Monday, February 01, 2010

Book Review: Architecture of Change 2

Architecture of Change 2: Sustainability and Humanity in the Built Environment edited by Kristin Feireiss and Lukas Feireiss
Gestalten, 2009
Hardcover, 240 pages

Collections of contemporary architecture in book form are still relatively common these days, even though blogs are quicker than publishing and able to include more photos and drawings. Good contemporary collections, therefore, need to offers something to the reader beyond imagery. Typically this is a thematic grouping of projects and editorial content of more depth than blogs. A good example of such are the two books by Kristin Feireiss and Lukas Feireiss based on the Zumtobel Group Award for Sustainability and Humanity in the Built Environment. The sequel contains excellent descriptions of a variety of projects exhibiting "scientific knowledge, technical innovation and creativity with a strong sense of responsibility and courage."
The projects are split into four chapters focused on themes: the state of the art in sustainable building, remote landscapes and buildings, ethical commitments to the environment, and futuristic proposals for architecture and the city. Most of the book is comprised of completed buildings, but some are in progress and the last chapter is mainly comprised of proposals to provoke dialogue not bulldozers. Variety in terms of budget, size, building type and formal traits of the projects is commendable, but not surprisingly most of the pages feature European architects and locales. My favorite is easily Harmonia//57, an office building in São Paulo, Brazil by French-Brazilian architects Triptyque. Vegetal concrete, which "absorbs water and allows plants to grow inside its niches," is used to create a distinctive pockmarked facade strung with irrigation pipes. The building collects rainwater for irrigation and other uses. Its green roofs and walls provide high thermal insulation for reduced air conditioning requirements. These and other benefits aside, it is also a symbol of sustainable architecture in a city that could use more of it.
Between chapters are two interviews, each split into two halves: Lukas Feireiss speaks with Chris Luebkeman from Ove Arup and philosopher Peter Sloterdijk. The latter is especially illuminating, as the professor and author comes at the subject of sustainability from outside the AEC realm. His views on the environment are more widespread, including brief mention of one of the world's worst polluters, diesel-engine ship travel, "probably the most cynical form of environmental crime conceivable." The reader is reminded of sustainability's larger contexts in these interviews, as well as the fact the architect is just one part of a larger ensemble trying to affect change.