Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Other Tradition of Modern Architecture

The Other Tradition of Modern Architecture: The Uncompleted Project
Colin St. John Wilson
Black Dog Publishing, January 2007



Paperback | 6-1/2 x 9 inches | 192 pages | 210 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1904772620 | $29.95

Publisher Description:
The Other Tradition of Modern Architecture: The Uncompleted Project is a re-edition of an essential work by Colin St John Wilson, architect of the British Library and one of the most eminent voices in architectural theory and practice of the last 50 years. Re-edited and re-designed to Wilson’s specifications, and with a new introduction by architect and writer Ellis Woodman, this indispensable title is here made available to a new readership.

In
The Other Tradition St John Wilson sets out to examine the underlying themes of modern architecture, assessing their impact, influence, and continuing development. Rather than positioning Modernism as a completed historical moment that occurred in the past (and that was formulated in terms of abstract theory and in no way responding to the historic role of architecture as a practical art and the unpredictable necessities of life), Wilson argues for a continuing tradition, an “uncompleted project”, sustained against CIAM’s rigid orthodoxy by a “resistance movement” exemplified by architects such as Alvar Aalto, Hans Scharoun, Hugo Häring and Frank Lloyd Wright. Figures like Aalto and Scharoun couldn’t compete with Le Corbusier’s powers on the soapbox and showed little inclination to do so. In a sense, The Other Tradition is the manifesto that these laconic masters never wrote.
dDAB Commentary:
In my review of Beatriz Colomina's X-Ray Architecture, which looks at the influence of tuberculosis and x-rays on the evolution of modern architecture, I mentioned Colin St. John Wilson's The Other Tradition of Modern Architecture. First published in 1995 (this new edition came out same year as the author's death), Wilson's book, like Colomina's, uses the architecture of Alvar Aalto as a source of his argument; the other being, for Wilson, Hans Scharoun. The Other Tradition is an anti-CIAM polemic, an argument for contemporary architects to learn from Aalto, Scharoun, and other "other" modernists instead of Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Wilson, who is best known as an architect for the Grade I-listed British Library in London, is careful to explain that he is not advocating for Expressionism as an alternative to International Style modernism; he is embracing architecture whose plans were based on the lives of their occupants rather than the styles of their forms and enclosures.

Wilson's book unfolds in three parts, all of them heavily illustrated: The Historical Context: What Went Wrong?, Doctrine, and Four Case Studies. Broadly, the first part's two chapters serve to dismantle CIAM as the doctrine for modern architecture, while the two chapters in part two argue for the antithesis: "architecture as a practical art," as the author describes it. Wilson's prose is clear and highly enjoyable. And having visited the British Library (designed with MJ Long) a couple years after its 1998 opening, I can attest to him practicing what he preached: the building was hard to photograph and grasp formally, though inside it was delightful, clear in its layout, and functional for its users (the last is based on accounts I've read rather than my experience, since I couldn't access the spaces used by scholars). The book's last part, the four case studies, pairs buildings from both sides, not just focusing on his preferred mode of design. So in one of the case studies we see two art galleries side by side: Mies's National Gallery in Berlin and Alvar and Elissa Aalto's Art Museum in Aalborg. Which one, for instance, controls natural light more appropriately for the display of art? At this late stage in the book the answer should be clear to readers, who should also be convinced by Wilson's strongly crafted argument for life and difference over style and orthodoxy.
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Author Bio:
Colin Alexander St John ("Sandy") Wilson, (1922–2007) was a British architect, lecturer and author. He spent over 30 years progressing the project to build a new British Library in London, originally planned to be built in Bloomsbury and completed near Kings Cross.
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Friday, May 17, 2019

New York City Brick by Brick

New York City Brick by Brick: The Art of LEGO Construction
Jonathan Lopes
Abrams, May 2019



Hardcover | 7-1/2 x 9-1/2 inches | 192 pages | 100 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1419734687 | $24.99

Publisher Description:
New York City Brick by Brick is the ultimate exploration of the architecture and history of New York City through the creative medium of LEGO. Expert builder Jonathan Lopes presents iconic structures of his own design, including the Flatiron Building, the Woolworth Building, the Manhattan Bridge, Grand Central Terminal, Junior’s Diner, brownstones, fire houses, and much more! Each model has been beautifully photographed with full-scale views and close-up details, as well as brief instructional breakouts. Lopes’s masterful constructions will inspire builders of all ages.
dDAB Commentary:
If there were ever a toy destined to be loved by architects, it's LEGO, the plastic construction toy first created in Denmark in 1949. After all, what are the building blocks of Lego called? Bricks. And what better to build with than a brick? Appropriately, some architects use Legos to build architectural models and one architect was slated with creating the Lego House in Billund (of course, a Lego kit was made for that very Lego-inspired building). Architects have also created special Lego architecture kits, and books devoted to Lego architecture have been published. Most recent is New York City Brick by Brick, which presents a couple-dozen NYC buildings made out of Legos by artist Jonathan Lopes. Some of them are quite big: a photo of Cass Gilbert's Woolworth Building in the Introduction is a good foot-and-a-half taller than the Lego artist/author!

The many Lego builds shared in the book fall into four chapters: A Historic Skyline, Neighborhoods, Firehouses, and New York City-Inspired LEGO Art. The super-sized constructions fall into the first chapter, including Woolworth but also Grand Central Terminal and Chrysler Building, both of which are included as a double-sized poster. With Grand Central Terminal, for example, requiring 62,500 pieces to construct, Lopes does not provide step-by-step instructions on the buildings in the book, but he does provide them for some details. For Grand Central he shows how he builds the steel girders, which use fairly standard pieces but display their backs (or is it bottoms?) to provide some appropriate visual detail. A couple surprises in the book include Ennead's Rescue 3 in the Bronx, a contemporary "now" building accompanied by its "then" precursor; and "High Line: Then and Now" in the last chapter, which incorporates Neil Denari's HL23 (not an easy one to figure out, I'm guessing) and manages to capture the feeling of the raised park through the appealing yet admittedly limited means of Lego bricks.
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Author Bio:
Jonathan Lopes is an artist who works within the medium of LEGO bricks. He has done commissions—large and small—for private groups, nonprofit organizations, galleries, book publishers, authors, and retail shops as well as for Toys “R” Us and the LEGO Group itself.
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Thursday, May 16, 2019

X-Ray Architecture

X-Ray Architecture
Beatriz Colomina
Lars Müller Publishers, Year



Hardcover | 6 x 7-3/4 inches | 200 pages | 277 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-3037784433 | $40.00

Publisher Description:
X-Ray Architecture explores the enormous impact of medical discourse and imaging technologies on the formation, representation and reception of twentieth-century architecture. It challenges the normal understanding of modern architecture by proposing that it was shaped by the dominant medical obsession of its time: tuberculosis and its primary diagnostic tool, the X-ray.

Modern architecture and the X-ray were born around the same time and evolved in parallel. While the X-ray exposed the inside of the body to the public eye, the modern building unveiled its interior, dramatically inverting the relationship between private and public. Architects presented their buildings as a kind of medical instrument for protecting and enhancing the body and psyche.

Beatriz Colomina traces the psychopathologies of twentieth-century architecture—from the trauma of tuberculosis to more recent disorders such as burn-out syndrome and ADHD—and the huge transformations of privacy and publicity instigated by diagnostic tools from X-Rays to MRIs and beyond. She suggests that if we want to talk about the state of architecture today, we should look to the dominant obsessions with illness and the latest techniques of imaging the body—and ask what effects they have on the way we conceive architecture.
dDAB Commentary:
The first sentence in the Wikipedia entry for "Modern architecture" is closely aligned with how I learned about it in architecture school: "Modern architecture ... was based upon new and innovative technologies of construction, particularly the use of glass, steel and reinforced concrete; the idea that form should follow function; an embrace of minimalism; and a rejection of ornament." Although it broke with the past, modern architecture was seen as an extension of the train sheds and other industrial architecture of the 19th century. Iron, glass, and concrete were appropriate materials for the new typologies born from the industrial age. What this accepted view of modern architecture ignores are outliers like Alvar Aalto, whose version of modernism departed from Corbu and Mies and fell into what Colin St. John Wilson called The Other Tradition of Modern Architecture. Aalto was an important part of Wilson's 1995 book and also Beatriz Colomina's new book, a fascinating essay on the relationship between architecture and medicine in the early 20th century.

Although the name of the book, X-Ray Architecture, points to the x-ray as the most important medical technology influencing architecture, the most interesting part of Colomina's book is the chapter devoted to tuberculosis. Before a vaccination was developed for TB and antibiotics was used to treat it, people with the infectious disease were sent to sanatoriums, which were designed since the mid-1800s to maximize patients' exposure to fresh air and sunlight. For Colomina, TB was the perfect typology for form to follow function, in that the building, not medicine, was the treatment. Architects, including Aalto, designed sanatoriums that became masterpieces of modern architecture. (That their highly specific designs were no longer needed post-antibiotics meant they were either demolished or preservationists had to fight to save them.) The approach used in designing them ultimately infused other typologies, like schools, such that architecture as treatment became architecture as preventative medicine. After the chapter on TB, Colomina's reading of x-rays relative to architecture feels shallow, as it is based on some architects incorporating x-rays into their books and designing buildings with x-ray-like qualities. In the end, although she can only touch upon the newest technologies (M2A) and the maladies affecting people today (sick building syndrome), the preceding chapters make a strong enough case for architects to seriously consider how the interiors of buildings relates to our interiors — if anything, so the former does not (continue to) harm the latter.
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Author Bio:
Beatriz Colomina is an architecture theorist, historian, curator, and professor at the Princeton University School of Architecture. One of her research focuses are sexual fantasies in association with architecture.
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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

São Paulo

São Paulo: A Graphic Biography
Felipe Correa
University of Texas Press, October 2018



Hardcover | 9-1/4 x 11-3/4 inches | 348 pages | 420 illustrations | English/Portuguese | ISBN: 978-1477316276 | $65.00

Publisher Description:
While the history of São Paulo dates back more than 450 years, most of its growth took place after World War II as the city’s major economic engine shifted from agriculture to industry. Today, as São Paulo evolves into a service economy hub, Felipe Correa argues, the city must carefully examine how to better integrate its extensive inner city post-industrial land into contemporary urban uses. In São Paulo: A Graphic Biography, Correa presents a comprehensive portrait of Brazil’s largest city, narrating its fast-paced growth through archival material, photography, original drawings, and text. Additional essays from scholars in fields such as landscape architecture, ecology, governance, and public health offer a series of interdisciplinary perspectives on the city’s history and development.

Beyond presenting the first history of Paulista urban form and carefully detailing the formative processes that gave shape to this manufacturing capital,
São Paulo shows how the city can transform its post-industrial lands into a series of inner city mixed-use affordable housing districts. By reorienting how we think about these spaces, the volume offers a compelling vision of a much-needed urban restructuring that can help alleviate the extreme socioeconomic divide between city center and periphery. This twenty-first century urban blueprint thus constitutes an impressive work of research and presents a unique perspective on how cities can imagine their future.
dDAB Commentary:
When I think of São Paulo, Brazil, a handful of buildings come to mind: Paulo Mendes da Rocha's Brazilian Museum of Sculpture, Lina Bo Bardi's Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) and SESC Pompeia Leisure Center, the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of São Paulo by Joao Batista Vilanova Artigas and Carlos Cascaldi, and Oscar Niemeyer’s Edifício Copan. While these modern buildings are considered masterpieces and are known well beyond the Brazilian metropolis, they are just a few blips in the massive conglomeration that is São Paulo. With "its seemingly endless expanse of over 6,000 high-rise buildings," per Edward Glaeser's foreword to this book, São Paulo is a city that could hardly be understood by a handful of buildings, no matter how impressive they are. Felipe Correa's impressive, heavily illustrated "graphic biography" of São Paulo thoroughly conveys the layered complexity of the city's physical past and present, allowing someone like me, who hasn't set foot on Brazilian soil, to start to understand the place.

Correa's book is organized in five "units." Unit A, which makes up the bulk of the book, is the "graphic biography" of the book's subtitle, comprised of multiple sections ("City of Ridges and Valleys," "City of Points," "City of Warehouses," etc.) that use maps, archival and contemporary photographs, and essays by scholars to explain the city's urban morphology. The other four units present "a series of design strategies and examples of relevant urban projects" focused on housing, transportation, planning, and infrastructure. Although São Paulo appears chaotic (one section in the book even presents maps of the various urban "grids," many of them very un-grid-like), São Paulo: A Graphic Biography is structured logically and presented clearly. Green pages that match the cover separate the various units, and each one is notched to illustrate the book's progression (see bottom spread). In between are pages that alternate between white and blue: white for the graphic biography and projects, and blue for the scholarly essays. This design makes the book look like a layer cake of information when seen from the side, and it makes me wish I've been to São Paulo so I could more fully appreciate the book's contents.
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Author Bio:
Felipe Correa is an associate professor of urban design and Director of the Urban Design Program at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. An architect and urbanist, he has developed numerous international projects through his practice, Somatic Collaborative. His previous books are Beyond the City: Resource Extraction Urbanism in South America, Mexico City: Between Geometry and Geography, and A Line in the Andes.
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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Color for Architects

Color for Architects
Juan Serra Lluch
Princeton Architectural Press, May 2019



Paperback | 7 x 9-1/2 inches | 192 pages | English | ISBN: 978-1616897949 | $34.95

Publisher Description:
As far back as the earliest Greek temples, color has been an integral part of architecture but also one of its least understood elements. Color theory is rarely taught in architecture schools, leaving architects to puzzle out the hows and whys of which colors to select and how they interact, complement, or clash. Color for Architects is profusely illustrated and provides a clear, concise primer on color for designers of every kind. This latest volume in our Architecture Briefs series combines the theoretical and practical, providing the basics on which to build a fuller mastery of this essential component of design. A wealth of built examples, exercises, and activities allows students to apply their learning of color to real-world situations.
dDAB Commentary:
Over the years I've reviewed many books in Princeton Architectural Press's "Architecture Briefs" series: on model making, on writing about architecture, on design/build, and on lighting, materials, architectural transformations, and sustainable design. The Architecture Briefs, subtitled "The Foundations of Architecture," are compact books but are packed with information geared to students and young professionals. The newest title in the series, Color for Architects, is particularly suited to students, since ten of its fifteen chapters end with activities that can be as easy as looking at some photos or answering a couple questions, or they may ask readers to watch a video or even take a quiz. The activities recap the preceding pages and serve to embed the information in the minds of readers by having them actually do something. Though not unique to this Brief, this format should help in getting students to consider an important aspect of design — color — that is all too often ignored in favor of white or gray.

Juan Serra Lluch, an architecture professor in Spain — a country that has embraced color more than just about any other in modern times — structures the book's fifteen chapters in three parts. The four chapters in part one describe how color works, in scientific terms and in regards to perception, particularly important for architects. The second part — the bulk of the book, with six chapters — addresses color for architectural projects. Here there are plenty of precedents to look at but also the author tackling "the myth of white in modern architecture," something that seems to be letting up in this decade's embrace of Postmodern design but still lingers, even though Le Corbusier and other Modernists actually used lots of color. Part three's five chapters are the most practical, focused on workflow and loaded with information on manipulating colors in Photoshop, calibrating a monitor, and other ways of dealing with color in digital environments. These chapters are really helpful for me, someone well beyond student or young professional, and a sign that the Briefs have something for every architect.
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Author Bio:
Architect Juan Serra Lluch is a lecturer and member of the Color Research Group at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain, with expertise in modern and contemporary architecture.
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Monday, May 13, 2019

Ricardo Bofill

Ricardo Bofill: Visions of Architecture
Edited by Gestalten wtih Ricardo Bofill
Gestalten, May 2019



Hardcover | 9-3/4 x 13 inches | 300 pages | English | ISBN: 978-3899559408 | $69.00

Publisher Description:
Ricardo Bofill is one of the 20th century’s most unique architects and radical visionaries. His visions for urban and communal life challenged preconceived notions of shared space and proposed alternative styles of living. This monograph explores his revolutionary approach by profiling his greatest projects like La Fábrica, Walden 7, La Muralla Roja or Abraxas. Spectacular new photography by Salva López, texts by experts like Nacho Alegre and Douglas Murphy as well as by Bofill himself are complemented with sketches and floor plans. Bofill’s fantastic creations satisfy a longing for originality, personality and progressive ideals.
dDAB Commentary:
Instagram saved Ricardo Bofill. The Catalan architect, known (to me, at least) for some oversize and aesthetically questionable Postmodernist projects in Europe and the United States in the 1980s and 90s, has gained a newfound appreciation this decade when many of his projects have been captured by fresh eyes and posted to social media. The projects I've seen shared numerous times are housing projects from the 1960s and 70s: Kafka's Castle, Walden 7, La Muralla Roja, and Xanadú, which graces the cover of Gestalten's handsome new monograph on Bofill. (I use the word handsome a lot on this blog, but this really is one of the nicest monographs I've seen in recent years.) These projects share some formal traits, particularly a massiveness broken down by aggregations of smaller parts that are irregularly stacked and create dramatic courtyards in the process. The (re)discovery of the last, the colorful spaces at the hearts of those buildings, have spurred people to pull out their phones, post photos to social media, and then drive others to visit the buildings. I wouldn't be surprised if the tens of thousands of #ricardobofill posts on Instagram spurred Gestalten to produce this book with its hundred of color photos of nearly two-dozen buildings.

For me, the best project produced by Bofill is another one of his early ones: the home and studio he created for his family and Taller de Arquitectura from an abandoned concrete factory on the edge of Barcelona. It was one of the first projects featured on my website A Weekly Dose of Architecture, way back in April 1999, but it is also an ever ongoing project, one that has expanded over time and been taken over by vegetation. La Fábrica, as its known, comes near the end of Ricardo Bofill: Visions of Architecture, before a couple projects completed this century. Instead of a strict chronological ordering, the 23 projects are clustered by certain characteristics, such that the Instagram-friendly buildings from the 1970s take up a good chunk of the book's midsection (they also grace the insides of the front and back covers, such that they're the first buildings readers encounter when opening the book). Accompanying the projects are four essays (by Oscar Tusquets Blanca, Douglas Murphy, Nacho Alegre, and Tom Morris) that give context and a narrative arc to Bofill's long career. But it's the presentation of the buildings — the good and the bad — that is the most rewarding part of Visions of Architecture.
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Author Bio:
Ricardo Bofill, born in 1939 in Barcelona, graduated from the Barcelona University School of Architecture and the School of Geneva. In 1963 he gathered a multidisciplinary, multitalented group in order to confront the complexity of architectural practice; architects, engineers, planners, sociologist, writers, movie makers and philosophers, conformed what is known today as the Taller de Arquitectura.
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