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Sunday, February 03, 2013

28 in 28 #3: Evidence

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

Evidence: The Work of Robert A. M. Stern Architects by Robert A.M. Stern
The Monacelli Press, 2012
Hardcover, 400 pages

Robert A.M. Stern is an architect who fans of modern and contemporary architecture love to hate. His postmodern designs of the seventies and eighties gave way to a strong embrace of traditional architecture that continues to this day. Yet one's impression of Stern must be balanced by his 15-year tenure as Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, where his own stylistic leanings hardly drive the curriculum (Yale is more like other Ivy League programs than, say, Notre Dame's neoclassicism), and his prolific writing, evidenced mainly by the New York histories (1880, 1930, 1960, 2000) that he co-authored. Even more books have been made on Stern's architecture—fifteen from 1981 to 2010, or one every two years. Number sixteen is Evidence, a welcome compact monograph, when compared to the coffee table tomes on his work that have prevailed in recent years.

Where some recent titles have focused on Stern's houses and gardens (2005), buildings and towns (2007), and campus buildings (2010), Evidence is less concerned with typology, or even with presenting his projects as understandable wholes. Instead the book focuses on architectural elements—thresholds, paths, facades—and architectural form. In the short introduction, Stern even calls the book "evidence [of] a multitude of solutions that nevertheless reflect a consistent attitude to form." What follows is page after page of full-bleed photos without captions, grouped via the various elements and attitudes. Yet without a table of contents to guide the way, the book becomes a meandering journey through 40 years of Stern's career. It's not until page 378 that a key to the buildings photographed can be found; even then it's not easy to pair them up, given the lack of pagination.

Evidence is like a print version of an online slideshow, where instead of swiping or clicking the right arrow, one turns the pages to see more photos of Stern's buildings. In this sense it's odd that an architect like Stern would be given this sort of "archi-porn" treatment, but I think ultimately this book helps to connect the architect with clients rather than other architects. Do potential clients want to read about individual projects, or would they rather look at some architectural variations of threshold, path, and facade? The answer is an easy one. What the book also shows, not surprisingly, is the strong relationship between an architect and a photographer, in this case Stern and Peter Aaron, who is responsible for about 90% of the book's photos. This visual journey could not take place without the careful eye of the photographer and his understanding of Stern's buildings, which depart from most of what makes up the rest of "archi-porn" these days.

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