Book Review: Re:Crafted and Transformer

Re:Crafted: Interpretations of Craft in Contemporary Architecture and Interiors by Marc Kristal
Monacelli Press, 2010
Hardcover, 208 pages

Transformer: Reuse, Renewal, and Renovation in Contemporary Architecture by Sandu Publishing
Gingko Press, 2010
Hardcover, 272 pages

These two books featuring collections of contemporary buildings carve their own niches to present developments in the wide-ranging realm of architecture. One focuses on craft at a time when the notion appears to have been disappeared, and the other on transformations of existing buildings, a theme found in other recent books.

The first, Re:Crafted by New York-based journalist Marc Kristal, presents 25 primarily residential projects that "feel 'crafted'" in the author's words. Notions of craft in architecture tend to approach it in terms of hand-made work, such as carvings or wrought-iron decoration that predates industrial processes and today's mass-produced yet customizable products and materials. Even though computer drafting and now computerized milling has displaced traditional notions centered on the hand-mind connection, craft exists in details and surfaces where off-the-shelf solutions are not good enough and tradespeople are pushed to implement designs outside their comfort zones. It's no surprise that most of the designs featured are single-family houses or apartments, their large budgets affording the extra labor and materials costs needed. Nevertheless craft is not the exclusive purview of rich clients, exhibited by some low budget designs like the Ini Ani Espresso Bar.

The projects Kristal selects to represent craft in the 21st century range from traditional wood cabinetry to innovative uses of plastics. The variety presented is extraordinary, in terms of materials, construction and effect. A couple examples: Deformscape by Faulder Studio, a small backyard in San Francisco, uses individually cut tiles in a deformed grid pattern to give the impression that the flat surface is sloping to the base of a tree. What looks like a one-liner at first is a highly complex construction whose effect would have been thrown off by errors of just a sixteenth of an inch. Orchard East is a large single-family residence in Chicago by Wheeler Kearns Architects, a museum-quality construction of concrete and glass. Bronze details predominate, though wood and stone help give the design warmth and smoothness that permeates.
Transformer presents nearly 50 projects in which contemporary architecture confronts the past and incorporates it as part of the contemporary. The projects are grouped by building type (workplace, residential, schools, art & culture, hotels, public) though the book's design makes this categorization seamless, so the designs shift subtly from front to back. Many are interior renovations, but the most exciting ones tackle existing buildings in creative ways. Medusa Group's Bolko Loft (part of this week's dose) appropriates a raised industrial building that in and of itself is a striking construction. In Chile José Ulloa Davet and Delphine Ding wrapped an existing house in wood and added a roof terrace to completely transform its original state. These and other projects illustrate the creative potential of reusing existing buildings, whatever they may be. This is especially important now that demolition is not the most obvious first choice for architects and clients. Not only does demolition debris stay out of landfills and the footprint of new construction is reduced, but the spatial and formal qualities of the new next to/on top of/inside of the old is a clear advantage as is found in these pages.