Book Review: Tower and Office

Tower and Office: From Modernist Theory to Contemporary Practice by Inaki Abalos and Juan Herreros, published by The MIT Press, 2003. Hardcover, 305 pages. (Amazon)

Spanish architects Abalos & Herreros finished a Spanish-language book in 1992 titled Técnica y arquitectura en la ciudad contemporánea that lead to a fellowship at Columbia University for additional research. Published eleven years after its predecessor, Tower and Office naturally focuses on the technology of high rise construction and its relationship to the office environment, though in the end the book also stands as an intelligent critique of contemporary architecture and urbanity. Starting with mid-20th-century Modernism, the duo uses Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe's influential work in high-rise construction to eventually point out Modernism's limits. Not to say that the movement failed or does not have relevance; advances in technology since World War II have created problems, and subsequently ones that were out of reach or unthinkable with the Modernist approach.

The second part of the book traces structural, mechanical and curtain wall development in these years leading up to the present. The third, and last, part deals with the changing office environment and the evolution of the mixed-use skyscraper. This last subject gives the book a potentially broader impact beyond its historical critique of the office skyscraper. The current incarnation of tall buildings vertically layers what was previously spread out horizontally across the urban fabric, necessitating a change in the idea of the city, of building types and the meaning of public and private space.