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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Book Review: PROOF

Young Architects 9: PROOF (2008) by The Architectural League of New York
Princeton Architectural Press
Paperback, 176 pages

This book documents the winners of the 26th of The Architectural League of New York's Young Architects Forum, in which competing architects are asked to develop portfolios around a theme, in this case Proof. The word immediately brings to mind testing, mainly scientific proofs and the numerous tests that hypotheses in that field undergo before being accepted and eventually advanced beyond, in a continual process of progress and change. The same certainly cannot be said for architecture, whose ideas are implemented and disseminated, but not treated similarly to scientific proofs. Post-occupancy evaluations, for example, don't influence the field as much as glossy presentations of projects and architectural theory detached from the impact of space on users. Needless to say, this does not mean that architecture couldn't use an injection of some scientific proof, especially before a project is complete, given the time and money put into construction and the durability and inflexibility of most buildings. To see architectural practice as a laboratory for testing and retesting ideas is an interesting one that comes across in varying degrees and in various ways in the work of the six young firms chosen for publication.

In order of the book, the six firms are Mexico City-based ludens, whose "tools for everyday living" are primarily small-scale interventions indoors and out that are "humorously critical of architectural conditions" ; PRODUCTORA, also out of Mexico City, a young firm that has built a great deal and who sees design as intuitive and an unfolding process where the initial concept is either strenghtened or abandoned in favor of something more suitable ; PARA, a New York City-based outfit that prides itself on bullshit, the kind that "uses uncertainty to table alternative propositions, convincing fictions, or elliptical logics;" Cambridge, MA's Jinhee Park, who sees proof as a constellation of processes and outcomes, in inter-disciplinary approach that strives for maximum effect from minimum form ; New York's Aranda/Lasch, whose designs are generated by (computer) code while being informed by community; and another Cambridge-based firm UNI, who question the typical architect-client relationship by creating their own commissions.

This ninth book (#6 was reviewed previously) of the Young Architects Forum winners by PAPress is a pocket-sized presentation of various built and unbuilt projects by each firm. The relationship between the projects and the theme of Proof is visited in Sarah Whiting's foreword and The Architectural League's Anne Rieselbach's introduction, as well as each architect's brief description of their working process and output. The responses to the term are as varied as definitions of it. Fairly novel ways of working are evident, as are subtle shifts in the traditional modes of architecture. Considerations of use are sometimes underplayed in favor of process, but seeing attempts at linking the two might be the book's strongest merit.

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