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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Briefs #18: A Bunch of Journals

"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: Kerb 21 edited by Dion Gery, William Kennedy, Harriet Robertson, Bella Leber Smeaton | Melbourne Books | 2013
The first legal-to-drink issue of RMIT's Journal of Landscape Architecture is themed "Uncharted Territories." The editors explain that these "manifest in an uncertain future," and therefore the contributors are those who "have the capacity to charter these territories and operate within them." They even map the 23 contributors within a landscape-like surface (akin to the cover) that moves from "essence of discipline" to "proliferation of knowledge" in the x-direction and from "intentional" to "intuitive" in the y-direction. Most lie on the perimeter, leaving a hole in the center; this middle ground equates perhaps with those not comfortable with an uncertain future. Whatever the case, the essays, projects and interviews are wide-ranging in subject, so landscape architecture is represented, but so is art (most notably with Marina Abramović), fashion, technology, and even publishing. The issue gives landscape architecture students plenty of ammunition for laying out the course of their practices and potentially the future of the profession.

2: Soiled No. 4 - Windowscrapers edited by Joseph Altshuler | CARTOGRAM architecture+urban design | 2013
Windowscrapers is the fourth issue of the 'zine Soiled, following the appropriately titled Groundscrapers, Skinscrapers, and Platescrapers (issue five will be Cloudscrapers). Billed as "an architectural periodical that makes a mess of the built environment and the politics of space" and "a venue for architectural storytelling," Soiled is one of the freshest architectural publications I've come across in recent years. It has the editorial focus of another favorite MAS Context, balanced by the diversity of CLOG. In the case of Windowscrapers, transparency, refractivity and reflectivity are "probed" in essays, illustrations, stories and projects on voyeurism, (intellectual) slapstick comedy, window shopping, (creative) historic preservation, and art, among other things. It makes me curious how writers and architects will respond to "air-space as a site for occupation, manipulation, and activation" in the next issue.

3: (IN)formal LA: The Space of Politics edited by Victor J. Jones | eVolo publications | 2013 | Amazon
Technically a book rather than a journal, this title is the first non-skyscraper-competition book of hopefully many more from eVolo. It is a slim and handsome skinny book that originated from a 2011 workshop at the USC School of Architecture, organized by Stefano de Martino and Victor J. Jones, who edited the volume. A central portion of the book documents the workshop, set off from the other pages in yellow. The rest of the contents are essays, both old and new, all addressing Los Angeles's informality in some manner. Ironically, the book starts with its antithesis, the severe formal and institutional control of the Getty Center in Diane Ghirardo's "Invisible Acropolis," immediately moving to a more appropriate text culled from Roger Sherman's great book L.A. Under the Influence. Reyner Banham's well-known BBC documentary about the city is an inspiration for much of the proceedings, evident in the way the USC students left the studio for the city and the way the contributors prioritize firsthand experience over other accounts.

4: Boundaries n. 7: Free Architecture edited by Luc Sampò | Boundaries International Architectural Magazine | January - March 2013
What is "free architecture"? According to Boundaries editor-in-chief Luc Sampò it recalls "free software," which is the forerunner of the open-source movement, where code is shared amongst programmers rather than horded as proprietary. Most likely you are reading this blog post on a browser, like Firefox, that uses open-source software. Open-source, or free architecture follows the same principle: architects share designs that can be used around the world by whoever chooses to download the plans and build away. This runs counter to the typical semi-copyrighted nature of most architectural works, but the application to third-world and developing countries is obvious, something that comes across in the selection of projects gracing the pages of this issue, most of which are labelled with Creative Commons licenses.

5: Boundaries n. 8: Architecture and Utopia by Author | Publisher | April - June 2013
Where to go after "free architecture"? One logical step is into the realm of Utopia; after all, isn't open-source a Utopian ideal? Doesn't open-source break down political and social boundaries to promote architecture as a means of bettering people's lives? Not surprisingly, this issue is heavier on material outside of projects, unlike its predecessor. There is also research, photography, and manifestos. The latter (as well as a "year that was" paying tribute to Utopias of the 1960s) is a highlight of the issue, featuring responses by architects like Rintala Eggertsson and TYIN. Utopia is hardly the most popular topic in architectural discourse today (an introductory essay by Nathaniel Coleman discusses how architects like Zaha Hadid divorce their ideas of Utopia from political and social concerns, something much in the news recently), but it's not an idea that will go away, no matter how impossible the goal may be. As the gap between rich and poor increases, architects become more socially aware, and Utopia follows close behind.

6: a+u 2014:03: Supermodels by Hisao Suzuki | JA+U | February 2014
In 1982 Hisao Suzuki traveled from Japan to Spain, lured by the architecture of Antonio Gaudi. He stayed in Barcelona and has since been the principal photographer of El Croquis. His photographs involve visits to completed buildings but also to the offices of architects, where he often shoots architectural models. This handsome volume of A+U assembles a smattering of the 1,000 model photos Suzuki sent to the Japanese publication for consideration. Most of the models are by well-known architects, like the cover photo of the Prada Tokyo by Herzog and de Meuron. Likewise, most are lit by natural light, Suzuki's preferred means of lighting models. His stories accompanying the photographs are as rewarding as the consistently beautiful photos of the models themselves.

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