Book Review: Construction Site

Construction Site: Metamorphoses in the City edited by Marie Antoinette Glaser, published by Lars Müller Publishers, 2008. Hardcover, 144 pages. (Amazon)

One of the paradoxes of growth is construction. A city without the din and inconveniences of building could be said to be a dead city. A city filled with the sounds, smells, and impasses created by demolition and construction are likewise the most alive. It's as if the city is working towards some sort of ideal, an unattainable Utopia where one building begets the next, or where the death of one building begets a replacement. But given the undeniable presence of construction sites in thriving cities, surprisingly little literature is given to the subject. Sure, the occasional high-profile commission is documented from start to finish, but its effect on the context and the context of the construction are not discussed much beyond the pretty pictures.

This book, the brainchild of ETH's Marie Antoinette Glaser, fills some of that void, in an interdisciplinary collection of essays, interviews, photographs, and artwork. Given the short length of the book and the varied contributions, the book is far from the final word on the subject. It is rather a thought-provoking inquiry into the various aspects of the term "construction site", from the literal (photos of nine European buildings under construction) to the poetic (the Restarchitektur series by Marcus Buck) with most somewhere in between. The points of view from the contributors are rather wide-ranging for what can be seen as a narrow topic, perhaps owing to lack of attention given to the subject and the artistic community's embrace of the concept of construction site as inspiration.

The most engaging texts approach the construction site as not only something that leads to a final product, but more as a piece in a continuum, and therefore something that shouldn't be overlooked or neglected. Berlin's Info Box -- erected to provide an exhibition space and viewing platform for the Postsdamer Platz project underway at the time -- is the best symbol of such an acknowledgment. Artworks that also take over buildings before demolition are numerous and are also good examples of affecting how people look at the built environment, specifically emphasizing time within the acts of creation and destruction.

The book's design makes it more expansive than only 144 pages, as the majority of photographs and artwork are found on glossy, non-paginated inserts between the essays and interviews. These images are laid out in a manner that recalls the openings in construction fences, allowing passers-by to sneak a peek at the progress and see what's making all that noise. Here, the reader is given a glimpse into different ways of looking at construction sites, different ways of thinking about those places in the city soon to be occupied and soon to be abandoned.


  1. You are correct, writing about construction sites are really not that common. I wouldn't mind a primetime drama of the construction site instead of a hospital - it could be just as good. I hope to increase the amount of construction literature out there. Thanks for the review.


Post a Comment

Comments are moderated for spam.