Thursday, February 14, 2013

28 in 28 #14: Detail in Contemporary Concrete Architecture

February is Book Month on A Daily Dose of Architecture. The "28 in 28" series features a different book every day of the month.

Detail in Contemporary Concrete Architecture by David Phillips and Megumi Yamashita
Laurence King Publishing, 2012
Hardcover, 224 pages

Previously I've reviewed a couple of Laurence King's Detail in Contemporary ... series, both by Virginia McLeod: ... Residential Architecture and ... Glass Architecture. Those books varied from each other in terms of what they emphasized, but also in how they were presented; the former grouped details of the 100 houses into chapters (walls, floors, roofs, etc.), while the latter presented each project with its details, one after the other. I can see the value in both approaches, but just like a set of working drawings, as long as cross-referencing is considered the titles will work; they will have value in educating architects and students about details, and allowing them to compare different ways of detailing where walls meet roofs and various other conditions.

Not surprisingly ... Concrete Architecture, written by David Phillips and Megumi Yamashita, follows the same format as ... Glass Architecture, putting about 50 projects into four chapters by building type (cultural, residential, commercial and public, and educational). Of course the emphasis is on concrete as a material, but it varies from overtly expressive concrete shells (Ryue Nishizawa's Teshima Art Museum) to buildings that use concrete to achieve similar ends even as they cover the material with metal panels (Zaha Hadid's Evelyn Grace Academy). But in this series it's all about the details. And in this regard the book is hit or miss, partially because each building is different and because the architects supplied the drawings; what they're willing to share obviously varies. For example, Toyo Ito's drawings for the Tama Art University Library are fantastic, going so far as to show the rebar layout in the hybrid steel-and-concrete arches. On the other hand, Nishizawa's Teshima Art Museum is documented with three long sections with absolutely no detail; they are laughable and probably should have been left out of the book, if it weren't for the fact the project is so unbelievable (part of the reason the drawings look preliminary). Thankfully the majority lean toward Ito rather than Nishizawa.

But if those sections are laughable, they pale in comparison to the Imperial conversions that are found throughout the book. Yes, people outside of the United States may hate inches, feet, and other units of measurement, but nevertheless there are standards to it that should be followed, just like one follows metric standards. When it comes to the small sizes of details—less than an inch—that is especially important. Fractions of an inch are 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, and 1/16. But what do we find in these details? Exposed concrete that is 3-9/10" thick; insulation that is 7/10" thick; a 2/5" thick piece of glass. These are not real measurements. Pick up an Imperial ruler and try to make these measurements; it's not possible. And that's a shame, for it's a distracting detail in an otherwise good book of details.


  1. "These are not real measurements." Are YOU for real? How vacuous life
    must be living in a world where nothing exists between 16ths of an inch.

    1. Yes, I'm for real. There is 1/32, 1/64, 1/128, 1/256, and so forth, but I stopped at 1/16" because tolerances below that are too small for contractors and most manufacturers to deal with. A material may be smaller in thickness (sheet steel for example), but those use gauge measurements or millimeters (even in the U.S.). My point is that, for example, 2/5" is not an EQUIVALENT measurements in Imperial units for a 10mm piece of glass—1/4" is.


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