Friday, July 19, 2019

Architecture of Nature

Architecture of Nature/Nature of Architecture
Diana Agrest
Applied Research and Design, January 2019



Hardcover | 9 x 11-3/4 inches | 280 pages | English | ISBN: 978-1939621948 | $49.95

Publisher Description:
Architecture of Nature/Nature of Architecture presents original research work, exploring the materiality and the forces at play in the history of the earth. While nature has always been historically embedded “within” architecture discourse in different forms, Architecture of Nature/Nature of Architecture departs from the traditional ‘nature as a referent’ approach, detaching itself as a free radical to become itself the object of study, transforming that relationship through one common element essential to both science and architecture in the production of knowledge: representation. This work was developed through unique drawings and models over for the past eight years in the context of the Advanced Research graduate studio “Architecture of Nature/ Nature of Architecture,” created and directed by Diana Agrest at the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of the Cooper Union. Based on scientific material the complex processes of generation and the transformations of extreme natural phenomena such as glaciers, volcanoes, permafrost, clouds, coral reefs and algae are explored introducing a different dimension of space, time and scale, transcending the established disciplinary boundaries of architecture, urbanism or landscape.
dDAB Commentary:
Books documenting the work of students from the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union in New York City are highly coveted. In particular I'm thinking of the two Education of an Architect titles, one from 1971 documenting the years 1964 to 1971, and one from twenty years later covering 1972 to 1985; both go for well over $100 online. Just four years ago came Open City: Existential Urbanity, an atlas-sized book with a decade and a half of the "Architecture of the City" studio led by the late Diane Lewis. While the two older books look at contributions across the school, Open City obviously limits itself to one professor, one of the most influential at The Cooper Union. The same can be said of Architecture of Nature/Nature of Architecture, which focuses on the graduate studio of the same name led by Diana Agrest, who has taught at the school for four decades. Yet while the students in Lewis's studio examined the city and proposed interventions within it, Agrest asked them to create architectural representations of purely natural features.

The book starts with Agrest's recounting of numerous experiences that foregrounded nature in her thinking and led her, even with most of the work of Agrest + Gandelsonas sited in New York and other cities, to eventually devise the "Architecture of Nature/Nature of Architecture" studio. In it she has her students research and represent extreme natural phenomena, such as volcanoes, plate tectonics, hot springs, glaciers, and tsunamis. Interspersed between the 30-plus works are a handful of contributions from "intersecting fields": interviews with scientists and artists, an excerpt from John McPhee's Pulitzer Prize-winning Annals of the Former World, and Agrest's own "The Returned of the Repressed: Nature" from The Sex of Architecture. But it's the drawings and models of the natural phenomena that are, not surprisingly, the most appealing part of the book. Just about all of them have an undeniable beauty that arises from the subject (nature) but also the means of representation (architecture). Though it's not clear at first glance what each image explains exactly, they all come with captions that help us to decipher the images — and appreciate their beauty even more.
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Author Bio:
Diana Agrest is a full-time Professor at The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union. She has taught at Princeton University, Columbia University and Yale, and has been candidate for deanship at The Cooper Union and Pratt Institute.
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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Living on Campus

Living on Campus: An Architectural History of the American Dormitory
Carla Yanni
University of Minnesota Press, April 2019



Paperback | 7 x 10 inches | 304 pages | 146 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1517904562 | $34.95

Publisher Description:
Every fall on move-in day, parents tearfully bid farewell to their beloved sons and daughters at college dormitories: it is an age-old ritual. The residence hall has come to mark the threshold between childhood and adulthood, housing young people during a transformational time in their lives. Whether a Gothic stone pile, a quaint Colonial box, or a concrete slab, the dormitory is decidedly unhomelike, yet it takes center stage in the dramatic arc of many American families. This richly illustrated book examines the architecture of dormitories in the United States from the eighteenth century to 1968, asking fundamental questions: Why have American educators believed for so long that housing students is essential to educating them? And how has architecture validated that idea? Living on Campus is the first architectural history of this critical building type.

Grounded in extensive archival research, Carla Yanni’s study highlights the opinions of architects, professors, and deans, and also includes the voices of students. For centuries, academic leaders in the United States asserted that on-campus living enhanced the moral character of youth; that somewhat dubious claim nonetheless influenced the design and planning of these ubiquitous yet often overlooked campus buildings. Through nuanced architectural analysis and detailed social history, Yanni offers unexpected glimpses into the past: double-loaded corridors (which made surveillance easy but echoed with noise), staircase plans (which prevented roughhousing but offered no communal space), lavish lounges in women’s halls (intended to civilize male visitors), specially designed upholstered benches for courting couples, mixed-gender saunas for students in the radical 1960s, and lazy rivers for the twenty-first century’s stressed-out undergraduates.

Against the backdrop of sweeping societal changes, communal living endured because it bolstered networking, if not studying. Housing policies often enabled discrimination according to class, race, and gender, despite the fact that deans envisioned the residence hall as a democratic alternative to the elitist fraternity. Yanni focuses on the dormitory as a place of exclusion as much as a site of fellowship, and considers the uncertain future of residence halls in the age of distance learning.
dDAB Commentary:
Like many people who went to college away from home, I lived in a dormitory. Well, technically I lived in two of them: My first year it was a nine-story all-boys dorm at a four-dorm complex, and the following year it was a relatively quaint co-ed dorm in a smaller complex nearby. The latter one looked old, with rough limestone walls and a gable roof, while the taller dorm was clearly modern, with a flat roof and windows set into horizontal bands between stone strips; they were built in 1951 and 1967, respectively, but looked decades more apart. Although the last three years of my five years of architecture school were spent living in houses off campus, it seemed to be a given that I would live in "the dorms" for at least one year; it was just what frosh did if they weren't, like me, going to pledge to a fraternity or sorority. So from that time on I basically figured everyone else who went away to college had the same experience of dorm life followed by off-campus living. That's not the case, obviously, but neither is the given of living in a dorm at all.
On the first page of Carla Yanni's Living on Campus, the author clearly states how the book explains "why Americans have believed for so long that college students should reside in purpose-built structures that we now take for granted: dormitories." But, she continues, "This was never inevitable, nor was it even necessary." Like Yanni's earlier book on American insane asylums, The Architecture of Madness, she approaches dormitories from the perspective of social history. Asylums were designed to improve the lives of the patients who resided in them, while dorms were created to benefit students socially, not just intellectually. Inherent in both otherwise divergent building types is a high level of control that extends to the design and siting of the buildings. People buying Living on Campus with the intention of seeing the best and most beautiful dorms built in the United States will be disappointed, but those curious about the intentions behind dormitories and their evolution over a couple hundred years will find the diverse case studies fascinating.

With my dormitory experience I gravitated to chapter four, "Dorms on the Rise." The chapter on "skyscraper residence halls" follows chapters on early all-male dorms, on later women's dorms at co-ed colleges, and on the rise of early 20th-century quadrangles modeled on Oxford and Cambridge; the fifth of the five chapters returns to (post-skyscraper) quads with the most architecturally striking dorm complex in the book: Eero Saarinen's Morse and Stiles Colleges at Yale University. Each chapter has a few case studies, and one of the three in "Dorms on the Rise" resembles my freshman dorm: River Dorms at Rutgers University, designed by Kelly and Gruzen and completed in 1956. The double-loaded corridors of the three-building complex looks like the basic parti for the dorm I lived in, not only for their floor plans (only mine was an "L" rather than a long bar), but for the intention of creating "one social group per floor." Reading those words brought back memories of the "floor meetings" that happened every so often and were designed, I'm guessing, to make us feel part of a smaller community in a large university and dormitory complex. These days that dorm of my youth is the same but different: same footprint, but now co-ed instead of all-male, with more diversity of room types, and new amenities to make the dorm an appealing choice when other choices vie for attention. Or as Yanni writes in the epilogue ("Architectural Inequality and the Future of Residence Halls") of her excellent book, "Once again, the justification for the dormitory is a social one: planned activities allow students to make new friends, and new friends will become part of future networks for business and the professions." In other words, the dorm is much more than just a home away from home.
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Author Bio:
Carla Yanni is professor of art history at Rutgers University. She is author of The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States (Minnesota, 2007) and Nature’s Museums: Victorian Science and the Architecture of Display.
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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Japan Diaries

Japan Diaries: Architecture and More
Aurora Fernández Per, Javier Mozas
a+t, 2019



Hardcover | 4-3/4 x 6-1/2 inches | 480 pages | # illustrations | Languages | ISBN: 978-8409098798 | 29.00 €

Publisher Description:
Two voices, those of Aurora Fernández Per and Javier Mozas, tell the story of three trips around Japan: Spring 1995, Autumn 2004 and Summer 2018. One common thread, architecture, drives them to travel around the most influential country in terms of international design. Using texts, photos and drawings they interpret buildings, landscapes and everyday scenes. The publishers of a+t magazine and founders of the a+t research group provide us with the traveller’s version, that of the person arriving at a new place and narrating what they have seen.
dDAB Commentary:
Both the "architecture" and the "more" from the subtitle of Japan Diaries are on display on its cover. The colorful background is an information panel on Yakuri Temple in Kagawa, and overlapping it is one of the many manga created by Aurora Fernánvdez Per and Javier Mozas to spice up their documentation of three trips to Japan over a decade and a half. Specifically, those bubbles on the cover are a means of describing the curved lines of the concrete structure of Toyo Ito's Tama Art University Library just outside Tokyo. With those two examples on the cover as a hint, Japan Diaries presents highlights from the trips that range from the contemporary architecture that Per and Mozas so skillfully present in their a+t magazines and books to the temples, gardens, shrines, and even bookstores, restaurants, and sweet shops they went to along the way.

This travelogue of the couple's Japanese explorations goes beyond the norm of such a book by the inclusion of a few things. First are the mangas: playful cartoons (first spread below) that describe simply the formal qualities of, or ideas behind, some of the buildings they visited. Second are the specially made maps (second spread) that track their journeys and point out places they visited but otherwise did not document or discuss in the book. Third are the photographs (third spread), which were taken by the authors and are straightforward but very, very good. Most of the photos are buildings and landscapes, but occasionally the "more" appears in the form of a street scene or a portrait of someone they met or a snapshot of a meal. "Diary" is an apt word for what they created, but the mangas, maps, and photos combine with their wide-eyed descriptions of places and buildings they find worth sharing to create a diary worth having — especially if you're planning a trip to Japan and are tired of searching online for sites worth seeing. 
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Author Bio:
Aurora Fernández Per is Publisher and Editor in Chief of a+t architecture publishers, and architect Javier Mozas is Editorial Advisor.
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Sunday, July 14, 2019

Ladders

Ladders (Architecture at Rice 34)
Albert Pope
Rice School of Architecture & Princeton Architectural Press, December 1996 (Second Revised Edition, June 2015)



Paperback | 5-1/4 x 8 inches | 278 pages (2nd ed: 338 pages) | English | ISBN: 9781616894115 | $29.95

Publisher Description:
Albert Pope's 1996 seminal book Ladders is now available in a second edition. Considered a classic in the field of urbanism and one of our most requested out of print titles, Pope's provocative study of five post-war American cities examines the forces--including demographic upheavals, market expansions, and technological developments--that precipitated a change from the open system of the pre-war urban grid to the fragmented and closed spaces of suburban cul-de-sacs, expressways, and office parks. Through an incisive series of diagrams and photographs, Pope reveals the concepts, theories, and rules that have guided their organizational evolution into post architectural spaces whose character is shaped more by the effects of immense urban spaces and infrastructure than built forms. A new preface by architect and educator Pier Vittorio Aureli situates the book in the context of contemporary urban thinking and makes a compelling argument for it's continued relevance as springboard for the investigation of our contemporary cities.
dDAB Commentary:
In hindsight I should have read Albert Pope's Ladders before reviewing Joan Busquets' Urban Grids earlier in the week. Pope's book lays out the theoretical basis, not only for the promotion of the grid in Busquets' book, but for the danger that anti- or eroded-grid plans have had on the "open city." I wrote in the review that "given the pervasiveness of urban grids, I doubt [the grid's] validity was ever seriously in doubt." While this is true to some degree — the grid is best for laying out cities and large developments — the many urban and suburban departures from the continuous grid (mid-century public housing, office parks, gated communities, etc.) ended up invalidating the effectiveness of the grid. In other words, their validity was questioned a lot. Thing is, I couldn't have read Ladders first, because I didn't know about it until looking at Urban Grids. Mention of Pope's book early in its pages prompted me to go out and get it and quickly read it — well, most of it; enough to grasp its message and enough to be drawn into with the intention of finishing it (I start a lot of books but don't finish them). Ladders is dense and scholarly, yet it's a very readable book with a clear thesis and passionate message; I can see why it's praised so much and why a second edition was released four years ago. I'm ashamed I was unaware of it until now, nearly 25 years after it was written.

Pope defines two types of (American) cities in Ladders: the centrifugal city and the centripetal city. The first is the gridded, expansive "open city" that is often associated with 19th century cities but has its roots in even older cities. The centripetal city, on the other hand, is the postwar, auto-centric anti-grid and the places it created: suburban enclaves disconnected from the cities and inner-city developments also violating the grid. Pope calls these cities and developments "ladders," because they have one route in and out, not the multiple routes afforded by the grid; and he called the developments created by the grid's implosion "ellipses." Once the grid is ignored, as in suburbs or garden cities that ring a city but are disconnected from it, the centrifugal city suffers and the only recourse is for the centripetal city to infuse or infect the ailing city. Hence public housing on superblocks, and the massive convention centers, stadiums, atrium hotels, and other corporate complexes that are fitted into the grid but are otherwise closed off from it through functional homogeneity and the centripetal highways that cut up the city. As I said above, it's a very clear thesis, and it's one that runs parallel to other critiques of modern urban planning and the suburbs. But with its focus on the grid — the armature that enables the traditional city to work so well — Pope ekes out a niche for his argument. Pope's book argues that architects and planners cannot propose meaningful fixes for, or interventions in, the contemporary city without understanding its nature; Ladders is one of the most effective ways I've come across for them to achieve this.

(A note on the book's layout and graphic design: Just as Pope explains the erosion of the centrifugal grid from the forces of the centripetal city, the grid that serves as the background for the right-hand pages [throughout the book, not just at the chapter intros shown below, mind you] slowly erodes and is then washed away entirely by the conclusion. It's an intriguing, yet subtle way of expressing the book's argument.)
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Author Bio:
Albert Pope is the Gus Sessions Wortham Professor of Architecture at Rice University. He is the author of numerous articles concerning the broad implications of post-war urban development.
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Friday, July 12, 2019

Exhibit A

Exhibit A: Exhibitions That Transformed Architecture, 1948–2000
Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen
Phaidon, June 2018



Hardcover | 10 x 11-1/2 inches | 288 pages | 480 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-0714875170 | $79.95

Publisher Description:
How do you exhibit a building, a locality, a city? Exhibit A reveals how architecture has pushed the boundaries of exhibition as a medium and how, in turn, exhibitions have shaped the discipline of architecture. Focusing on 80 landmark architecture exhibitions mounted in countries around the world between 1948 and 2000, and featuring 300 images, this groundbreaking overview is both a vital reference and a visually compelling study of the way we look at built work.
dDAB Commentary:
The most famous architecture exhibition is surely Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, held at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1932 and attended by more than 30,000 people in its six-week run. Like other exhibitions, architecture or not, Modern Architecture had an influence beyond its attendance figures, thanks to a companion catalog, reviews, and scholars later writing about the exhibition as a historical event. Other MoMA exhibitions on architecture, such as Deconstructivist Architecture in 1988, have been influential yet also controversial; the latter surely helped them to gain influence and longevity. But for various reasons most architecture exhibitions are not so widely written about and remembered, which is a shame because I'm guessing many of them are superior to those MoMA shows and deserve more attention. So I'm pleased that Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen has documented dozens of postwar, 20th century exhibitions, roping in contributions by other architectural scholars on some of the most important exhibitions.

An important aspect of Exhibit A is that it's not limited to exhibitions about architecture, such as monographic exhibitions or those like the MoMA shows mentioned above. The book also includes exhibitions where architecture played a prominent role. These include World Fair and Expos, which often featured cutting edge architecture of a temporary nature though sometimes as permanent buildings (think Expo 67 and Moshe Safdie). Also thrown in to the chronological mix are important institutions and venues, many no longer around but just as many still going strong. Entries range from just a few lines (the entry on the Louis I. Kahn exhibition "mounted in a rush" at MoMA five days after the architect died in 1974 stands out) to multiple pages, as in Léa-Catherine Szacka's six-page write-up of the 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale, which also features a couple pages excerpted from the catalog. Like many Phaidon books, Exhibit A is set up to be delved into as needed, not read cover to cover. But it departs from the strict "one-page-per" format of such titles as Drawing Architecture or Houses, opting for a more organic layout. It's a delight to flip through and learn about so many exhibitions I didn't know about or didn't know enough about.
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Author Bio:
Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen is an associate professor at Yale School of Architecture, where she teaches architectural design, history, and theory. Her award-winning books include Alvar Aalto: Architecture, Modernity and Geopolitics (2009) and Saarinen: Shaping the Future (2006).
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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Urban Grids

Urban Grids: Handbook for Regular City Design
Joan Busquets, Dingliang Yang, Michael Keller
ORO Editions, March 2019



Hardcover | 8-1/2 x 11 inches | 680 pages | English | ISBN: 978-1940743950 | $60.00

Publisher Description:
Urban Grid: Open Form for City Design is the result of a five-year design research project undertaken by professor Joan Busquets and Dingliang Yang at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The research that is the foundation for this publication emphasizes the value of open forms for city design, a publication that specifically insists that the grid has the unique capacity to absorb and channel urban transformation flexibly and productively. Urban Grid analyzes cities and urban projects that utilize the grid as the main structural device for allowing rational development, and goes further to propose speculative design projects capable of suggesting new urban paradigms drawn from the grid as a design tool. Consisting of six major parts, it is divided into the following topics: 1) the atlas of grid cities, 2) grid projects through history, 3) the 20th-century dilemma, 4) the atlas of contemporary grid projects, 5) projective tools for the future, and 6) good-grid city as an open form coping with new urban issues.
dDAB Commentary:
Like the cities it studies, this book is massive. With nearly 700 pages and a generous A4 page size, Urban Grids is a substantial book that is loaded with thousands of illustrations that examine the past, present, and future of cities organized by grids. It is the outcome of eight years of research conducted at Harvard GSD, though the book is not alone; it follows four smaller books on four "paradigmatic" gridded cities: Barcelona, Chicago, Hangzhou, and Manhattan. The six chapters of Urban Grids, listed in the publisher description above, consist of three historical chapters, two on the present, and a brief one on the future. So the book starts with an atlas of gridded cities — 101 of them, from Abu Dhabi to Zhengzhou — moves on to grid projects across history and then contemporary grid projects, and ends by looking forward to guidelines for future city design. International in scope, and carefully and consistently presented in drawings and diagrams, Urban Grids is an impressive documentation of a finely honed, long-term research project.

Yet to what end is the research assembled in this book? The back cover touts the research as "revealing new emerging conditions for the urban grid," though the bulk of the book is historical (the first three chapters make up 500 of the book's 680 pages). So Urban Grids could be seen as an argument for the validity of the grid; though given the pervasiveness of urban grids, I doubt its validity was ever seriously in doubt. Nevertheless, the 101-page atlas at the start of the book uses a consistent format that allows readers to compare Copenhagen, for instance, with Kansas City or Ouagadougou or any of the other cities. The second chapter delves into the ends for which grids have been used throughout history, while the third chapter touches upon real and imagined projects that respectively abandoned and reimagined urban grids.

Which brings us to chapter four, what I find most interesting. Here are 48 contemporary projects, presented again with a consistent format for easy comparison. Instead of cities, the projects range in scale from the two-block Riverside Center in Manhattan to the 26-square-mile Lingang New City in China. Be they residential, commercial, or mixed-use, they all say to me that the grid is what works best for creating parcels for smaller developments within the larger whole. In other words, money is guiding grids, not architects. Yet Joan Busquets and his collaborators see the potential for architects and urban designers to create places of value through the freedom embodied in grids. Those willing to digest this meaty book might just end up agreeing with him.
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Author Bio:
Joan Busquets, world-renowned urban planner and architect, is the first Martin Bucksbaum Professor in Practice of Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Dingliang Yang is an instructor in Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. He is an architect, urban designer, and the founding partner of VARY Design. Michael Keller is a landscape and architectural designer and a recent graduate from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
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