Book Review: Deborah Berke

Deborah Berke by Tracy Myers, published by Yale University Press, 2008. (Amazon)

In Deborah Berke's first book, edited with fellow Yale professor Steven Harris in 1997, the New York-based architect explored the Architecture of the Everyday, buildings and ideas rooted in the commonplace and counter to stylish, iconic architecture that grabs headlines both then and now. In the preface to the first monograph on her practice, Berke admits that she has moved from an architecture of the everyday to an architecture of local knowledge, of the here and now. This owes less to a change in her interests than a change in the everyday, the way it has been transformed at a time marked by self-awareness, imitation and globalization. For Berke the everyday is a condition to deal with, but not a direct influence on her work.

To frame these somewhat more vague notions of local knowledge and the here and now that influences the architect's work, Tracy Myers partitions just over 20 of Berke's completed projects into three chapters: Site and the Body, The Sum of the Parts and Meaning in Architecture. For each, Myers contributes text that is analytical and critical, if highly complimentary, derived from the author's analysis of Berke's buildings. Her writing illuminates projects -- an architecture of the everyday in many ways -- that don't jump off the page like those of other architects with monographs devoted to them. This is not to diminish the appeal of buildings like the Irwin Union Bank in Columbus, Indiana (gracing the cover) or the recent Marianne Boesky Gallery in Chelsea, but to praise the experiential, the subtlety and the attentiveness of her spaces, themes that roughly parallel those of the book's chapters. To call Berke's architecture minimal or commonplace would be a disservice, as it is more accurately an architecture that is appropriate to its purpose, be it functionally, contextually or aesthetically.