Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Review: Almanac of Architecture & Design 2011

Almanac of Architecture & Design 2011 edited by James P. Cramer and Jane Paradise Wolford, PhD
Greenway, 2011
Paperback, 606 pages

A couple years ago I reviewed DesignIntelligence's 2009 Almanac of Architecture & Design, looking at it in regards to online content challenging the relevance of print references. A quick glance at that review is recommended, as here I'll compare this year's 12th edition to that predecessor; I did not see last year's edition, but it and this subsequent one reflect major changes in DI's formula for the annual reference. The most obvious change is the switch from black-and-white to full-color, evident in the photos and page layout. The inclusion of color photographs impacts the whole book, as now photos of completed buildings -- and more of them -- are interspersed throughout the different chapters, not grouped into a section with plates. In the case of the page layout, the chapters are color-coded with bands along the book's edge, moving rainbow-like from orange to green. All of this color means the book looks better and is easier to navigate, but it also means a price tag three times higher than the 2009 edition.

Another major change is the addition of the "DesignIntelligence 333," a ranking of the top 333 firms in North America. Leading off the book and taking up a quarter of its page count (close to a 1/3 including the second chapter's DI poll of US firms), the list puts the efforts of DI at the fore, a position previously occupied by a list of awards given to architects. The latter are included, but now they make up most of the rest of the book, interspersed throughout the various chapters. Other information includes obituaries, lists of significant buildings, and design resources. Indexes by name and location aid in finding specific architects or buildings throughout. Missing from this edition is the chapter on education, targeted at prospective students in the 2009 edition. Not included in the current or previous editions are web-based media and other online resources; print media and traditional resources still dominate, even though architecture firms target online and print media for promotion, and architects utilize the web as much as any profession. The lack of exploring the digital terrain points to one area for improvement in future editions.

The almanac builds upon its previous years, so it basically features the same lists and awards, as well as information specific to previous years. In this sense the changes do not greatly alter the book in terms of its focus and purpose. While the book bills itself as "providing the industry with the critical information it needs," I'd say it gives architects the information to situate themselves within the profession. The profusion of awards and rankings points to this sort of navel-gazing, but it could also make the book handy as a "sourcebook for building owners and facility managers," something DI also asserts. Those looking to hire an architect can see how one fits into DI's internal rankings (if at all) and how one is perceived by their peers with awards. In this sense the higher price tag may be warranted, for the individuals and institutions hiring architects may be the ones actually buying this book, not the architects themselves.