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Monday, October 13, 2008

Book Review: DBOOK

DBOOK: Density, Data, Diagrams, Dwellings edited by Javier Mozas & Aurora Fernandez Per
a+t architecture publishers, 2007

Collections of contemporary architecture tend to ignore the means of their making, even though some are obviously compiled of the architect's own project descriptions and imagery, while others go the extra effort to create original descriptions and use unique illustrations for publicatiton. This impressive compendium of 64 recent multi-family residential projects is the best of both of these methods, and it isn't shy about that fact. At the outset the editors even show the reader a completed form returned by one of the featured architects, addressing the data statistics that shape much of the book, from its ordering to its appearance.

Each project includes an abundance of graphic information (PDF link): diagrams illustrating density, population, income and function; site and urban-scale imagery; scale plot plans with open space ratios; plans; photographs and more; all in a consistent format that allows for comparison on the part of the reader. Additionally each architect contributes a description that is accompanied by an editor's note, in many cases the latter relating the project to the wider aims of the book. Lastly, a survey filled out by the architect illustrates the level of sustainability in the project or, in some cases, the unwillingness of the architect to participate in the survey. Ordered from lowest to highest residential density, the book concludes with details from some of the projects and a thematic analysis of all 64 projects* in the different realms of density, from the building to the city level.

Like Density and Density Projects, DBOOK aims to "promote the compact development of urban settlements." This goal is illustrated via the data visualizations already described, but the importance of context on such a consideration only comes across in two pieces of data: district and city density (though one does see how the projects do impact their surroundings via the introduction of uses like retail and schools). Combined with the aerial views and site plans , one achieves a small glimpse of how each project fits into the surrounding fabric, but not enough to grasp how density equates with quality of life. This is a paradox of focusing on data in architecture: where does data give way to more subjective, intangible measures? How is one persuaded by arguments for density when the benefits of density (proximity to shopping, recreation, work, public transporation, people, and a diversity of such things) are not present in the data? It's a minor criticism for an ambitious book that finds merit in an attribute of diverse and sustainable cities.

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