Monday, November 26, 2012

Book Review: Architecture: From Commission to Construction

Architecture: From Commission to Construction by Jennifer Hudson
Laurence King Publishers, 2012
Paperback, 240 pages

Books that collect works of contemporary architecture tend to present them in some fairly typical ways, particularly by building typology (houses, museums, public space, etc.) and as finished projects with highly polished photography. The former trait allows architects to examine precedents when pursuing a particular project, and the latter paints a building in as positive light as possible, for both other architects and potential clients. But what about the process of a project? Isn't that as important as the "final" building? Of course it is, given that the building is the result of successive steps, from concept design to construction documents to the actual construction, and all the steps in between. So it's refreshing to see Jennifer Hudson's survey of 25 buildings, of varying typologies, that traces them from, as the title says, commission to construction.

The book's format is pretty straightforward, and is consistent from project to project. The first two-page spread gives a view of the finished building alongside Hudson's descriptive text and the projects details—location, use, client, site and building area, dates of design and construction, and budget. The three or four spreads that follow visually document the project from early sketches and models through the subsequent steps to completion. It's refreshing that only one page of the six or eight pages is devoted to finished photography, with much of the rest featuring drawings and other documentation that isn't typically shared in books or online. The example accompanying this review is Peter Rich's Mapungubwe Interpretation Center in South Africa, a project that won the 2009 WAF Building of the Year. Additionally, this week's dose presents another project from the book—Écomusée du pays de Rennes in Rennes, France, by Guinée *Potin—and uses the opportunity to further examine how Hudson's book gives insight into parts of a project that are often overlooked.

The most important parts of the book are Hudson's captions that accompany the numerous illustrations documenting each project's process. It's not enough to show, for example, drawings of the facade for LOT-EK's Weiner Townhouse without explaining how they were submitted to New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission so that windows made of truck bodies could be used in a historic district. The captions lead us through the drawings and other illustrations, like a narrator in a documentary explains the images that tumble before our eyes. Thankfully, the selection of projects is varied in many ways (if a bit heavy on projects in the UK and designed by UK architects): There are houses, formally extravagant cultural institutions, installations, a stadium, projects that have to deal with preservation, and so forth; about the only thing missing is a tower (a highly specialized typology that gets plenty of in-depth investigation elsewhere). It's a good book for architects to see how other practitioners work through a project, but it's more valuable for students to understand how a building makes its way from an idea to a reality in the world.

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