modern Architecture and the Critical Present, published by AD in 1982, was basically devoted to his 1980 book Modern Architecture: A Critical History (the fifth edition arrived in 2020), so alongside its other contents it included "Place, Production and Architecture: Towards a Critical Theory of Building," an excerpt of the book's last chapter. It also included "The Isms of Contemporary Architecture," revised to add "Regionalism" as one of the –isms. Although Frampton mentions the thesis of a "hybrid 'world culture'" advanced by philosopher Paul Ricoeur, whose words preface his Anti-Aesthetic essay, and he discusses the work of Aalto, Mario Botta, Alvaro Siza, Gino Valle, and other architects who fit the mold of critical regionalism, the –ism was not yet explicitly "critical."That same year, 1982, Frampton contributed "Proposals for a Critical Regionalism" to Perspecta 20: The Journal of the Yale School of Architecture. Similarities to the essay that will follow in 1983 are found in the Ricoeur quote prefacing the article and a mention of "The Grid and the Pathway." While the "Six Points" essay is abstract, with mention of just two or three architects, the Perspecta article is loaded with buildings and projects that illustrate Frampton's concept. Tadao Ando, J. A. Coderch, Ricardo Bofill, Raimund Abraham, Botta, Valle, and others serve as examples of "recent regional 'schools' whose aim has been to represent and serve, in a critical sense, the limited constituencies in which they are grounded." The essay concludes with mention of "The Grid and the Pathway," but Frampton does not give credit to the authors for coining "critical regionalism," instead using their subjects, Dimitris and Susana Antonakakis, as exemplars of the regional "school" in Greece. Curiously, even though the Perspecta editors give full credit to Tzonis and Lefaivre in the citation to their text, Frampton only mentions Tzonis, referring to "The Grid and the Pathway" as "his article"; this is indicative of the sexism still entrenched at the time but also a lack of understanding of Tzonis and Lefaivre's concept for critical regionalism beyond their 1981 essay.The information described above can be cobbled together from various sources, as cited, as well as from the recently published Kenneth Frampton: Conversations with Daniel Talesnik, in which Frampton is forthcoming about the origins of "Towards a Critical Regionalism" and the debt it owed to Tzonis and Lefaivre. (His recital of the facts to Talesnik makes it seem that it is a story he has told numerous times in the decades since his essay.) But to gain a considerably deeper understanding of the overlapping theories of critical regionalism and their origins, one recently published book is extremely valuable and highly recommended:Resisting Postmodern Architecture: Critical Regionalism before Globalisation by Stylianos Giamarelos, published by UCL Press, 2022 (Amazon / Bookshop)There are too many revelations in Giamarelos's history/historiography of critical regionalism, but only enough space here to mention three. First is the role of Robert A. M. Stern in the 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale, The Presence of the Past. Giamarelos describes Stern as "the show's overlooked protagonist [...] historically overshadowed by Portoghesi." Frampton, remember, was invited to participate, but by the time he and the other critics went to Venice, in November 1979, the direction of the exhibition was already determined during a September 1979 meeting where Stern presented his detailed proposal that "practically formed the backbone of the exhibition," per Giamarelos. No wonder most of the architects contributing to the Strada Novissima were from North America rather than Europe or Asia, and no wonder Frampton addressed his resignation letter to Stern.A second revelation is the contribution of Anthony Alofsin, who was a student of Tzonis's in the 1970s, when he was teaching at Ivy League schools in the US. Alofsin is known now for numerous books on Frank Lloyd Wright, but in the 1970s his work as a sculptor and architect in New Mexico "stimulated his interest in the historic processes that lay beneath" the area's historic buildings. He brought this interest in regionalism to Harvard GSD in 1978, where he took courses from Tzonis that "familiarized him with critical theory," per Giamarelos. Alofsin ended up joining Tzonis and Lefaivre on a paper, "The Question of Regionalism," for a conference in 1980 organized by Swiss sociologist Lucius Burckhardt. Alofsin's text submitted to Tzonis, "Constructive Regionalism," served as the basis for the paper, but Tzonis and Lefaivre modified Alofsin's conclusion, introducing the critical regionalism they would expand upon for the Architecture in Greece esssay. (Vincent B. Canizaro's excellent Architectural Regionalism: Collected Writings on Place, Identity, Modernity and Tradition includes Alofsin's original text.) So, while "The Question of Regionalism," when published in 1981, was the first appearance of critical regionalism in print, it was only in German and therefore not cited by Frampton, unlike the bilingual "The Grid and the Pathway."A third illuminating thread of information from the book involves Frampton's proposed 18-book series of "monographs on critical architecture practices of 'unsentimental regionality'" for Rizzoli, who would have published them over a period of two to four years. First proposed at the end of 1981, Frampton moved forward with two titles — on Tadao Ando and Atelier 66, the practice of Dimitris and Susana Antonakakis, published in 1984 and 85, respectively — before Rizzoli discontinued the series. (Such an ambitious, audacious proposal no doubt stemmed from Frampton serving as an acquisitions and editorial consultant at Rizzoli from 1979 to 1988.) Outside of Vittorio Gregotti, whom Frampton would have written about on his own, each book would have been edited by Frampton, included a short introduction by him, and featured a longer essay by an author familiar with their work; naturally, then, Tzonis and Lefaivre contributed to the book on Atelier 66. Giamarelos also discusses the book Frampton started to work about critical regionalism, given that his essay made such an impact in the 1980s that it warranted a book-length exposition. That never happened, but Frampton rolled some of his version of critical regionalism into Studies in Tectonic Culture: The Poetics of Construction in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Architecture, an excellent and well-respected book but not one with the lasting impact of the 1983 essay.So, if Frampton did not write the book on critical regionalism, who did, assuming one exists? The first architecture book bearing the critical regionalism moniker was written by none other than Tzonis and Lefaivre. Critical Regionalism: Architecture and Identity in a Globalized World was published in 2003, the third in Prestel's "Architecture in Focus" series, which also included books on "Minimal Architecture" and "Light, Mobile and Floating Architecture." The authors used the book to provide a deeper history of regionalism, tracing it from Ancient Greece to ca. World War II in an essay by Tzonis, and delving into the ideas of Lewis Mumford in an essay by Lefaivre that looked at the three decades after the war. The other half of the book has twenty examples of critical regionalism, mainly in photos, making it as much a picture book as a text of history and theory. Given the impact of critical regionalism on architects — it is one of the few architectural concepts/theories with direct application to professional practice — I wanted to include something on it in Buildings in Print: 100 Influential and Inspiring Illustrated Architecture Books. Although Critical Regionalism is the book I chose, Giamarelos describes their later book, Architecture of Regionalism in the Age of Globalization: Peaks and Valleys in the Flat World (first published in 2011 and expanded in 2020) as the couple's definitive statement on critical regionalism, signaling its greater importance.While this review can only touch on a few points in Resisting Postmodern Architecture: Critical Regionalism Before Globalisation, Giamarelos's goals are two-fold: articulating the formulation of critical regionalism by Tzonis and Lefaivre, since it has long been overshadowed by Frampton's concept; and, in the book's second half, exploring the cross-cultural roots of critical regionalism in Greece, the home of Tzonis, Lefaivre, and their original subjects, Dimitris and Susana Antonakakis. Giamarelos wraps up the book by arguing for the continued relevance of critical regionalism today, shifting it from "an architectural theory of the 1980s into a manifesto for architectural historiography in the 21st century." If architectural historians embrace the seven points of Giamarelos's manifesto remains to be seen, but the value of the history the book tells is abundantly clear, given the lack of a history of critical regionalism before it.

  • The Latest from MoMA: Emerging Ecologies
    by John Hill on September 18, 2023 at 12:00 PM

    Like many people with a lot of books, I keep track of my library with an app/website, tagging books with keywords to better filter and find them. The tags I use move from general terms like "architecture" (the most) and "fiction" (the least) to specific terms that reflect a high number of books by a particular author ("frampton," as in Kenneth) or maybe about a certain architect ("wright," Frank Lloyd). One of the oft-used tags on the specific end of the spectrum is "moma," which includes books published by the Museum of Modern Art, be it Robert Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture or exhibition catalogs, as well as books actually about MoMA, like Terence Riley's The International Style: Exhibition 15 and The Museum of Modern Art. As of today, I have 34 books tagged "moma" in my library, spanning from The International Style in 1932 (the 1990s reprint, mind you, not the first edition) to Emerging Ecologies: Architecture and the Rise of Environmentalism, the catalog to the exhibition of the same name that opened yesterday at MoMA.In between the books from 1932 and 2023 are catalogs for MoMA exhibitions I attended and wrote about; exhibitions I wish I would have seen in person; and exhibitions, many of them seminal, held well before my time. The value of exhibition catalogs is evident in the latter two: they enable people who did not see an exhibition to be exposed to what the curators put together, often with the added input of scholars on the subject. One could even go further and say the catalogs are more important than the exhibitions themselves, since they have longevity, serving as archives of the exhibitions well after they've been demounted and destroyed. While I don't fully agree with such a statement, since exhibitions benefit from being spatial experiences and often — and increasingly — feature films and other media that can't be replicated in books, the value of catalogs is undeniable.Emerging Ecologies: Architecture and the Rise of Environmentalism edited by Carson Chan and Matthew Wagstaffe, published by the Museum of Modern Art, September 2023 (Amazon / Bookshop)How does Emerging Ecologies compare to previous catalogs from MoMA exhibitions on architecture? Based on my exposure to them, I would group MoMA's architecture catalogs into two broad types: printed companions to the drawings, models, and other artifacts on display in the galleries; and scholarly essays on the exhibition's subject. Often these two strands are combined, with essays prefacing plates of the works on display. But if we go all the way back to MoMA's first architecture exhibition — Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, curated by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcok in 1932 — we find these two types in two separate publications: a companion catalog (PDF link) and the more familiar, polemical book by Johnson and Hitchcock (sans Lewis Mumford's contribution on housing from the exhibition/catalog) that "defined 'the International Style'" at the time and in the decades to come. Emerging Ecologies, as edited by Carson Chan and Matthew Wagstaffe, falls into the "printed companion" camp.Visitors to Emerging Ecologies between now and its closing on January 24, 2023, will approach the third-floor architecture galleries in one of two ways. Stepping out of an elevator, they will be confronted by a timeline of relevant events and dates for the artifacts in the exhibition, while those arriving via escalators and the bridge next to the atrium will see the yellow wall pictured at the top of this post and then go either left or right into the exhibition's two galleries. The various exhibits are laid out thematically, but when I previewed the exhibition last week, I found the layout and presentation fairly laid back, conducive to a leisurely stroll through the numerous colorful projects comprising "the first expansive survey of the history of environmental thinking in architecture," spanning primarily the 1960s and 70s. The exhibition is also the first from MoMA's Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and the Natural Environment, which was created in 2020 and helmed by Chan the following year.In lieu of a thematic organization following from the layout of the exhibition (e.g., "Prehistory of Environmental Architecture," "Enclosed Ecologies," "Life Forms," etc.) or one following the timeline visitors see by the elevators, the book is in alphabetical order by the names of the architects or other authors of the works in the exhibition (there is an expanded timeline in the back matter). While this results in putting Emilio Ambasz first among the more than thirty names, it more broadly puts an emphasis on the personalities behind environmental thinking, rather than the works themselves. Like other surveys, be they exhibitions or not, the structure allows comparisons to be made based on quantities: the number of pages given to each name helps signal their importance. So who is most important in Emerging Ecologies? No contest it's R. Buckminster Fuller, not only because he earns sixteen pages while most others have four or six, but because the "pathbreaking architect, writer, designer, inventor, and philosopher" (per the book) infiltrates other names in the book. Cambridge Seven Associates built one of Fuller's geodesic domes for Expo 67 and Murphy & Mackey built one at Missouri Botanical Garden; these are just the most direct permutations of Fuller elsewhere in the book.Architecture exhibitions at MoMA are, by virtue of their setting, geared to general audiences. As such, the catalogs are where the curators expend the effort in digging deeper, usually in more scholarly ways. That isn't the case with this "field guide," as Chan and Wagstaffe label it, but that doesn't mean architects and others with prior knowledge of environmentalism in the 1960s and 70s will not find something new, or new perspectives on the subject, in the book. Beyond names like Fuller, there are such groups as the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and Warren County Citizens Concerned about PCB that capture today's emphasis on equity and citizen engagement. It's not all hero worship, in other words. For me, a big fan of buildings merging with landscapes, I was pleased to learn about Malcolm Wells, who pivoted his practice from "conventional" to "earth-sheltered," sticking to his beliefs from the mid-1906s to his death in 2009. I was also surprised that I hadn't known about him earlier. Surely, I won't be alone in making such discoveries in Emerging Ecologies, a rich survey of a period with obvious relevance today.

  • Places in Time II
    by John Hill on September 11, 2023 at 12:00 PM

    Last week dose explored three "places in time": St. Louis in the early decades of the 20th century; Detroit between 1935 and 1985; and Chicago suburb Oak Park ca. 1906, when Frank Lloyd Wright completed Unity Temple. Those three US-centric books were split between two historical surveys and one case study.  The same applies to the European/Asian books here, with a survey of brutalist architecture in Paris followed by a survey of Indonesian architecture trained in Germany around 1960 and a case study of a care center for people with mental disabilities in Belgium.Brutalist Paris: Post-War Brutalist Architecture in Paris and Environs by Nigel Green and Robin Wilson, published by Blue Crow Media, July 2023 (Amazon / Bookshop)Dipl.-Ing. Arsitek: German-trained Indonesian Architects from the 1960s edited by Moritz Henning and Eduard Kögel, published by DOM Publishers, July 2023 (Amazon / Bookshop)Living in Monnikenheide: Care, Inclusion and Architecture edited by Gideon Boie, published by Flanders Architecture Institute, April 2023Before receiving Brutalist Paris from the folks at Blue Crow Media, I thought of the UK company simply as a maker of maps. I reviewed Concrete Map Chicago back in 2018 and since then have noticed them putting out maps of modern architecture, brutalist architecture, public transit — even trees. If the Chicago map is any indication, the others put out by Blue Crow Media excel at assembling a mix of quality buildings and presenting them in a way that allows people to orient themselves to the locations of the selected buildings in a particular city; that's the power of maps: orienting oneself physically, in place, and mentally, at a distance. So I was a bit surprised to find the maps on the inside front and back covers of Brutalist Paris to be, frankly, practically useless. Their scale is too small; the contrast between streets and blocks is too low; it's not clear how the four maps join up; the lists of buildings keyed to the maps do not extend to the book's pages. I could go on, but that's not necessary because this book is not about the maps. Rather it is about the words of Robin Wilson and the photographs of Nigel Green. The maps give some cursory, almost ghostly, geographic information, but they are not there to structure the book.Brutalist Paris features seven essays by Wilson and four geographical sections with Green's photos inserted between the essays. Although the duo collaborates as Photolanguage, words and images are distinct. "Whilst the photographic component provides an extensive, general survey of the production of the period as a whole," Wilson explains in the first essay, "the text necessarily develops a more selective interpretation of a smaller range of key works." Paris does not spring immediately to my mind as the city of brutalist architecture par excellence (that would be London or Boston), but Wilson's words and Green's images do a good job of arguing for the importance of Paris as a brutalist city. Jumping to the fore are, not the famous examples (Breuer's UNESCO, Niemeyer's Communist Party HQ, Corbu's Maisons Jaoul), but the complex, fractal-like constructions of Jean Renaudie and Nina Susch, Renée Gailhoustet, and others. Wilson describes "a properly oblique and combinatory architecture" and Green captures the light, scale, and in some cases decay of the complexes. The photos may be just a couple of years old, but the choice of presenting them as duotones helps transport readers to the sixties, seventies, and eighties, when parts of Paris really embraced creative concrete architecture.The next book covers roughly the same timeframe as Brutalist Paris — the few decades following the year 1960 — but in two locales thousands of miles and two continents apart: Indonesia and Germany. The two places don't immediately strike me as intertwined, but editors Moritz Henning and Eduardo Kögel discovered a link between them that is quite interesting: a dozen architecture students from Indonesia who studied at TU Berlin and other schools in West Germany in 1960/61. The editors found out about them while working with the curators of Occupying Modernism, the Indonesian contribution to Encounters with Southeast Asian Modernism, an ambitious, multifaceted program directed by Henning and Kögel with Sally Below and Christian Hiller. (Out of the same program came Contested Modernities: Postcolonial Architecture and the Construction of Identities in Southeast Asia, a publication I "briefed" last year.) Like other parts of Encounters, Dipl.–Ing. Arsitek focuses on cross-cultural cooperation between Southeast Asia and Western Europe, and it even comes across subtly in the book's title, words that are probably enigmatic to English speakers: Dipl.–Ing. Arsitek is the Indonesian equivalent of the German Diplom–Ingenieur Architektur.Dipl.–Ing. Arsitek is number 171 in DOM Publishers' longstanding "Basics" series as evidenced by the square format and orange, geometric cover (like this one). While the subject seems too niche to me to be a "basics" book, the structure and presentation of the book are very clear and well done, aiding in one's understanding of the subject and recognizing its importance. Following spreads of period photographs in West Berlin, Hannover, Aachen, and Jakarta, the book's contents are fitted into five parts: "Context," with a handful of essays give relevant background on Germany and Indonesia in the period of the book; "Diplomas," a presentation of ten of the students' final projects; in-depth "Biographies" of eight of the architects; "Positions," excerpts of a few texts by some of the architects; and contemporary "Photographs" of buildings in Indonesia the architects designed after returning there to practice. So, who are these architects that studied in Germany but took their knowledge back home to Indonesia? Soejoedi Wirjoatmodjo and Han Awal were known by the editors beforehand, but the rest (Herianto Sulindro, Jan Beng Oei, Mustafa Pamuntjak, Bianpoen, Suwondo Bismo Sutedjo, Yusuf Bilyarta Mangunwijaya) were primarily discovered in the archives of TU Berlin, which kept their drawings, model photographs, and even some of the models. I can't think of a better arguments for architecture schools — and the future architects attending them — to carefully document their thesis projects and maintain them in archives.The third place-in-time book, Living in Monnikenheide, heads to Zoersel, in Belgium, and jumps forward in time to near the present. The book's subject, Monnikenheide, is a residential care center for people with mental disabilities that was created around 1973 and has seen more than a dozen buildings added to its "campus" in the half-century since. I had never heard of the place — neither Monnikenheide nor Zoersel, the Flemish village now home to around 22,000 people — so reading some of the essays and perusing the case studies of the buildings were acts of discovery. Gideon Boie, the book's editor and instigator of the book project, describes Monnikenheide as "an unprecedented housing project" that "searched for the normalization of housing for people with mental disabilities" and, in wording that echoes recent trends in architectural culture, "a testing ground for care architecture." The book's subtitle, Care, Inclusion and Architecture, sets up the half-dozen essays that carry the titles "Living with Disability," "At Home in the Care Centre," and "Caring for the Landscape of Care," among others. The essays capably address the myriad issues around the place, from its niche typology to the politics of "inclusion" and the important role of the beautiful wooded landscape connecting the various buildings.The bulk of the book — 70 of its 160 pages — is devoted to the case studies of the buildings, primarily the ones built between 1997 and 2021; the early, "first-period" (of three periods, per Boie) buildings are just described briefly at the beginning of this long section. Architecturally, the buildings range from somewhat typical modern Belgian brick dwellings to low-slung glass-walled updates to older buildings, pitched-roof care homes clad in corrugated metal, and a three-story care home covered in blackened wood. While each building is pleasing in one way or another, Monnikenheide is not about any individual building: it is about the interaction of the buildings with each other and the landscapes between them and, in the case of the brick dwellings in the village, the logical extension of "inclusion" to a context more urban than pastoral. Full-bleed photographs between the different sections of the book do a decent job in capturing the character of the landscape and the village; I say "decent" because their silver duotones, akin to the cover, are more aesthetic than informative. But in concert with the essays, case studies, and the book's design, the photos contribute well to a beautiful document of a special place that architects interested in this facet of care will find valuable.

  • Places in Time I
    by John Hill on September 4, 2023 at 12:00 PM

    Like most human beings, I can be contradictory at times. One area where this manifests is architectural surveys: books that usually collect buildings of a certain typology, but also ones spanning a particular timeframe or through some other theme. I've written a few of them myself, so I don't inherently hate them. But I tend to pass on them when it comes to new books, which most likely boils down to the fact I'm not a practicing architect and therefore don't need to look at, say, a roundup of libraries when I'm designing one. Yet, when it comes to old surveys — as in my latest #archidosereads — I have a hard time saying no to them after spotting them in used bookstores. I think part of their appeal is the way they capture the character of a certain time, and often, with the occasional geographical focus of surveys, a particular place in time. Being seen decades after they were made, the best ones manage to transport me back to a certain place in time — something I find irresistible, even if subconsciously, before putting it down in words here. A book need not be old to do such a thing, so this week and next week I'm featuring books that manage to capture certain places at certain times. The six books aren't all surveys, but the majority of them do fall into that subcategory of architectural books. Following the three US-central books here, next week's installment will head to Europe and Asia.Detroit Modern: 1935–1985 by Peter Forguson, photography by Amy Claeys, published by Visual Profile Books, November 2022 (Amazon / Bookshop)Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple: A Good Time Place Reborn by Pat Cannon, photography by James Caulfield, published by Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, December 2022 (Amazon / Bookshop)A. A. Fischer's St. Louis Streetscapes by Nancy Moore Hamilton, published by Missouri Historical Society, June 2023 (Amazon / Bookshop)In its geography and name, Detroit Modern sounds like a sequel to Michigan Modern: An Architectural Legacy, the 2018 book written by preservationist Brian D. Conway with photographs by James Haefner, also published by Visual Profile Books. But they are two different beasts, given that the earlier book was the product of the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, which received a grant from the National Park Service for the project, while the nearly one-year-old Detroit Modern was written by Peter Forguson, a landscape designer and landscaping contractor who has worked on the grounds of some of the 70 houses collected in his book. Forguson's book, in turn, is a labor of love, one that draws attention to an overlooked geographical subset of mid-20th-century modern residential architecture, something Michigan Modern similarly did for a wider array of building typologies on a larger geographical scale.The 70 houses spanning 50 years were designed by names both familiar and lesser known: from Eliel and Eero Saarinen, Minoru Yamasaki, Edward Durell Stone, and Gunnar Birkets among the former, to Irving Tobocman, Don Paul Young, Louis DesRosiers, and Robert L. Ziegelman in the latter. While those last four names, among numerous others in the book, are new to me, they may be fairly well-known names in the larger Detroit area (the book is more Grosse Pointe Farms and Bloomfield Hills that Detroit proper, it should be noted), given that they designed roughly 20 of the book's 70 houses. This book will no doubt appeal to locals interested in mid-20th-century houses, but it should also appeal to people living outside the Detroit area who like the same. It should be pointed out that although photographer Amy Claeys is billed as photographer, many of the houses feature photographs by others, including Haefner and occasional period photographs by the great Balthazar Korab. As such, the book doesn't have the visual consistency of Michigan Modern (it's also lacking in floor plans, valuable elements in any good book on residential architecture), but the book's ability to capture the high-quality architecture created in a place over a fairly long time period makes it a valuable document.The buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright, unlike the houses of suburban Detroit, don't need to worry about being overlooked. There are more than 400 extant buildings designed by Wright, and although only a small number of them are considered masterpieces, that number is higher than most — save perhaps Le Corbusier. One way of quantifying greatness is via UNESCO, which put 17 Corbu sites on its 2016 list but only eight Wright buildings on a similar list a few years later. One of those eight is Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, the Chicago suburb home to Wright at the time; ground broke on the building in 1906 and it was dedicated in 1909, the same year Wright left for Europe to work on the Wasmuth Portfolio. Given the importance of Unity Temple in Wright's oeuvre, it made sense that Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple: A Good Time Place, a celebration of the edifice, was released in 2009. Although restoration plans, led by T. Gunny Harboe, began around 2006, the "award-winning transformative restoration" would not be complete until 2017, twelve years after the building celebrated its centennial.With Unity Temple carefully restored and open to the public for about five years, the time was right to update the 2009 book by Patrick F. Cannon with photographer James Caulfield. I have not seen the earlier book, but it appears to be a square book of approximately nine inches, whereas the newly "reborn" book taking on a larger page size — nearly 10 x 12 inches. The slim, 120-page book has a brief history of the commission, its design and its construction, at the beginning, with a text by Harboe on the restoration, a selective bibliography (including Robert McCarter's 1997 case study from the "Architecture in Detail" series), and some texts from ca. 1909 in the back matter. In between are approximately 75 pages of photographs by Caulfield. Unfortunately, what should be the best part of the book — post-restoration photographs of Unity Temple's exterior and interior — is the most disappointing. Without knowing the details, Caulfield appears to have a preference for HDR photography, which makes the concrete building look like a computer model on the outside and too evenly illuminated on the inside. Only in the photos where Caulfield lets shadows be dark (the cover photo being one of those) can readers fully appreciate what Wright accomplished more than a century ago.I'm from suburban Chicago so am quite familiar with the numerous Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Oak Park. But even though my wife hails from St. Louis, and therefore I've been there quite a few times and have seen firsthand various parts of the city and county, I was not previously familiar with Alexander August Fischer, the subject of this hefty book by his inadvertent biographer, Nancy Moore Hamilton. I say inadvertent because in retirement Hamilton, a longtime resident of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and former geographer and data analyst who had spent just one year of her life in St. Louis, found herself drawn to St. Louis and the streetscapes built by A. A. Fischer. As the photos on the cover of the book (some of many in the book shot by photographer Reed R. Ratcliffe in 2022) attest, the streetscapes of Fischer are a pleasing lot — or, at least the ones that have survived intact to 2022, a century or more after they were created, are. After all, when I think of the streetscapes of St. Louis, what comes to mind are vacant lots and vacant or condemned buildings being just as numerous on any block as extant and/or occupied buildings, such is the unfortunate present of the Midwestern city.Hamilton's large book published by the Missouri Historical Society is like two books in one: a biography of Fischer and a directory of the many buildings by Fischer's company. Following Hamilton's semi-autobiographical introduction, which goes into some detail on how she ended up spending close to two decades focused on the subject of Fischer and his buildings, is the biography: four chronological chapters on Fischer's life, from his German ancestors to his death (in 1936 at the age of 70) and legacy. The subject may only seem appealing to residents of St. Louis, but it is a lavishly illustrated biography, with numerous large photographs by Ratcliffe as well as archival photographs and other documents. At just 120 pages and accompanied by the illustrations, the biography is a fairly quick read. The bulk of the book follows: the 340-page "Directory of A. A. Fischer Builds" that methodically presents one building per page with data and illustrations. It doesn't matter if a building was razed, it is given a page and indicated as such. While extant buildings receive photos by Radcliffe, buildings long-gone have older photographs or just maps. And speaking of maps, the book is accompanied by a foldout poster that locates every building in the book — very helpful. The pros of the book are obvious, mainly that Hamilton fills a void in the scholarship of the built environment in St. Louis. A. A. Fischer was a prolific builder of residential buildings across the city in the first decades of the 20th century, though his impact was basically unheralded. In this sense, the book is more than welcome. My only con with the book is its hefty format. With a 10 x 12" paper size and nearly 2" thick, it is a large, unwieldy book. The pages are nearly full in the biography, but the photos in the directly are small and the margins across those same pages are large. With the layout of the directory apparently sized to entries with the most available information, most of the these pages are therefore empty space. I feel that either the photos should have been larger across the directory pages, or the whole book should have opted for a smaller page size. Of course, the latter would make the book a less impressive object — one that wouldn't have immediately conveyed the size of Fischer's contributions to St. Louis.

  • Four Monographs
    by John Hill on August 21, 2023 at 1:00 PM

    Of the numerous books publishers send me for review — be they requested by me, pitched by them, or arriving at my doorstep unsolicited — the highest percentage of them are monographs. This fact goes against the occasional sirens over the irrelevance and anachronistic nature of monographs in our digital age, with free access (for now) to voluminous amounts of information on buildings and architects readily available online. But books, in my opinion, are better archives than websites, offering architects a further level of control over the finished product compared to websites. It's not uncommon today to find architecture firms, no doubt driven by savvy marketing departments and PR firms, merging their brands across platforms, such that their monographs resemble their websites. But in five or ten years time, only the books will retain that expression, thereby making them important archives of architects' work and the means of presenting it. The four recently published monographs that follow provide four diverse expressions for architectural monographs today.Speculative Coolness: Architecture, Media, the Real, and the Virtual by Bryan Cantley, edited by Peter J. Baldwin, published by Routledge, April 2023 (Amazon / Bookshop)Merging City and Nature: 30 Commitments to Combat Climate Change by Batlleiroig, published by Actar Publishers, March 2023 (Amazon / Bookshop)I'm not sure when I came across the architecture of Bryan Cantley, but for sure it was through his popular Instagram account — with nearly 30,000 followers now, at least it is popular by architecture standards. The images saturating his account transport me to my undergrad days in the early 1990s, when Neil Denari, Peter Pfau and Wes Jones, and other machine-minded architects were in vogue. Building; Machines, the twelfth issue of Pamphlet Architecture, was the bible of this strain of contemporary architecture, where structure and services were exposed, elements moved (or at least appeared to do so), and surfaces (almost always metallic) featured curves that echoed the form of concrete mixer trucks. I figured I wasn't alone in connecting those aesthetic dots, but I also assumed such a reading was overly superficial and potentially unfair toward whatever Cantley is doing through his designs and illustrations. Neil Spiller actually mentions Neil Denari and Wes Jones in his introductory essay to Speculative Coolness, but only briefly, lumping them with a wider swath of visionaries ("the Wright brothers, Barnes Wallace, Archigram, Norman Foster and Richard Rogers") and stating that "nowadays these preoccupations have their epicenter in SoCaL." Cantley is a professor at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) and has taught at SCI-Arc and Woodbury University, all SoCal schools, though his bio at the start of the book also points out that "his work is in the permanent collection at SFMOMA, as well as in the personal collection of Thom Mayne." If such "preoccupations" have their epicenter in and around Los Angeles now, they did so thirty years ago, too, when Denari, Jones, etc. taught and practiced there. This network with shared interests and formal similarities is accentuated by Wes Jones's essay in the pages of Speculative Coolness and Mayne's afterword in the same.A major thing separating the work of Denari and Jones with that of Cantley is the brief, or program, or whatever one wants to call it. Although much of the machine-inspired architecture of the nineties remained on paper or in model form, the projects were clearly proposals to be built, be it an unlikely monastery, a more reasonable house or apartment building, or most obviously an industrial structure (an example of the last, by Holt Hinshaw Jones, was built at UCLA in 1994). But it's difficult to grasp what Cantley's projects might function as if they are considered as models for actual buildings, or if they were designed in response to particular briefs, for instance in the way Brodsky and Utkin created designs for competitions but hardly ever had them approach being recognizable buildings. But do I care if Cantley's designs are speculative, self-generated programs rather than proposals for specific briefs from others? Do I care if I grasp his intentions, further obscured by the texts accompanying the images? Well, frankly, no. His projects, as rendered in sketches, drawings, models, perspectives, and collages, are just too beautiful. No wonder his website sells prints of his architectural imagery — and no wonder this monograph is saturated with the same, sure to woo architects and architecture students too young to remember the nineties.Half a world away from Southern California is the equally warm-and-dry region of Catalonia and the metropolis of Barcelona, where the multi-disciplinary firm Batlleiroig, founded by Enric Batlle and Joan Roig in 1981, is located. Forty years is a long time for an architecture firm, and across those years Batlleiroig has realized many projects spanning multiple disciplines: architecture, landscape, and planning. Those same disciplines structure the book, which features ten chapters with three projects per chapter — one planning project, one landscape, and one building per chapter. But let's not call them chapters: Batlle describes them as "ten concepts that we believe must be incorporated into our daily lives to combat the climate emergency and improve living conditions on the planet." 10 x 3 = 30, hence the thirty projects presented in Merging City and Nature are also "30 commitments to combat climate change."Over Batlleiroig's 40-plus years, the firm has grown to 140 people, making them a large firm in any of their three disciplines. Such size often means, at least in terms of architectural monographs, a business-like approach over an artistic one. This approach is definitely on display in Merging City and Nature, from the 10x3 structure and the descriptions of the projects/commitments (more bullet points than narratives) to the design and layout of the book, which resembles a textbook at times. Structure trumps reality, such that even though the firm has fifteen times more architects than planners and twice as many architects as landscape architects (as expressed in a bubble diagram at the back of the book), there are ten projects presented for each discipline. I would have loved to see more landscapes, which are the strongest parts of Batlleiroig's output (the Garraf Controlled Waste Landfill project is one of many highlights). As is, the book's rigid structure enables the firm to show how each of their disciplines addresses each of the ten concepts: commendable from a marketing perspective but dry and fatiguing for anyone looking for inspiration. So, if you're looking for a practical book loaded with well-designed examples of how architects and planners can address the climate emergency, Merging City and Nature is the book for you.Allied Works Architecture 2003- 2022 (TC 156) by Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works, published by TC Cuadernos, July 2022 (Amazon)Skylab: The Nature of Buildings by Skylab and Jeff Kovel, published by Thames & Hudson, June 2023 (Amazon / Bookshop)Often my excitement with learning about an architectural imprint is tempered by the fact I didn't know about it sooner. How did Valencia TC Cuadernos put out dozens and dozens of monographic issues on contemporary architects in and beyond Spain before Allied Works sent me number 156 without me know about them? Am I that out of touch with European architectural publications? Or are there just too many to keep track of? The quality of the issue devoted to about twenty years of Allied Works' buildings is exemplary, indicating that the wider TC Cuadernos oeuvre melds the qualities of, say, El Croquis with Detail: offering color photographs on high-quality paper accompanied by detailed architectural drawings. (That said, I do wish the font for the project descriptions and essays was easier to read and that all the drawings were labeled, not just the wall sections — reading floor plans without labels is not very helpful.)Allied Works Architecture 2003- 2022 is the first expansive monograph on Allied Works since Occupation, the 2011 release covering the first sixteen years of the studio founded by Brad Cloepfil in Portland, Oregon, in 1994. I have not seen that earlier monograph, but the level of control I mentioned in the prologue to this post is naturally eschewed in the new book (essentially a periodical), in terms of page design and the couple of things I quibbled about above. Still, for the most part it is an Allied Works product, with the drawings, models, photographs, and text provided by the studio. Most refreshing is the span of the book, with fourteen completed buildings over nearly twenty years presented; it even includes Cloepfil's fairly well-known early essay/project "Sitings: Five Reflections on Architectural Domain" (PDF link), which functioned as a statement of intent when he founded his firm now nearly thirty years ago.Back in 2017, I attended the Vectorworks Design Summit in Baltimore, where Cloepfil gave the keynote and I was able to speak with him one-on-one after his presentation for an article at World-Architects. Before that talk, the projects I was most familiar with were the Maryhill Overlook (1998), the Wieden+Kennedy Headquarters (2000), the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2003), and the Clyfford Still Museum (2011). These four projects are thoroughly orthogonal buildings, but the projects he presented in Baltimore, such as the National Music Centre of Canada (2016) and National Veterans Memorial and Museum (2018), are dramatic departures from the apparent norm: curved and spatially complex constructions that see Cloepfil and Allied Works apparently striving to create architectural icons. Not surprisingly, these last two projects are found at the beginning of TC 156, signaling their importance in this phase of Cloepfil's career and the output of his studio. The diversity of Allied Works' designs can be seen in the other cultural, residential, and commercial projects that fill the monograph, including the issue's closer: Providence Park Stadium Expansion (2019), a project that hardly screams "Allied Works" but exhibits the studio's attentiveness to form, material, and structure — especially as presented in the pages of TC 156.Also based in Portland, Skylab was founded by Jeff Koval in 2000 — more than twenty years ago, meaning it was about time for the firm to produce its first monograph. Although Skylab is best known for a series of projects with Nike — especially the Serena Williams Building (2021) and a temporary installation for the shoe brand at the 2012 United States Olympic Trials for Track & Field — the format of the book reflects the music business: The square book features foldout cover boards, a circular cutout and "parental advisory" sticker on the cover, multiple large double-fold gatefolds, and "sides" rather than chapters (Side-A, Side-B, etc.). There isn't even a table of contents, something that makes flipping through the book a voyage of discovery, much like dropping a needle on an album, putting on headphones, and listening deeply. From the photographs of the ten presented buildings under construction to photographs of them completed and everything in between, there is an almost rock n' roll aesthetic suffusing Skylab — a certain coolness that makes the LP format appropriate, if a bit quizzical at times. (If taken to its logical conclusion, wouldn't each "side" be the same length, instead of just 12 pages for Side A, for instance, versus 130 pages for Side B?)One can easily flip through The Nature of Buildings without any awareness of the LP metaphor and gain just as much understanding of Skylab's work: digesting the projects through images layered with green text and drawings; relishing the surprise each gatefold elicits; and reading the trio of conversations between Kovel and others, including clients. The latter are presented sideways on the page, a bit like liner notes, I assume, though they can also be seen just as readily as print elements meant to stand out from the projects that are right side up throughout the book. Like fellow Portlanders Allied Works, the portfolio of Skylab is formally and typologically diverse. Kovel and company's projects might not be as geographically widespread as Cloepfil's, with most of Skylab projects keeping Portland weird, but with commissions in Utah and Idaho they're gaining in popularity beyond their local following.

  • Summer in the City
    by John Hill on July 31, 2023 at 12:00 PM

    From the middle of March, when a family emergency put this blog on hiatus, until the middle of July, when a funeral mass was held for my dad, my life was split almost evenly between my home in New York City and my parent's home in Central Florida. The emergency in March was an incident putting my father in the hospital, and it was followed by numerous diagnoses, the need for him to go into assisted living, and eventually him going back into the hospital, where he died — peacefully, with me, my mother, and my sister at his bedside. Back in March I anticipated, even with his diagnoses, to be helping him in various capacities for a few years, not just a few months. They were difficult and taxing months that found me as relieved as saddened when he passed; the obvious pain and frustration he felt are gone, but memories of him remain and in some ways are stronger and more prevalent now than before.Over those three months, I managed to eke out a half-dozen posts on this blog: a roundup of some books published during the first part of this year; some thoughts on the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair, which I managed to attend between trips; a couple work-related posts, one on self-publishing by architecture firms and the other featuring books from my trip to the Venice Architecture Biennale; a "cheater" revisiting an old post as an excuse to explore ChatGPT; and my first installment of "Book Briefs" this calendar year. That sporadic frequency will continue for the rest of the summer, as I take time to do things with my wife and daughter and just generally decompress. But one thing the last three months did, in the context of this first blog post in six weeks, was push me toward a local focus. So here I present two books on the phenomenon of supertall residential towers, the most high-profile ones found along 57th Street, aka "Billionaires' Row."Billionaires’ Row: Tycoons, High Rollers, and the Epic Race To Build the World’s Most Exclusive Skyscrapers by Katherine Clarke, published by Currency, June 2023 (Amazon / Bookshop)Sky-High: A Critique of NYC's Supertall Towers from Top to Bottom by Eric P. Nash, photography by Bruce Katz, published by Princeton Architectural Press, June 2023 (Amazon / Bookshop)In the prologue to Billionaires' Row, Wall Street Journal reporter Katherine Clarke describes the construction of 40 Wall Street, the Chrysler Building, and the Empire State Building nearly a full century ago as "a veritable race to the sky as wealthy titans of industry vied to build a succession of towers, each taller than the last." (It's a race recounted by Neal Bascomb in Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and the Making of a City back in 2003.) The brief historical anecdote gives the new book an angle, one expressed clearly in its subtitle. Yet I have a hard time buying that the developers of One57 (Gary Barnett/Extell), 432 Park Avenue (Harry Macklowe and CIM Group), 111 West 57th Street (Michael Stern/JDS), 220 Central Park South (Steve Roth/Vornado), and Central Park Tower (also Barnett/Extell) were involved in any sort of race, figurative or otherwise. I've been paying attention to this handful of buildings along Billionaires' Row as long as Clarke has, though not nearly to the same in-depth and insider degree as her, I'll admit, yet I still struggle to find a correlation between these towers and the Manhattan office buildings from the 1920s and 30s. Yes, there is synergy in that each grouping was born from the circumstances of the time (architectural, technological, economic, etc.), but the only "race" I find now is not between the developers themselves, but between the developers and the market — the developers had to quickly sell their eight- and nine-digit aeries before the market for them dried up. If anything, the assemblage of these five towers sitting mainly along 57th Street, a wide street they exploited for unused FAR (floor-area ratio) and reshaped in the process, are less an example of competition and more so an instance of geographical synergy, like a row of car dealers along a busy thoroughfare.People looking for a behind-the-scenes look at the development of these Billionaires' Row towers will be very happy with Clarke's book. The focus is squarely on the four men listed above, the developers behind the five towers. Readers will learn a little bit about the architecture, interior design, engineering and other physical attributes of the towers, but they will learn a lot more about the legal and economic means of how each individual tower happened, as well as the personalities of those men and the people they had relationships with, both business and personal. I have given walking tours of 57th Street and other parts of the city where luxury residential towers are in abundance, and while I tend to focus on aspects of architecture, engineering, and zoning, I never forget to mention how much celebrities and other high-worth people pay for the units; slenderness ratio is exciting to some, but the most audible gasps come from patrons hearing about condos selling for tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. Similarly, Clarke knows her audience; she is attuned to the public's interest in money — plus how much people love to hear about bad things happening to rich people. So the book, a chronological account spanning just over a decade, has plenty of information on the money problems, leaks and creaks, lawsuits, and personal squabbles playing out over that time. If you like hearing that sort of thing, you'll love this book.Although I found Billionaires' Row at a used bookstore a few weeks ago, it was released just last month, exactly two weeks before Sky-High, by former New York Times writer Eric P. Nash. Was there a publishing race to get the first book about Manhattan's supertall towers for the super rich in print? I doubt it, especially since Nash's book has a wider scope than Clarke's, and his book is as much about the photographs by Bruce Katz as it is Nash's critical takes on a dozen 300-meter-plus towers, residential and otherwise, in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Also, the two books lag two years behind Andi Schmied's wonderful and artsy Private Views: A High-Rise Panorama of Manhattan (VI PER Gallery, 2021), arguably the first book on the phenomenon. Last year, well before it was published, an editor at Princeton Architecture Press sent me a preview of Sky-High for a potential blurb on the cover. It wasn't used (the book ended up without any blurbs), but this is what I wrote: "I don't know whether to join Eric P. Nash's fact-filled, opinion-laden chorus and decry some of the dozen supertalls that have reconfigured New York City’s skyline this century, or adore them all through Bruce Katz's loving wide-angle lens. All I know for sure is that this is a much-needed book."Now seeing the book in print, sent to me recently by the publisher, I stand by my statement and its implication that it's nigh impossible to reach any conclusions on the phenomenon of NYC skyscrapers this century when imbibing critical takes, mainly of the aesthetic variety, joined by architectural photography presenting the buildings in the best possible manner. No wonder the back-cover description calls it "part architectural guidebook and part critique." Nash's thirteen numbered chapters are grouped in three parts — "A Short History of the Tall Building in New York City," "Supertalls," and Is Bigger Better?" — with Katz's documentation of the dozen towers inserted as project spreads with black backgrounds. The latter would seem to demarcate photo contributions from text, but more of Katz's photographs are provided alongside Nash's text, making the book more visual than textual. As such, the tug of war between verbal critique and visual praise is near constant. Unfortunately, in the last part of the book, when Nash states that "the real question skyscrapers of any height pose is [...] how they impact the quality of street life," very few photos of that condition, where a skyscraper meets the sidewalk, are provided — and we only see the good examples, including the pedestrian plaza next to One Vanderbilt. Perhaps this dearth is due to timing (the retail at the base of 111 West 57th is still empty, for instance, while its residential entrance on 58th Street sits behind scaffolding), but perhaps it's an inadvertent commentary on the fact these towers contribute very little to the quality of street life. Yes, 432 Park Avenue has a nice POPS between the tower and its detached retail component, but 220 Central Park South puts a private drop-off along 58th Street, opposite where Central Park Tower has an entrance to the pricey Nordstrom department store. Most of these Billionaires' Row towers put their loading docks along narrow 58th Street, but photos similar to those I captured recently would stand out like proverbial sore thumbs in this book. Instead, Nash references Edward Soja, Rebecca Solnit, Shoshna Zuboff, and Henri Lefebvre in a chapter in part three, when he quotes Elizabeth Diller, architect of the near-supertall at 15 Hudson Yards, as saying skyscrapers like 432 Park Avenue and 111 West 57th Street "damage the city fabric." If they do, visual evidence of it is hard to find in Sky-High.

  • Book Briefs #49
    by John Hill on June 19, 2023 at 12:00 PM

    The most recent numbered installment of "Book Briefs," the series of occasional posts featuring short first-hand descriptions of some of the numerous books that publishers send to me for consideration on this blog, was #48, back in December. I wasn't planning on continuing the series this year-of-doing-things-differently (or so I thought), but a couple of weeks ago I brought back the "Briefs" to play around with ChatGPT, which I had been hesitant to dive into but was told by numerous people that I MUST try it. At that time I also mentioned an in-progress "Brief" with eight books — here they are.Concrete in Switzerland: Histories from the Recent Past edited by Salvatore Aprea, Nicola Navone, Laurent Stalder and Sarah Nichols, published by EPFL Press in May 2022 (Amazon / Bookshop)Concrete in Switzerland is a companion publication to Beton, the exhibition held at S AM (Swiss Architecture Museum) in Basel from November 2021 to April 2022. In addition to the involvement of S AM, both the exhibition and the book boast three partners: the gta Archiv, ETH Zürich; the Archives de la construction moderne, EPF Lausanne (EPFL); and Archivio del Moderno dell’Academia di Architettura, Università della Svizzera italiana (USI). The editors from each of these three institutions — Salvatore Aprea (ETH), Nicola Navone (USI), and Laurent Stalder (EPFL) — also contributed one essay each among the book's thirteen essays: Aprea's contribution is about the famous Hennebique System; Navone's focuses, appropriately, on reinforced concrete architecture in Ticino; and Stalder traces about a century of technology's role in the Swiss pastoral, moving from Bruno Taut's Alpine Architecture to near the present day. Appropriately, Stalder's essay is first in the book, effectively serving as an overview or appetizer, if you will, for the essays that take deeper dives into individual subjects. Some standouts include: Silvia Berger Ziauddin's take on concrete bunkers, reminding me of my visit to Sasso San Gottardo; Lorenzo Stieger's essay on terraced hillside housing; Giulia Marino's presentation of the IGECO heavy prefabrication system; and Roberto Gargiani's piece on concrete in the early works of Herzog & de Meuron. This being a companion to an exhibition, the essays comprise about two-thirds of the book, the remainder filled by a lengthy visual essay, "Concrete Stories," by Sarah Nichols, curator of Beton. Her nearly 100-page contribution is broken down into shorter sections with such names as "Concrete is Rock," "Concrete is Energy," and "Concrete is Immaterial." The last shows how ideas around concrete are as important as the physical material itself.Urban Design in the 20th Century: A History by Tom Avermaete and Janina Gosseye, published by gta Verlag in January 2021 (Amazon)In its selection of Urban Design in the 20th Century as one of the ten recipients of a 2022 DAM Architectural Book Award, the jury described the book as "a handy and extensive" publication that is "an exciting, informative, and likewise uncluttered read, giving the complex mass of material a good structure and making it easy to consume." That is an apt description for the 100-plus urban design projects described through hundreds of illustrations across nine chapters spanning 440 pages. Organization is paramount, from the chronological-thematic structure of the chapters to the layout of said images (on black pages) and text (on white). Born from a course in urban design history taught by the authors at ETH Zurich, the book traces a history along the lines of what has been covered before (e.g., the books of Peter Hall and David Grahame Shane) but occasionally broadens the scope beyond a European center, and does it in a way that is appealing for students today: lots of images, large text, and bite-sized (sub)chapters. Today, one might expect a more culturally relevant take on the subject, but the authors point out in the book's coda that most developments in urban design the 20th century were "informed by a European point of view" and that telling a more global history would "undermine current attempts to decolonize history." The last point hints at some forthcoming scholarship that should flesh out histories like this one, presenting alternatives to familiar European perspectives.Modern Architecture in Japan by Manfredo Tafuri, edited by Mohsen Mostafavi, published by MACK in October 2022 (Amazon)Even though, as my collection of books has grown, my appetite for first editions has increased, I still have a soft spot for reprints. (It was one of the likes in my Valentine to architecture books, after all.) They allow hard-to-find, often prohibitively expensive books to be readily available once again and appreciated by new generations of audiences. Even if the ideas in an old book are dated, decisions regarding what merits reprinting point to some renewed interest in a subject or an author's take on a subject, among other things. A few months ago I happened upon a 1982 reprint of Ralph Adams Cram's Impressions of Japanese Architecture and the Allied Arts, first published in 1905 then revised in 1930; I had never heard of the book, but the fact it was reprinted and was relatively cheap led me to buy it. It has a little bit of overlap with one of the fall 2022 books MACK sent me, a handsome reprint of Manfredo Tafuri's Modern Architecture in Japan from 1964. The differences between the two books are as great as their similarities: Both are outsiders' views of Japan (Cram from the US, Tafuri from Italy), but the ensuing changes in the half-century between books meant Tafuri focused on modern architecture over Cram's exploration of temples, shrines, and other creations from previous centuries. (Only in the brief conclusion does Cram jump to the present and Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel and the influence of European architecture on Japan.) Although Cram based his book, as the name indicates, on travels to Japan, curiously, when Tafuri wrote his guide to the country's modern architecture at the age of just 29, he had never even been to Japan! But the biggest difference, at least in terms of the reprints themselves, is that Tafuri's book was originally released in Italian, so the book put out by MACK is notable as the first English translation of his armchair guidebook. The nearly 60-year lag between original and translation means its importance is minor relative to Architecture and Utopia (just six years between the 1973 Italian original and English translation in 1979) or even Theories and History of Architecture (twelve years: 1968 and 1980). Still, Mohsen Mostafavi's preface argues for the relevance of Tafuri's book today "despite its reliance on secondary sources and its occasional inaccuracies," while a handful of essays following Tafuri's text put it in a greater context. A most interesting take is Tafuri writing the book as much to influence contemporary architecture in Italy as to understand it in Japan. Modern Architecture in Japan was part of a series edited by Leonardo Benevolo, in which other architects and writers wrote about the Soviet Union, Great Britain, Brazil, and a few European countries. I can't help but wonder if those books will find their way into English, or if Tafuri's book, thanks to the longevity of his name, will be the only one meriting a reprint.The Pliable Plane: The Wall as Surface in Sculpture and Architecture, 1945–75 by Penelope Curtis, published by MACK in October 2022 (Amazon)Just as MACK's translated reprint of Tafuri's book reminded me of an older book on Japan, the subject of Penelope Curtis's The Pliable Plane — the manipulation of the wall surface bridging art and architecture in the decades after WWII — made me think of another old book: Paul F. Damaz's Art in Latin American Architecture. I became aware of the 1963 book when writing 100 Years, 100 Buildings, using it as a reference on two of the buildings: Oscar Niemeyer's Saint Francis of Assisi Church at Pampulha (1947) and University City of Caracas by Carlos Raúl Villanueva (1953). Niemeyer actually wrote a preface for Damaz's book, and no wonder, considering the author called his church "the best instance of collaboration between an architect and artists"; the expressive azulejo artwork on the street facade is the most famous instance of many artistic contributions integrated with the church, outside and in. Are these or other examples of wall-heavy art in Damaz's survey also found in Curtis's book? Not that I could see. Her short yet very interesting book is limited to European and US examples, with an abundance of Henry Moore — no surprise, given her former role as director of the Henry Moore Institute. While some of the projects are very well known, Curtis examines them in atypical ways. Paul Rudolph's A&A Building at Yale (now Rudolph Hall), for instance, is bound to come to any architect's mind when considering wall surfaces, but Curtis focuses on the lesser-known sculptural plaster casts from classical architecture integrated into the hammered corduroy concrete walls. Part of the joy in the book, at least for me, was discovering previously unknown projects, a standout being the Mausoleum Fosse Ardeatine (1949) in Rome. Foundations of Urban Design by Marcel Smets, published by Actar Publishers in January 2023 (Amazon / Bookshop)The latest by Marcel Smets, whom I know of as the author, with Kelly Shannon, of the excellent The Landscape of Contemporary Infrastructure, is a short book with short texts that aim to "open up the core ideas of urban design to the wider public." The Foundations of the title are 29 numbered chapters (F01–F29) that consist of apparently oppositional yet complementary pairs that touch on organizational strategies (Ribbon/Cluster, Ladder/Star), urban spaces (Market Square/Parade Ground, Hole/Void), circulation corridors (Street/Road, Path/Avenue), waterways (Brook/Detch, River, Canal), and other less formal aspects of urban design (Use/Morphology, Creator/Curator), among other things. The short texts (none appeared to be more than four pages) are accompanied by pairs of images that capture the essence of Smets's lessons. Given the intended audience, the text is far from challenging and is further leavened by the illustrations, though I wouldn't go so far to say it's a stimulating read. Still, the book is a good introduction to urban design for students — and that wider public curious about the field.Spatial Infrastructure: Essays on Architectural Thinking as a Form of Knowledge by José Aragüez, published by Actar Publishers and Public Space in January 2023 (Amazon / Bookshop)Back in 2016, José Aragüez's The Building was released. I never saw the book back then, but I recently picked it up and, despite its occasional academic abstruseness, really like the collection of 43 brief, three-page theoretical takes on what the title indicates: buildings. Born from symposia at the Architectural Association in 2014, it reads a bit like TED Talks for architectural educators and theoreticians. Clearly not a followup, even though it does include the introductory essay from the earlier book, Aragüez's second book, Spatial Infrastructure, takes a different, longform approach, featuring just eight essays across roughly 150 pages (that's nearly 20 pages per essay, on average). The topics in the essays spanning from 2010 to 2022 are very much aligned with The Building, with heady theoretical takes grounded in discussions of real-world examples, such as Toyo Ito's Taichung Metropolitan Opera House in Taiwan (the subject of "Sponge Territory") and FOA's Yokohama Ferry Terminal among other buildings in the essay that lends the book its title. Em obras: história do vazio em Belo Horizonte (Under Construction: History of the Void in Belo Horizonte) by Carlos M. Teixeira, published by Romano Guerra Editora in 2022 (Amazon)Think of cities in Brazil and most likely the three most-populous ones spring to mind: Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Brasilia. Sixth on the list of Brazilian cities by population, though right up top in the life of architect Carlos M. Teixeira, is Belo Horizonte, a not-too-small city of 2.5 million in Minas Gerais. The name of Teixeira's studio, Vazio S/A, translates as "empty" but refers to the voids in Belo Horizonte that have preoccupied him for decades. In my review of his 2012 monograph, Entre, I wrote how "the stagings and sets [of his performance-based projects] attempt to activate the leftover voids of his home city," using the second Topographical Amnesia as an example. For his latest, more thematically ambitious and chronologically sweeping book, Teixeira presents the 100-plus-year history of Belo Horizonte (it was founded in 1897) with a focus on everything that has not been built: "The city, fragmented and prosaic, accepted with no nostalgic sentiment and exalted as what is most important in the city." This atypical history is told through photographs — "anti-postcards" — and numbered texts (001–122) that are interspersed with the photos. (The English translation placed at the end of the book means some back-and-forth flipping is needed to see any relationships between image and text.) Architects outside Brazil will see something familiar when they reach number 82, circa 1947: Oscar Niemeyer's buildings at Pampulha, what Teixeira calls "the occupation of a suburban void." In 1994, Teixeira writes, when residents were give a referendum to select a symbol of the city, Niemeyer's Pampulha Church was in the running but, in the end, the Serra do Curral — a sprawling natural void at the southern boundary of the municipality — won with 270,000 votes. With that "victory," I can't think of a stronger argument for Teixeira's ongoing infatuation with the void in the city where he lives and works.Lina Bo Bardi: Material Ideologies edited by Monica Ponce de Leon, published by Princeton University School of Architecture in October 2022 (Amazon / Bookshop)The Womxn in Design and Architecture (WDA) formed at Princeton University School of Architecture in 2014, and three years later the graduate student group held its first annual conference, commemorating the one-year anniversary of Zaha Hadid’s passing. But it would be the second conference, Lina Bo Bardi: Material Ecologies, that became the first in WDA's Publication Series, published as a beautiful linen flexicover with numerous gatefolds among the numerous contributions coming out of the March 2018 conference. The conference had a three-part thematic structure (Concrete Brut, Natura, Material Re-Use) stemming from the "Material Ecologies" subtitle, and while the contents of the book follow the schedule of the conference's keynotes and panels, with two notable additions (Beatriz Colomina and Mario Gandelsonas), the book does not belabor the three themes, instead letting the essays stand out on their own merits. An obvious highlight is "Betwixt and Between" by Zeuler R. M. de A. Lima, author of an excellent 2013 monograph on Bo Bardi. Photo contributions by Veronika Kellndorfer ("Sprawling Nature") and Joana França ("Lina, In Situ") are stunning. Mike Cooter's "Artifacts of Work" is an unanticipated standout, one that translates a piece of one of Bo Bardi's buildings into an installation in an architecture exhibition. Kudos to CLANADA (Lana Cavar and Natasha Chandani) for the lovely design of the highly tactile book.

  • Book Briefs #35 Revisited
    by John Hill on June 5, 2023 at 12:00 PM

    Last week I cobbled together eight books, some of which publishers had sent me more than a year ago, in an effort to write a "Better Late Than Never" installment of "Book Briefs,"  something I had done back in April 2018 with Book Briefs #35. But, sensing I would not be able to absorb the books quickly enough to get the post done in less than a week, I thought that revisiting that five-year-old post would be a great way of (finally) dipping into the timesaver that is AI, asking OpenAI's ChatGPT to write similar one-paragraph reviews and see what it came up with. So that's what I did. Specifically, I told ChatGPT to "Give a short, one-paragraph review of 'X Book' by Y author." Its output is featured below, in four of the six books that were part of Book Briefs #35, accompanied by my own "briefs" from 2018 and blurbs from the publishers. How do the reviews compare, my own vs. OpenAI? My takes are certainly more personal, with first-person commentary that isn't always germane to the book at hand but indicates where I'm coming from and what I find of interest and/or value. ChatGPT is, on the other hand, formulaic, with four sentences in a clearly repetitive structure for each review: statement of importance; two descriptive sentences; a closing statement indicating relevance to a particular audience. The AI "reviews" read well and have a clear position, but they are prescriptive, repetitive, and boring (so many rules of three!), especially when read in multiples, as here. I included the blurbs to see if OpenAI was drawing any phrases from them in shaping the reviews; that does not appear to be the case, nor does it appear that it used my "briefs" to formulate its speedy takes (each one took about five seconds to generate) on the books I gave it. Maybe ChatGPT is more effective in longer reviews, but this exercise does not lend any urgency to such an attempt on my part.African Modernism: The Architecture of Independence. Ghana, Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya, Zambia edited by Manuel Herz, published by Park Books in 2015 (reprinted in 2023) (Amazon | Bookshop)Blurb: "In the 1950s and 1960s, most African countries gained independence from their respective colonial power. Architecture became one of the principal means by which the newly formed countries expressed their national identity. African Modernism investigates the close relationship between architecture and nation-building in Ghana, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, and Zambia. It features one hundred buildings with brief descriptive texts, images, site plans, and selected floor plans and sections. The vast majority of images were newly taken by Iwan Baan and Alexia Webster for the book’s first edition. Their photographs document the buildings in their present state. Each country is portrayed in an introductory text and a timeline of historic events. Further essays on postcolonial Africa and specific aspects and topics, also illustrated with images and documents, round out this outstanding volume."JohnHILL: Although the size of a coffee table book and graced by full-page Iwan Baan photographs, African Modernism is a deep, scholarly work, not just something to flip through. Focused on the five subtitled African countries that gained their independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s (5 of 32 countries on the continent that did so), the book examines how architecture played a role in expressing their independence and modernity. Each country is given an introduction, a timeline, a photo spread by Baan, documentation of important buildings in photos (most by Baan) and words, and an in-depth academic essay. Though many buildings show signs of wear (not surprising, given the time between their realization and today), the architectural quality is astounding. That the buildings in the book are largely unknown points to a deficit in architectural education and publishing — and the need for more books like this one and Adjaye Africa Architecture.ChatGPT: "'African Modernism: The Architecture of Independence. Ghana, Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya, Zambia' edited by Manuel Herz is a groundbreaking book that sheds light on the architectural legacy of African modernism. With a focus on five countries, the book explores the post-independence era and the architectural projects that emerged during this period of political and cultural transformation. The book's rich collection of photographs, plans, and essays provides valuable insight into the unique blend of local and international influences that shaped African modernist architecture. It is an essential resource for anyone interested in the intersection of architecture, history, and cultural identity in Africa."The Architecture of Paul Rudolph by Timothy M. Rohan, published by Yale University Press in 2014 (Amazon | Bookshop)Blurb (excerpt): "Based on extensive archival research and unpublished materials, The Architecture of Paul Rudolph is the first in-depth study of the architect, neglected since his postwar zenith. Author Timothy M. Rohan unearths the ideas that informed Rudolph’s architecture, from his Florida beach houses of the 1940s to his concrete buildings of the 1960s to his lesser-known East Asian skyscrapers of the 1990s. Situating Rudolph within the architectural discourse of his day, Rohan shows how Rudolph countered the perceived monotony of mid-century modernism with a dramatically expressive architecture for postwar America, exemplified by his Yale Art and Architecture Building of 1963, famously clad in corrugated concrete. The fascinating story of Rudolph’s spectacular rise and fall considerably deepens longstanding conceptions about postwar architecture: Rudolph emerges as a pivotal figure who anticipated new directions for architecture, ranging from postmodernism to sustainability."JohnHILL: A lot has happened in the four years since this book's publication [between 2014 and 2018]: Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago was demolished, Paul Rudolph's own Orange County Government Center was maligned through a partial demolition and insensitive addition, and the famed Robin Hood Gardens was demolished. A new exhibition, in fact, hones in on the demolition of Brutalist structures, something that books like Rohan's haven't been able to reverse. This isn't to say that saving Rudolph's buildings and others like it was Rohan's goal, but as Alexandra Lange points out in her 2014 review of The Architecture of Paul Rudolph, "it's a timely publication." That time seems to have slid by rapidly, but given that 2018 is the centennial of Rudolph's birth, we might just see a renewed appreciation in his work. If so, Rohan's thorough, well-researched book will surely play a part.ChatGPT: "'The Architecture of Paul Rudolph' by Timothy M. Rohan is a comprehensive and insightful exploration of the influential architect's work. Rohan delves into Rudolph's distinctive design language, innovative use of materials, and his significant contributions to modern architecture. Through detailed analysis and stunning visuals, the book captures the complexity and dynamism of Rudolph's buildings, showcasing his mastery of space, form, and light. This book serves as an invaluable resource for architects, students, and enthusiasts seeking a deeper understanding of Rudolph's architectural legacy and his lasting impact on the field."Brodsky & Utkin by Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin, published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2015 (Amazon)Blurb: "From 1978 to 1993, the renowned Soviet 'paper architects' Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin created an incredible collection of elaborate etchings depicting outlandish, often impossible, buildings and cityscapes. Funny, cerebral, and deeply human, their obsessively detailed work layers elements borrowed from Egyptian tombs, Ledoux's visionary architecture, Le Corbusier's urban master plans, and other historical precedents in etchings of breathtaking complexity and beauty. Back by popular demand following the sold-out original 1991 edition and 2003 reprint, Brodsky & Utkin presents the sum of the architects' collaborative prints and adds new material, including an updated preface by the artists' gallery representative, Ron Feldman, a new introductory essay by architect Aleksandr Mergold, visual documentation of the duo's installation work, and rare personal photographs."JohnHILL: I'm not certain when I first learned about Russian Architects Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin. Maybe it was in a 2005 blog post at Pruned. For sure it was well after the title Princeton Architectural Press put out on the duo in the early 1990s, as well as the 2003 first edition they put out and then printed again (with new preface) in 2015. The duo's intricate etchings are more art than architecture (they're represented by Feldman Gallery, after all), though many were submissions for architectural competitions hosted by Shinkenchiku and others in the 1980s. At 9x12 inches, the book isn't small, but with so many layers of information in their images it could easily be twice as large.ChatGPT: "'Brodsky & Utkin' by Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin, published by Princeton Architectural Press, is a captivating and visually stunning retrospective of the renowned Russian architectural duo. The book showcases the imaginative and whimsical architectural drawings and etchings that Brodsky and Utkin are known for. With their unique blend of historical references, surrealism, and social commentary, their works transport readers to a dreamlike world of fantastical structures. This publication serves as a valuable tribute to their distinctive artistic vision and is a must-have for architecture enthusiasts, artists, and anyone captivated by the power of architectural illustration."Le Corbusier, Homme de Lettres by M. Christine Boyer, published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2010 (Amazon)Blurb (excerpt): "On his French identity card, legendary architect Le Corbusier listed his profession as 'Homme de Lettres' (Man of Letters). Celebrated for his architecture, which numbers fewer than sixty buildings, Le Corbusier also wrote more than fifty books, hundreds of articles, and thousands of letters. Le Corbusier, Homme de Lettres is the first in-depth study of Le Corbusier as a writer as well as an architect. [...] In Le Corbusier, Homme de Lettres author M. Christine Boyer focuses on the development of his writing style as it morphed from romantic prose to aphorisms and telegraphic bulletins. [...] Le Corbusier, Homme de Lettres shows for the first time how his voluminous output — books, diaries, letters, sketchbooks, travel notebooks, lecture transcriptions, exposition catalogs, journal articles — reflects not just a compulsion to write, but a passion for advancing his ideas about the relationship between architecture, urbanism, and society in a new machine age."JohnHILL: When I received this book way back in 2010, I had every intention of reading the whole thing — all 702 pages (780 pages with notes and index). Well, life got in the way and I only got through two of the book's twelve chapters before putting it down and, unfortunately, not returning to it again. I recall those hundred or so pages being, though not an easy read, certainly an enjoyable one. Boyer managed to mine Le Corbusier's original documents and discuss them in a way that pulls the reader along. A strong interest in Le Corbusier and his writings (the book focuses on 1907-1947) helps greatly; though there are plenty of architects out there meeting that criteria.ChatGPT: "'Le Corbusier, Homme de Lettres' by M. Christine Boyer is a compelling exploration of Le Corbusier's lesser-known role as a man of letters. Boyer sheds light on the prolific writings of the renowned architect, showcasing his literary talents and intellectual pursuits. Through a meticulous examination of his letters, essays, and manifestos, the book reveals the breadth and depth of Le Corbusier's ideas on architecture, urbanism, and society. This book is a valuable resource for scholars and enthusiasts seeking a deeper understanding of Le Corbusier's multifaceted contributions to the fields of architecture and literature."As an expansion of my partial revisiting of Book Briefs #35, below are catalogs of two exhibitions I wrote about for World-Architects back in 2022 (MoMA's The Project of Independence in February of that year, The Met's Bernd & Hilla Becher in July) but never got around to reviewing here. These are books I consulted after my initial visits and while writing my exhibition reviews, so I have some familiarity with them, albeit now from a distance of roughly a year or more. But given that I'd yet to articulate my thoughts on them, I decided to write "briefs" on them after inputting the same prompt into ChatGPT — a reverse of the reviews above. Will the AI-generated affect how I write about them? Should I adopt the style of ChatGPT in my one-paragraph reviews? Read on to see...The Project of Independence: Architectures of Decolonization in South Asia, 1947–1985 edited by Martino Stierli, Anoma Pieris and Sean Anderson, published by the Museum of Modern Art in March 2022 (Amazon | Bookshop)Blurb (excerpt): "Anchored by a newly commissioned portfolio of images from architectural photographer Randhir Singh, this richly illustrated and meticulously researched catalogue features essays by the curators and leading scholars in the field on subjects such as the politics of concrete, institution-building, higher education, housing, infrastructure and industry, landscape, and design, as well as presentations of seventeen transformative projects from around the subcontinent. While several of the architects appearing in these pages have in recent years received monographic exhibitions, The Project of Independence: Architectures of Decolonization in South Asia, 1947–1985 marks the first attempt to consider their work within the ideological frameworks of its creation and the political context of the region as a whole."ChatGPT: "'The Project of Independence: Architectures of Decolonization in South Asia, 1947–1985' edited by Martino Stierli, Anoma Pieris, and Sean Anderson is a thought-provoking and enlightening anthology that explores the architectural landscape of South Asia during the post-independence era. Through a collection of essays, case studies, and visual documentation, the book examines the complex interplay between politics, identity, and architectural production in the region. It sheds light on the diverse range of architectural projects that emerged during this transformative period, offering valuable insights into the decolonization process and its impact on the built environment. This book is an essential resource for architects, historians, and anyone interested in the intersection of architecture, history, and postcolonial studies."JohnHILL: Museum of Modern Art curator Martino Stierli, in an interview at World-Architects that I edited ahead of the opening of The Project of Independence: Architectures of Decolonization in South Asia, 1947–1985, described that exhibition as "a continuation of the 2018 exhibition, Toward A Concrete Utopia," subtitled Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980 and notably his first major show at MoMA. Stierli actually proposed the exhibition on India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka in his 2014 interview for the MoMA post, a clear sign that he sees the contemporary importance in "destabilizing the Western-centric canon of modern architectural history," one notably fostered by MoMA for decades. The catalog is as good as the exhibition was, with a portfolio of contemporary photographs by Randhir Singh, essays by architects and scholars (on cities, housing, infrastructure, education, and other subjects), and case studies on more than a dozen buildings, from Antonin Raymond' s Golconde dormitory in Pondicherry, India, to Yasmeen Lari's Anguri Bagh Housing in Lahore, Pakistan. As befits Stierli, an architectural historian, the catalog is more thorough and wide-ranging than the exhibition it accompanied.Bernd & Hilla Becher by Jeff L. Rosenheim, published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in August 2022 (Amazon / Bookshop)Blurb: "For more than five decades, Bernd (1931–2007) and Hilla (1934–2015) Becher collaborated on photographs of industrial architecture in Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Great Britain, and the United States. This sweeping monograph features the Bechers’ quintessential pictures, which present water towers, gas tanks, blast furnaces, and more as sculptural objects. Beyond the Bechers’ iconic Typologies, the book includes Bernd’s early drawings, Hilla’s independent photographs, and excerpts from their notes, sketchbooks, and journals. The book’s authors offer new insights into the development of the artists’ process, their work’s conceptual underpinnings, the photographers’ relationship to deindustrialization, and the artists’ legacy. An essay by award-winning cultural historian Lucy Sante and an interview with Max Becher, the artists’ son, make this volume an unrivaled look into the Bechers’ art alongside their career, life, and subjects."ChatGPT: "'Bernd & Hilla Becher' by Jeff L. Rosenheim is a captivating tribute to the renowned German photographic duo known for their systematic documentation of industrial architecture. The book delves into the Bechers' distinctive approach to capturing the beauty and functionality of industrial structures, presenting their work as a unique blend of art and documentary photography. With insightful essays, stunning reproductions of their iconic images, and a comprehensive overview of their artistic journey, this book is an essential resource for photography enthusiasts, art historians, and anyone fascinated by the power of visual storytelling."JohnHILL: In the last of six numbered galleries of the Bernd & Hilla Becher exhibition at The Met last year, a glass vitrine displayed a selection of books published by the photographers in their lifetime. I wrote in my review of the exhibition that "books [were] an integral part of their career — the primary means of making their work accessible to artists, architects, historians, and the general public." Their books, furthermore, are highly prized — expensive even as reprints, and somewhat scarce — so any book on the Bechers, in my mind, is welcome, especially this one by Met curator Jeff L. Rosenheim. Highlights of the beautifully produced catalog include Gabrielle Conrath-Scholl's essay on the Bechers' documentation of Zeche Concordia between 1967 and 1970; Rosenheim's interview with Max, the Bechers' son; and 120 pages of plates that include a couple gatefolds. The plates may not be a substitute for seeing the Bechers' photographs — larger — in a gallery setting, but their accompaniments make them that as valuable here.

  • My Biennale Haul
    by John Hill on May 30, 2023 at 12:00 PM

    Two weeks ago I was in Venice for the Biennale, covering the 18th International Architecture Exhibition curated by Lesley Lokko for World-Architects. It was my first trip back to Venice since the 2018 Biennale, which was the 16th edition and was curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects. Like other writers outside of Europe, the interim edition, though delayed from 2020 to 2021 due the pandemic, still opened at a time when international travel was difficult. I passed on it, as many others did. My 2018 trip yielded a pair of "book briefs" on this blog with two handfuls of catalogs from the main exhibition, some from the national pavilions, and some on collateral events. Although a similar number of books from the current Biennale is featured below, it felt this year that print catalogs were slimmer than in years past. For instance, the national pavilions were focused more on digital than print publications, making them available via QR codes and offering to ship print versions later. And only one pavilion, Bahrain, had a large stack of books that whittled down over the course of the two-day vernissage.The FOODSCAPES book in the Spanish PavilionI have a hard time passing up any printed catalog, but I could only carry so much with me, so the below list is limited to the ones I felt were important enough to bring home with me. What's missing? The most exceptional printed catalog I came across was for the Spanish Pavilion, FOODSCAPES, whose website indicates part of the exhibition includes "an archive in the form of a recipe book." The book I flipped through on the large table in the middle of the venue (photo above) was large, the size of an atlas; its large pages were full of essays, images, architectural projects, and other content related to the theme. But only a newsprint was distributed during the vernissage and, while the Biennale bookshop was selling catalogs to other pavilions, Spain was not one of them. For now, this book remains a mystery.The days leading up to the opening of the Biennale on May 20 were also packed with book launches, some that I signed up for ahead of time but, for one reason or another, didn't make it to, and others that I happened upon as I trekked the Biennale grounds or ventured around Venice. These books I missed include: Sketches on Everlasting Plastics, the first iteration of an ongoing editorial intervention around the US Pavilion exhibition Everlasting Plastics; Architecture in Islamic Countries: Selections from the Catalogue for the Second International Exhibition of Architecture Venice 1982/83, the first English translation of the Italian catalog for the second Venice Architecture Biennale, directed by Paolo Portoghesi; and the launch of the first volume of Khōrein: Journal for Architecture and Philosophy.Main Exhibition:Biennale Architettura 2023: The Laboratory of the Future edited by Lesley Lokko, published by Silvana Editoriale (Amazon / Bookshop)As seems to be the norm in Biennales this century, the catalog for the International Architecture Exhibition is published in two sizes (small and large) and, at least in the large size, in two volumes: one volume devoted to the main exhibition and one volume cataloging the dozens of national pavilions. The latter for this year is the slimmer volume (176 pages) and is basically unnecessary, given the numerous standalone catalogs for the national pavilions and the only cursory, preliminary content available for each contribution. The volume basically serves as a reference, with two-page spreads providing a curatorial statement, list of contributors, and an image giving a sense of the theme for each pavilion and collateral event. On the other hand, the longer, 440-page volume devoted to Lesley Lokko's exhibition, The Laboratory of the Future, is more than necessary. Not only does it provide similar statements, team information, and images on the 89 contributors to the exhibition, it helpfully presents them in the multifaceted structure Lokko set up for the exhibition. Within the theme are a handful of sections (Force Majeure, Dangerous Liaisons, Curator's Special Projects, etc.) that are split between the Giardini and Arsenale venues but also intertwined. The catalog presents the contributions within this thematic structure and in alphabetical order; plans of the venues with numbered keys indicate their physical location. Short essays and images inserted between the color-coded sections round out the beautifully produced volume.National Pavilions:Cloud-to-ground edited by Oren Eldar, Edith Kofsky and Hadas Maor, published by Park Books (Amazon / Bookshop)Open for Maintenance – Wegen Umbau geöffnet edited by Anh-Linh Ngo, published by ARCH+ / Spector Books (Amazon / Bookshop)Partecipazione / Beteiligung edited by AKT and Hermann Czech, published by Luftschacht Verlag (Amazon / Bookshop)Walkers in Amazonia: The Calendar Project edited by Alexia León and Lucho Marcial, published by Patronato Cultural del Peru (PDF download)With just two days of the vernissage to take in the large main exhibition, dozens of national pavilions, and even more collateral events and other exhibitions around the city — and with most visitors to the Biennale spending a day or two there anyways — catalogs are valuable for allowing visitors to devote more time to exhibits of interest. They're particularly valuable for the national pavilions, which are major efforts that often treat the catalogs as extensions of the materials on display. A case in point is Israel's pavilion, cloud-to-ground, which is empty this year and just consists of a few models of buildings on stands in the adjacent courtyard. The concrete models depict old telephone exchanges that are, in reality like the Israel Pavilion, closed off, symbols of how technological change leads to a residue of "black boxes" and provoke the obvious question: What will happen to today's server farms tomorrow, when their technology is obsolete? If the pavilion is slim on information, the book is thorough — and lovely, in its own way — overloaded with essays, interviews, a 112-page "telephone exchanges index," an index of data centers, and much more content.Brazil and Great Britain won the jury's awards for national pavilions, but two of my favorites didn't: Austria and Germany. Though markedly different in content, each pavilion is about connecting to the Venetian context; Austria does it through a proposal to physically link its pavilion to the Sant'Elena neighborhood just beyond its walls, and Germany does it by turning its pavilion into a materials depot and workshop for Venetian students and craftspeople to use scrap from the 2022 Venice Art Biennale for school and building projects. Austria's bilingual catalog gives a background on the Biennale's gradual encroachment into Sant'Elena as the reasoning behind the temporary footbridge the curators wanted to build for this year's exhibition; the book also catalogs the expansion of the Biennale this century into the rest of the city via small venues and has essays on the right to the city and other relevant topics. It's a strong, politically charged idea — no wonder the Biennale and other authorities shot down the proposed temporary bridge. The German Pavilion is curated in part by the editors of ARCH+, so logically the catalog to Open for Maintenance – Wegen Umbau geöffnet is published by the German architecture magazine; it has been released in separate German and English issues, the latter done with Spector Books. The 208-page matte-paper issue, number 252, comes with a 24-page glossy insert that explains the premise of the pavilion and documents its realization through color photographs. The various pieces of the pavilion — exterior ramp, material repository, workshop, kitchenette, waterless toilet, and meeting space — are both illustrative and functioning parts of the circular economy promoted by the curators. The numerous contributions to the issue proper address everything from maintenance and care to race and gender, from the politics of disability to squatting and the right to the city. The issue even has built projects, set off from the rest on gray pages, that follow from the pavilion's theme.Last of the national pavilion catalogs I brought home is Walkers in Amazonia: The Calendar Project, Peru's contribution to the Biennale. Housed in a smallish building at the Arsenale alongside a few other nations that don't have their own pavilions in the Giardini, Walkers in Amazonia is structured as an A-frame displaying colorful calendars created by indigenous communities in the Peruvian jungle. The catalog contains all of those calendars on glossy pages, but at a smaller size that means many of the words accompanying the drawings are too small to read (they're all in Spanish, obviously, but still). The calendars clearly express a circular understanding of time that is rooted in natural cycles, of reciprocally living in and caring for the jungle. Coincidentally, I met architect Marta Maccaglia, who was in town to accept the inaugural divia award (see below) for the work she's been doing in Peru for about a decade; she told me how happy she was to see the Peruvian jungle as the subject of the pavilion, especially its expression in the colorful circular calendars.Elsewhere in Venice:divia award 2023: Diversity in Architecture edited by Ursula Schwitalla and Christiane Fath, published by Hatje Cantz (Amazon)Kengo Kuma: Onomatopoeia Architecture edited by Elena Caldara, published by Dario Cimorelli EditoreQuaderns Biennale, 2023: Following the Fish edited by Daniel Cid, Francesc Pla and Eva Serrats, published by Col·legi d'Arquitectes de Catalunya (COAC)Zero Gravity Urbanism: Principles for a New Livability published by NEOMLa Biennale di Venezia has a structure that is clear but can be confusing for people visiting Venice during the Biennale — which is about half of every year, when considered between the alternating art and architecture exhibitions. The official exhibitions and events for the Venice Architecture Biennale consist of the International Architecture Exhibition (the one curated by Lesley Lokko this year), the national pavilions (in the Giardini, traditionally, but also in the Arsenale), special projects like V&A's Applied Arts Pavilion, and collateral events that are distributed around the city. But many unofficial exhibitions and events overlap with the Biennale, taking advantage of the people visiting the city to look at architecture exhibitions but also giving the impression that any exhibition in Venice in that time is part of the Biennale. Of these four books, only one is for an official Biennale event.One of the just nine collateral events in this year's Biennale is Catalonia in Venice_ Following the Fish, which is strongly aligned with Lesley Lokko's exhibition. (National pavilions, or in this case a regional collateral event, don't need to follow the theme of the main exhibition, but they have every right to — and often they do.) It looks at the community of vendors ("manters") in Barcelona who traveled there from Senegal for better opportunities, but instead of being able to ply their trades they are left to hustle cheap wares on the sidewalks, always on the lookout for police ready to arrest them. The story is more complicated than this description, but the exhibition bravely addresses the racism the manters confront on a daily basis; and it reveals to visitors the unseen or ignored community that the curators have formed an alliance with, one aimed at much-needed reparations. Architecturally, the pavilion includes some small-scale solutions for community places in Barcelona, but the catalog focuses on texts that contextualize the complex issue.Want an experience that is the near-opposite of Following the Fish? Head to Abbazia di San Gregorio and the over-the-top, non-Biennale exhibition of The Line and other NEOM projects. Zero Gravity Urbanism—Principles for a New Livability is, I wrote, more marketing than culture: numerous models of various scales for The Line, the inane — or it it insane? — proposal for a 170-km-long "city" in the Saudi Arabian desert that would house 9 million people and somehow be a model for sustainable living. I'll admit that the models on display are impressive, and the architect in me who was educated in the early 1990s liked seeing designs that were almost plucked from the decade ... but this is irresponsible planning, to say the least. Yet, with the country's deep pockets and architects willing to go along with it, at least a portion of it is being realized: The Hidden Marina, clearly catering to the super rich and their vessels. The catalog I was able to get a hold of is "not for sale," per its insides, but like the exhibition it's more marketing than anything else of value.Not far from the NEOM exhibition, at the Berührungspunkte venue along the Grand Canal, the inaugural divia award was celebrated the Friday of the vernissage. The event was not the unveiling of the winner, Marta Maccaglia, which had taken place a couple weeks prior in Berlin, but a celebration of the award taking place during the Biennale and the distribution of a few copies of the book on the award. (World-Architects is a media partner for divia, which is short of Diversity in Architecture, so I was able to get a copy.) The book is slim, at less than 100 pages, but is very well done, from its red cover boards to the color photos with projects of the winner and finalists, and interviews with the same. While the inaugural award created by Ursula Schwitalla and Christiane Fath is focused on women in architecture, future iterations of the award are supposed to branch out to encompass other areas of diversity within the profession.Directly across the Grand Canal from Berührungspunkte is Palazzo Franchetti, a venue for Portugal's national pavilion but also host to an exhibition of cultural projects underway in Qatar (almost as questionable as NEOM) and a sizable monographic exhibition on Kengo Kuma. Onomatopoeia Architecture, which I'll be reviewing for World-Architects in the coming weeks, is a pleasing show, with beautiful models of Kuma's buildings sitting in the palazzo's lushly appointed rooms. The displays are accompanied by two installations: a wooden structure at the entrance to the exhibition on the piano nobile and a larger aluminum piece in the garden overlooking the Grand Canal and the Accademia Bridge. The catalog isn't a particularly deep exploration of Kuma's buildings, but it does a good job of articulating the ideas behind the Japanese architect's "onomatopoeia architecture."

  • Self-Published Books by BNIM and KPF
    by John Hill on May 15, 2023 at 12:00 PM

    Over at World-Architects I wrote about two self-published books recently published by BNIM and KPF:ALL - The Tom and Ruth Harkin Center by BNIMDesign in Detail by Kohn Pedersen FoxThe "Found" feature also includes responses to a few questions on why the firms opted to self-publish rather than work with publishers on these books.