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Monday, October 11, 2010

Book Review: The Architecture of Patterns

The Architecture of Patterns by Paul Andersen and David Salomon
W. W. Norton, 2010
Paperback, 144 pages

The recent resurgence of patterns, according to Paul Andersen and David Salomon, is in need of some serious theorizing in order to utilize their capabilities to the fullest. A couple examples of this resurgence include Norman Foster's Swiss Re Tower in London and OMA's Seattle Public Library, both presented in this book alongside lesser known and unbuilt works of architecture. For the authors patterns are ideally multifunctional (structural, thermal, visual, etc.) and flexible (regular but variable in response so certain conditions), the results stemming from both considerations. One can find this in traditional patterns, but those tend to be small-scale, such as weaving, rather than architectural enclosures. The computer's role in today's resurgence is obvious and is the overt genearator of the projects presented alongsides Andersen and Salomon's fairly academic text.

While most of the projects here remain unbuilt, the potential is clear for patterns to be more than applique; they can be used to structure the various inputs that must be considered. My favorite example of this is Reiser + Umemoto's O-14 Tower in Dubai; its wrapping, Swiss-cheese exterior is a synthesis of a regular diamond grid with multiple influences: structure, daylighting, material and construction considerations. The result may be static but it exhibits a responsive and dynamic wrapper's idealized state based on what is happening inside and out. That it is only a screen (the glass window walls sit behind the concrete) is the only trait that keeps it from being the penultimate example of the patterns in architecture (though the architects contend the void between the two creates a solar chimney cooling the glass).

As a response to trends in contemporary architecture, Andersen and Salomon's book is a solid attempt at lending patterns some theoretical weight. But it's necessary to discuss the role of David Carson's graphic design for the book, how it contributes to or takes away from the argument. Carson is known for his layouts of skateboarding, surfer, and music magazines in the 1990s, layouts that challenged the reader to decipher the content. He basically took copy and made art out of it, layering text, literally copy and pasting it together with images, in one case even laying out an article in Zapf Dingbats, a commentary on the fluffy content. Now years later with graphic design firmly entrenched, like architecture, in the digital realm, the result is highly readable yet still an influence on how the content is conveyed and potentially interpreted. The techniques used (bold black blocks highlighting text, a variety of fonts throughout, etc.) in effect enliven a text that might have been too dry without his intervention. At its best the graphic design (images, fonts, horizontal layout) works with the words to create spreads that highlight the smaller, intricate ideas within the larger pattern of the book's complex theorizations.

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