Civilities I and Civilities II (2007) by a+t
Paperback, 176 and 160 pages
In this a+t series, Civilities refers to "buildings that keep up society's pulse," a combination of the words civil and facilities. The projects featured in the first two volumes of the series aren't limited to what are commonly seen as civic building types (government buildings, libraries, community centers); theaters, museums, schools, parks and other public, semi-public and even private institutions are included. The idea is to focus on buildings that strive to bring people together, and to be the spaces of interaction at a time when social isolation (outside shopping and work) is prevalent.
Like other a+t magazine series, projects are fairly recent; here buildings were completed in 2006 and 2007. This makes for an abundance of fresh and innovative architecture in a variety of (mainly European) contexts as well as a variety of building types, but it does not make for an exhaustive take on civic facilities. The series attempts to show what architects and clients are doing now to address situations in the present. Volume one does include a few essays that deal with history, but they are focused more on the relationship of civilities to their urban context. The projects reiterate this emphasis, and the most interesting ones do it in unique ways, be it via rehabilitation of old buildings or the creative integration of landscape.
The quality of these and other a+t titles rests not only on the selection of projects (as any contemporary collection must contend with), but also the thoroughness of the presentation materials (drawings and photos) and the project descriptions. To take an example, my favorite of the bunch, Franco + van Teslaar's multi-layered Matadero Madrid, a mixed-use arts complex that reuses a slaughterhouse on the bank of the Manzanares River, the presentation includes site and plan diagrams, comparison to similar arts institutions, plans, sections, construction details, and numerous photographs. The text allows for greater understanding of the design, as well as situating it relative to other projects via descriptions of function, type and scale. The same can be said, naturally, about the other featured projects, as the consistency across the two volumes is high.