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Friday, April 10, 2009

Book Review: Hands On

Hands On: Sixteen Prototypes by Per Olaf Fjeld & Emily Randall Fjeld
Ostberg/Greenway, 2008
Paperback, 92 pages

For those outside Scandinavia the names Per Olaf Fjeld and Emily Randall Fjeld won't ring a bell, unlike the person who pens the afterword to this collection of the husband-and-wife architects' domestic furniture. But Juhani Pallasmaa's presence doesn't so much validate the simple and consistent pieces made for the duo's home, it aligns their production with the more well-known architect/writer's predilection for the tactile, the elevation of the experience of space, and the poetic potential of handmade objects. Of course this much is evident in Per Olaf's introduction to the photographic documentation of the sixteen objects, as well as the straightforward but beautiful images of the pine and plywood furniture.

The book's design is especially important. It follows from the objects themselves, where structure is of the utmost, materials are limited and simple, the pieces are compact (nothing is wasted), and each piece fits alongside the others with a consistency that values cohesion over singularity. The above spreads reveal how the furniture is presented: vellum title sheets give a brief description and a cloudy view of the piece, after which one sees it clearly and then in detail on subsequent pages. From a stool to a bed, the scale and the complexity of the pieces increases, but never does any one piece stand out from the rest. Yet even this cohesion is secondary to the workings and relationships of the furniture in space, clearly shown in plans and descriptions that locate each object within the house and within the family's lives.

At only 92 pages and almost small enough to be pocket-size, these qualities belie the depth and importance of the contents. Flipping through the book is like revealing layers of things that have existed for many years, but whose existence lies outside the prevalent means of sharing today (i.e. online and print media). The book is an inspiring gem worth cherishing, evocative of the care the duo has taken in crafting and shaping their home.

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