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Monday, August 10, 2009

Book Review: XS FUTURE

XS FUTURE: New Ideas, Small Structures by Phyllis Richardson
Universe, 2009
Hardcover, 304 pages

The third installation in the XS series finds yet another focus geared around author Phyllis Richardson's exploration of small buildings. Where the first book celebrated the ideas found in small structures, the follow-up tackled environmental issues, finding a synergy in small and green. The small of the latest looks at extreme structures, those pushing innovation via materials and technologies, those sited at "the edge of possibility." The resulting collection is a snapshot of the architectural profession eight years after the first book, where many of the same themes can be found in different forms and wrappers.

It's easy to see the appeal of small buildings. Due to their expense and, in many cases, temporary nature, they allow for exploration and construction of various ideas that cannot find fruition in larger buildings. Or cannot yet find fruition, as small buildings allow research and development to take place, leading to wider implementation in bigger structures with more varied programs. The double-walled membrane of Kengo Kuma's Tea House, for example, may a harbinger of larger lightweight structures further incorporating lighting into an innovative enclosure. What that might be I don't know, but it, and other examples like it, would not happen without the small-scale exploration.

It being said that the small-scale is the best scale for expressing innovative ideas in built form, the examples in this third XS installment are remarkable. Many can be called installations or artworks before buildings, but they all share the trait of being different, standing out from everything else. This may arise from circumstance (building in the Antarctic or on a cliff face), testing new ideas (building with recycled materials or garden hoses, of all things) or just wanting to attract attention. The formal and spatial qualities range from the alien to the Zen-like, meaning there is something for everybody. To give an idea, projects featured previously on my web pages include: Bridging Tea House by LAR / Fernando Romero, Rolling Huts by Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen, and SkiBox Portillo by Del Río-Núñez Architects. The book illustrates not only how innovation is occurring at the small scale all over the world, but how small buildings equate to big payoffs, in terms of visceral impact, long-term influence, and increased sustainability by "touching the earth lightly."

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