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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Book Briefs #4

"Book Briefs" are an ongoing series of posts with two- or three-sentence first-hand descriptions of some of the numerous books that make their way into my library. These briefs are not full-blown reviews, but they are a way to share more books worthy of attention than can find their way into reviews on my daily or weekly pages.

1: What Anchors a House to Itself by Andreas Fuhrimann and Gabrielle Hächler | Lars Müller Publishers | 2010 | Amazon
This monograph on Swiss architects Andreas Fuhrimann Gabrielle Hächler is split between beautiful photos (by Valentin Jeck) of seven buildings (including their Holiday House on the Rigi) and essays by the architects, Hubertus Adam, Kurt Forster, Gianni Jetzer, and Marie There Stauffer. Some simple black, white, and gray drawings round out the small but well made book. The essays are particularly revealing and insightful, using diverse approaches to examine the duo's varied yet consistently high-quality architecture.

2: Care of Ward 81 by Bill Diodato | Golden Section Publishing | 2010
Recalling Christoper Payne's Asylum, Bill Diodato's book "remembers [the] long forgotten women who occupied the Oregon State Mental Asylum's Ward 81." (The Oregon State Mental Asylum is best known as the location of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.) Diodato's carefully composed photographs of the empty and decaying asylum -- demolished in 2009 -- is a snapshot of a troubled place that appears to have been enlivened with bold colors of paint and wall drawings, each hinting at the personalities once housed within its walls. Those interested in the place's past should also look at Mary Ellen Mark's photographs from 1976, when she captured the residents of Ward 81 on black-and-white film.

3: Design Informed: Driving Innovation with Evidence-Based Design by Gordon H. Chong, Robert Brandt, W. Mike Martin | Wiley | 2010 | Amazon
In the mid-200s the three authors used their AIA College of Fellows Benjamin Latrobe Research Fellowship to develop "an evidenced based design approach that builds on design ingenuity with the use of research in ways that enhance opportunities to innovate." Evidence-based design (EBD) recalls the work of environmental psychologists in the 1970s, who studied user satisfaction with completed buildings towards the improvement of architectural performance. Today's EBD is more proactive, using computers and research early in the design process to determine this performance on a number of levels (sustainability, function, cost, construction). Across three chapters extensive case studies alternate with interviews with the designers and other key players. They have collected a number of diverse contributions to EBD, which will hopefully be more successful than the seventies' foray into shaping architecture through research and reflection.

4: Architecture from the Outside In: Selected Essays by Robert Gutman edited by Dana Cuff and John Wriedt | Princeton Architectural Press | 2010 | Amazon
Robert Gutman's classic study Architectural Practice: A Critical View was required reading in my undergraduate days in the early-to-mid 1990s. This single volume and the voluminous research and observation carried out by the sociologist has made Gutman one of the most important writers on the profession of architecture. That his writings were intelligent yet highly readable and easy to follow no doubt helped elevate his appeal, even if it waned in the rise of formalism in the 90s and beyond. This collection of essays by Gutman (he died in 2007, shortly before the book was completed) features "dialogues" by contemporary educators, responses to the essays in five themed chapters. These additions help situate Gutman's contributions outside yet parallel to his great book within contemporary architecture, at a time when considerations beyond form are returning to the fore.

5: Building (in) the Future: Recasting Labor in Architecture edited by Phillip Bernstein and Peggy Deamer | Princeton Architectural Press | 2010 | Amazon
A good companion to Gutman's collection of essays above is this one and its wide-ranging contributions on the profession today. Most of the essays (including ones by Kenneth Frampton, Scott Marble of Marble Fairbanks, Coren Sharples of SHoP Architects, James Carpenter, and other educators/practitioners) focus on the role of technology in shaping how architects work. The two main sections look at "working and making" -- how architects draw, basically -- and "collaboration," the ways in which those drawings are shared with collaborators. In this last regard legal concerns enter the picture, a major hurdle in "recasting labor in architecture."

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