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Friday, April 01, 2016

Book Briefs #25: Six Actar Books

"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 worthwhile books than I'm able to review.

This installment features six books published or distributed by Actar, most of them coming from schools of architecture in the United States.

Abstract 2015 edited by Jesse Seegers | Columbia GSAPP, distributed by Actar D | 2016 | Amazon
Of all the architecture school annuals, Columbia GSAPP's Abstract is the one I know the best. The first one I bought was from 1993/94, when I was in architecture school (not at Columbia). Then the books were pretty straightforward and consistent from year to year. But things got interesting when Stefan Sagmeister started designing them, treating them differently each year. The 2009/10 Abstract, for instance, has an acetate slipcase, gold cover, and layouts with small text and big images for the student projects. Things didn't always go smoothly, as in 2013 when Abstract went digital-only and students protested by throwing the "book"'s plastic cases out the windows of Avery Hall and using them as ashtrays (you'll have to trust my memory on this last point, since I can't find a photo documenting such). The latest Abstract (designed by Common Name) is a spiral-bound "post-internet book" with four sections, each with different paper and page layouts. It's a pleasure to browse and get a flavor for what the school offers and produces.

Analytic Models in Architecture by Emmanuel Petit | Yale School of Architecture, distributed by Actar D | 2016 | Amazon
This is a very refreshing book. It is so rewarding to see a book focused squarely on models – and analytical models, to boot. When I was teaching design studio a few years ago, I liked to see analytical models as well as study models. And along those lines, these sorts of models ideally carried over to their design projects in the form of study models that distilled the main ideas, formal gestures and structural elements of their designs. Covering a selection of the roughly 900 models created by students in Petit's studio course "The Analytic Model: Descriptive and Interpretive Systems in Architecture" at Yale from 2005 to 2014, there is plenty of model photos to contemplate.

Beyond Patronage: Reconsidering Models of Practice by Martha Bohm, Joyce Hwang, Gabrielle Printz | Actar | 2015 | Amazon
Coming out of the Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning's 2012 Martell Symposium, the book has three sections: "Architect as Initiator," "Architect as Detective," and "Architect as Advocate." Each section is structured with an introductory essay followed by contributions from architects and then interviews with them. These include Hansy Better Barraza's "Searching for an Authentic Production," Juliette Spertus's "Build It In: Making the Case for Garbage Collection in Urban Design," Lola Sheppard's "Navigating Territories of Engagement: Investigations in a Remote Territory." The symposium and book were a collaboration with the Gender Institute and the School of Architecture and Planning with the goal of "redefining contemporary architectural patronage and to highlight the important role that women have had and continue to play in expanding the profession's boundaries."

Catalyst: Lineages and Trajectories edited by Ghazal Abbasy-Asbagh | Actar | 2015 | Amazon
This book in two parts documents the faculty and student output of the architecture and landscape architecture departments at the University of Virginia School of Architecture. There is a concerted attempt to make it something special: each of the two books is small; they fit together into a slipcase; and they are accompanied by a foldout with two "maps." The Lineages book serves as an archival project "that traces the lineage of the school's faculty," so logically it is structured as a collection of interviews. The Typologies book, on the other hand, presents studio projects from the 2013-2014 school year.

Geographies of Trash by Rania Ghosn and El Hadi Jazairy | Actar | 2015 | Amazon
Nobody wants to think about garbage. At least that is the assumption. But treating garbage as an "out of sight, out of mind" problem is not healthy – neither for people nor the planet. Rania Ghosn and El Hadi Jazairy's Geographies of Trash is a book-length argument for architects "to take on problems that had once been the domains of engineering or regional planning." The "Represent" section lays out their argument through essays and illustrations, the latter focused on trash in the state of Michigan, while the "Project" section presents five design scenarios for dealing with garbage as a building material or morphological element of urban form. Lastly, "Assemble" documents through photos the duo's installation that created a spatial object from their five projects. Kudos to the graphic designers at Thumb, who took the great visuals and turned it into a beautiful book.

Platform 8: An Index of Design and Research by Zaneta Hong | Actar | 2016 | Amazon
Not to be confused with GSD 08 Platform, which came out in 2008 and should have been Platform 1 since it started the school's ongoing Platform publications, the latest annual collection of design and research projects uses the encyclopedia as its format. The various classes, lectures, projects, publications, and other output are discovered in the A-to-Z (Academia-to-Zoo) listing of terms. A gimmick to be sure, but one that is surprisingly effective if a bit dry, with only a few splashes of color with photos of faculty, students and some student projects. What could have been an arbitrary and confusing way of structuring things is aided by cross-referencing and an index for those looking for particular students, faculty and guest lecturers. Not all terms are related to the GSD's output, so these would appear to indicate what are important (ha-ha and high-rise, apparently) to the students and professors at the school.

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