Book Review: Patent Constructions

Patent Constructions: New Architecture Made in Catalonia edited by Albert Ferré, Ricardo Devesa and Jaime Salazar, published by Actar, 2007 (Amazon)

Innovation in architecture is a double-edged sword: it can provide improved solutions to problems, but in many cases it can create new problems or come at the expense of time-tested methods. In modern and contemporary architecture innovation is viewed as a necessity, as modern life has spawned new problems that require new solutions (a situation of one innovation spawning another problem). Innovation also finds roots in the exploitation of the possibilities of industrial and computerized processes. The results of which can be found in the numerous books presenting novel and sometimes "smart" materials that act as inspiration for designers as much as they are responses to specific problems. Regardless of the veracity of these justifications, innovation is entrenched in most contemporary architecture, from its production to its construction.
In this collection, the various "products," buildings and environments found in Catalonia are presented as "proving grounds of architectural innovation." They are structures, skins, habitats, and landscapes. These are suitable categories for the roughly 35 projects, dealing with how buildings find stability, regulate inside and outside, enclose space, and shape our natural surroundings. The products and such are not an exhaustive reference for the designer, though the editors have admirably compiled a varied selection of architectural designs that illustrate the myriad ways of tackling similar problems. In some cases this variety comes by the same designer in one locale, such as Batlle | Roig's vegetal walls that explore three ways of incorporating plantings into retaining walls, and the multiple innovations of Villa Nurbs's skin.
As mentioned, the variety of the projects included is commendable, as is the fact that all are built, so even innovations rooted in computer algorithms are presented in the real world, not as sexy screen captures. Some of the usual Catalan suspects are found in these pages: EMBT, Josep Lluís Mateo, Carme Pinós. But much of the information within will be new to those outside Spain, like the 34 apartments by Guallart Architects (featured in this week's dose), a complex by Coll-Leclerc featured previously, and the wonderfully clever Laus Night 06 by BOPBAA, where exhibition design and dinner merged surprisingly and seamlessly. The projects are aided by a clean and simple layout and a subtle drop-shadow on the drawings. The book's design may not be as innovative as the architectural designs purport to be, but it doesn't have to be when the quality is high.