Book Review: Cost-Effective Buildings

Cost-Effective Building: Economic concepts and constructions (2007) edited by Christian Schittich
Hardcover, 176 pages

The latest in Detail Magazine's in DETAIL series presents what could be called "un-Bilbao" buildings; those commissions not blessed with the almost limitless budgets that allow for expensive materials, formal invention, and a HUGE scale. Where previous books in the series looked at building types (single-family housing) or architectural elements (building skins), this one focuses on the less-thrilling aspect of architectural production: the budget. Building types in these pages range from single- and multi-family houses to schools and factories, with the book loosely arranged where essays and interviews partition the various projects into types. In this manner the book moves from small scale to large, from timber and masonry structure to concrete and steel, from private to (quasi-)public, from individual to collective. The essays and interviews act as markers, orienting the reader to the general goal at hand: expressing ways of creating unique architectural solutions with small budgets.

This goal being said, these projects exhibit a lack of formal variety; the orthogonal prevails here. Perhaps this is due to the small budgets, though the general attitude that can be inferred by the designs is that a simplified structure and volume affords more money on the exterior wall, and therefore greater architectural expression. Given Detail Magazine's consistent format for each project that focuses its details on exterior walls -- in addition to the requisite plans, building sections, and photographs -- this skin emphasis, if you will, should come as no surprise.

A good example of this is Foreign Office Architects' Hotel in Groningen, Netherlands, a tiny building with the massing of two stacked cubes. A steel structure achieves minimal sizing via cladding the building in a lightweight, corrugated aluminum skin, perforated to allow light to leak in either direction. While corrugated aluminum is surely a low-budget material, here it allows the architects to use the small plaza the building fronts to its advantage, allowing the skin to open and close via a facade covered in operable shutters and doors. Even without a novel form (definitely not a prerequisite for successful architecture in this reviewer's opinion) the project elevates itself above its small budget, not only architecturally but in terms of place-making, with its strong relationship to its small yet important open space. While the conceptually clarity and success of FOA's project is not shared by every project in these pages, there are enough variations on the orthogonal box theme to make the book a good resource for tackling the low-budget commissions that most architects face.


  1. When you can get repeating non-planar, inexpensive elements, you will start to see non-orthogonal buildings constructed cheaply.

  2. i love detail. their books are always a little bit better than everybody else's. have you read "building simply"?

  3. I found this book review very helpful in my search for building with inexpensive construction materials to produce great architecture. Thanks!


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