"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: Alcatraz: History and Design of a Landmark by Donald MacDonald and Ira Nadel | Chronicle Books | 2012 | Amazon
When I visited San Francisco in the mid-1990s, one of the few touristy things I did was visit Alcatraz, donning headphones and listening to old inmates talk about the place. Of course, the place is so much more than just an old prison, and a visit makes that clear, even as the prison buildings and spaces define much of the experience. So I was looking forward to receiving this history of the island, its architecture, landscape, and nature. Written by Donald MacDonald and Ira Nadel and illustrated by MacDonald, the book is hardly a comprehensive history, but it is not meant to be an academic study of the well-known island. At first I thought the watercolors were too bright for a place that was home to criminals and an American Indian occupation, but the varied formats (perspectives, plans, sections, etc.) do a good job of telling part of the story.
2: Saving Wright: The Freeman House and the Preservation of Meaning, Materials, and Modernity by Jeffrey M. Chusid | W.W. Norton | 2012 | Amazon
In 1985, Jeffrey M. Chusid moved into the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Freeman House as a tenant of Harriet Freeman. Eventually he became the preservation architect for the textile-block house (one of four in the Los Angeles that Wright designed area in 1923), which he documents in this book. Interestingly, the house was also a canvas for Rudolph M. Schindler, who performed some infill interventions in the 1930s and '40s. Equal parts history, theory, and preservation literature, the book is an extremely thorough documentation of a house overshadowed by Wright's other textile-block houses (Millard, Storer, Ennis). It illustrates, among other things, what is needed to extend an idiosyncratic house designed by a master architect for many more decades. As a laboratory for preservation, the house and book offer lessons for many architects.
3: Urban Intersections: São Paulo edited by Nina Rappaport, Noah Biklen, Eliza Higgins | Yale School of Architecture | 2012 | Amazon
The sixth in Yale SOA's Edward P. Bass Distinguished Visiting Architecture Fellowship Series presents the work of students in Spring 2010 under Tishman Speyer's Katherin Farley and architect Deborah Berke. The balance of real estate and architectural interests is embodied in the fellowship, and the projects exhibit something similar; as juror Claire Weisz mentions in a transcript of one of the crits, the projects "achieve a degree of economy while maintaining a sense of place." To me, the projects resemble those of an urban design studio. To be sure, they are architectural, but they take the greater São Paulo context into consideration, which is also evident in the supplementary essays that preface the projects.
4: Turbulence edited by Nina Rappaport and Leo Stevens | Yale School of Architecture | 2011 | Amazon
Like Urban Intersections above, Turbulence documents Yale SOA studios, in this case three of the Louis I. Kahn Visiting Assistant Professorships. This, the third title in the series, features student projects under Ali Rahim (Contemporary Architecture Practice), Christopher Sharples, and William Sharples (both SHoP Architects). Rahim's studio is set in Dubai and features, not surprisingly, a number of tall buildings that stand out on Sheikh Zayed Road. Christopher Sharples's studio rethinks airports and envisions designs for "Airport City" in New Delhi, India. The studio of William Sharples goes even farther, designing spaceports for three hypothetical sites in the United States. Interviews with the three architects preface each project section to provide background on their work and methods.
5: Constructing the Ineffable: Contemporary Sacred Architecture edited by Karla Britton | Yale University Press | 2010 | Amazon
This book documents a 2007 symposium of the same name, organized by the Yale SOA with the Yale Divinity School and Yale Institute of Sacred Music. Some big names (Kenneth Frampton, Zaha Hadid, Steven Holl, Richard Meier, Rafael Moneo, Vincent Scully, Stanley Tigerman, etc.) tackle the topic of religious architecture, presented here in three sections: theoretical essays, historical precedents, and "contemporary expressions of the ineffable." This structure allows for the broadest exploration, but it also means there is something for everyone; those not interested in philosophical investigations toward sacred architecture, for example, will still find the case studies valuable. It's an important book in terms of understanding the many definitions of the sacred in the 21st century.