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Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: 10 Stories of Collective Housing

10 Stories of Collective Housing: Graphical Analysis of Inspiring Masterpieces by a+t research group
a+t, 2013
Paperback, 496 pages

Spain's a+t separates its output into magazines and books, with titles in each often fitting into series. The last of the books I reviewed was Density Is Home, which documents 37 contemporary housing projects through the usual high-quality presentations that a+t is known for. But where the drawings, photographs, and statistics help readers learn about the projects and compare and contrast them, the 10 or 12 pages per project mean that there is still room for more to be learned about the buildings. Enter 10 Stories of Collective Housing, which steps back some decades (projects span from ca. 1920 to 1980) to give in-depth case studies on "inspiring masterpieces."

The spreads collected here on Fumihiko Maki's Hillside Terrace give a sense of what is included for each project. Of course there are photos—both historical and contemporary—but also plenty of plans, axonometrics, diagrams, and other drawings that explain the projects but also how they developed over time. In this case the three authors of the a+t research group—Aurora Fernandez Per, Javier Mozas, and Alex S. Ollero—included information on Maki's ideas of collective form to help explain Hillside Terrace's theoretical basis and how the project was designed to change over time over phases. On the same spread are three projects/places that inspired Maki's design, indicative of the many projects—both inspiring and inspired by—included to give a greater context to the architectural solutions of collective housing.

Even though this book delves deeper into buildings than most a+t titles, the graphics, format, and layouts fit in with the publisher's larger oeuvre, even as the book doesn't directly resemble other titles. The consistency of these three pieces throughout the book allows the 10 projects to be compared with each other, though this aspect is not as valuable here as it is in a+t's relatively cursory studies of contemporary buildings.

What helps make 10 Stories so good is the selection of projects, which is not nearly as obvious as it could have been. Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation is not included, for example, nor are other projects that are easily masterpieces yet already studied extensively. I didn't know about most of the projects in these pages and was glad to learn especially about Michiel Brinkman's Justus Van Effen Complex (Rotterdam, 1919-22), Ignazio Gardella's Housing for Borsalino Employees (Alessandria, 1948-56), Ralph Erskine's Byker Regeneration (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1969-82), and Jean Renaudie's Jeanne Hachette Complex (Paris, 1970-75). This book offers something for everybody, with plenty to learn in the thorough case studies that many of the best ideas in housing have already happened.

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