"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: Aesthetic Theory: Essential Texts for Architecture and Design edited by Mark Foster Gage | W. W. Norton | 2011 | Amazon
What is the role of beauty today? When I was in undergraduate architecture school it was an idea that was set aside in favor of more "objective" criteria. But according to Mark Foster Gage, acting assistant dean at Yale University School of Architecture, "the concepts of beauty and visual sensation ... are essential to the emerging worlds of design and architecture in the twenty-first century," because these worlds "are poised to undergo a profound but as yet unarticulated theoretical revolution.This reader collects essays by 20 authors, from Plato to David Freedberg and Vittorio Gallese. In between are familiar heavy hitters: Vitruvius, Alberti, Kant, Nietzsche, Bergson, Benjamin, Bataille, Sontag, Jameson, among others. While aimed at college students, the collection is handy, since it assembles bite-sized essays by some of the most influential thinkers.
2: Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin | Da Capo Press | 2011 | Amazon
About ten years ago I read Witold Rybczynski's A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Yet reading through Justin Martin's new bio on the larger-than-life figure made me realize that Rybczynski didn't have the last word on Olmsted. Both discuss his varied roles and his magisterial creations, but Martin delves deeper into the details, painting a lovely narrative that transports the reader to the ship Omsted sailed and toiled upon, his Staten Island farm, the Civil War battlefields, and the other places of his incredibly influential life.
3: Otto Neurath: The Language of the Global Polis by Nader Vossoughian | NAi Publishers | 2011 | Amazon
A couple months ago I attended a panel discussion at the Austrian Cultural Forum around Sophie Hochhäusl’s book Otto Neurath – City Planning: Proposing a socio-political Map for modern Urbanism. Her book owes a debt to Nader Vossoughian's earlier title on the multifaceted Neurath -- philospher, sociologist, museum administrator. Appropriately, Nader was on the panel, asserting that Neurath is relevant today in the way he was aware of production, not just consumption; the example of Apple's questionable labor practices in China led Nader to assert "Apple does bad design." His book on Neurath gives insight into what good design (among other things) should aspire to.
4: Tomorrow's Houses: New England Modernism by Alexander Gorlin | Rizzoli | 2011 | Amazon
This book is easily a must-have for lovers of modern residential architecture. Gorlin collects nearly 30 examples of early-to-mid-20th-century houses in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Main, New Hampshire, and Vermont, documented with Geoffrey Gross's beautiful photographs that often cover two pages in this soon-to-be coffee table staple. Modern architecture may bring to mind a narrow aesthetic of expansive glass and planar white walls, but these survivors show that New England modernism is much more varied. The fact that all the houses have been photographed specially for the book is important, pointing to the longevity of the houses (many with renovations), and giving the book a visual consistency that makes it a pleasure to take in.
5: Urban Transformation: Transit Oriented Development and the Sustainable City by Ronald A. Altoon and James C. Auld | Images Publishing Group| 2011 | Amazon
This book from Altoon Porter purports to be "about restocking our weak architectural portfolio of transit facilities with dynamic new models." The presentation of projects by a firm that designs "retail based mixed-use and institutional developments for clients across the globe" points to the pros and cons of TODs: In the case of the former the ability to deal with the complex interaction of transit with other uses is well documented; the latter points to a homogenous, slick aesthetic of late capitalism, devoid of the qualities of place that TODs should foster.