Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book Briefs #14: 3 Monographs on 3 NYC Architects

"Book Briefs" are an ongoing series of posts with two- or three-sentence first-hand descriptions of some of the numerous books that make their way into my library. These briefs are not full-blown reviews, but they are a way to share more books worthy of attention than can find their way into reviews on my daily or weekly pages.

1: Architecture as a Design Partnership by Spector Group | Visual Profile Books Inc. | 2013 | Amazon
Only one drawing is found in the pages of the Spector Group's second monograph: a watercolor of the Parthenon done 77 years ago by Charles Spector, the founder of the firm that is now in the hands of two more generations of Spectors (soon to be three, per the foreword by Charles's architecture-school-bound great-grandson). Photographs and renderings are the means of describing the approximately 75 projects organized into four sections: architecture, interiors, master planning, and residential. Descriptions are short and to the point, though unlike the longer list of buildings included in the "representative project portfolio" at the back of the book, there isn't a chronological or some other logical order to the projects. For example, the recently completed, glassy Mercedes-Benz showroom on 11th Avenue is immediately followed by the postmodern visage of the Birch Wathen Lenox School; projects jump around without an evident progression. Yet the representative project portfolio shows how the Spector Group has rolled with the changes (some semi-brutal buildings in the 1960s are followed by mirrored glass then postmodernism, and so forth) in its nearly 50 years of existence. The roughly 20 projects in the "soon..." chapter point to a little bit more adventurousness for the corporate firm.

2: Shelton, Mindel and Associates: Architecture and Design, Contribution by Joseph Giovannini, Photographed by Michael Moran | Rizzoli | 2013 | Amazon
Gracing the cover of Shelton, Mindel and Associates' first monograph is a duplex apartment sitting atop the Jean Nouvel-designed building at Broadway and Grand in SoHo. Many residential projects designed by Lee Mindel and the late Peter Shelton follow the same scenario, where another architect has shaped the larger canvas in which they work, be it a new building by Nouvel or Richard Meier, or a Beaux-Arts building on Central Park West. Their designs exhibit an amazing ability to fit well within any building, exuding a luxury that is balanced by their minimal hands. Texture, light, and clarity are paramount, going beyond style. When confronted with a relatively blank canvas, such as a house on Long Island, Shelton and Mindel (with architect Reed A. Morrison) are more adventurous, but the same considerations come to the fore. The qualities of the nearly 20 residences assembled in this book really jump of the pages, thanks to Michael Moran's photographs and the duo's consistent level of quality that occurs regardless of style.

3: Theater of Architecture by Hugh Hardy | Princeton Architectural Press | 2013 | Amazon
The least monograph-y (and for this and other reasons the best) of these three books is Hugh Hardy's autobiographical treatise on architecture expressed through 20 projects spanning much of his 5-decade career. Hardy is known for architecture for the performing arts (exactly half of the projects in the book are such), with both Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates and H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, but the title's "theater of architecture" is a broader statement about designing for human experience. As Hardy puts it in the preface (my emphasis): "Even though these projects do not all look the same, they all were created with the intention of setting the stage for their inhabitants' different journeys of discovery."

Hardy's approach to design comes across in the lengthy descriptions for the projects fitted into ten thematic chapters: A Talisman, Entry, Legend, Place, Contrast, Time, Public Space, Continuity, Environment, Intimacy. Experience and context are of the utmost for him, evidenced in the commissions he chooses (theater restorations, public spaces, and so forth) and the way he traces the history of each project well beyond his involvement. Clients are also important for Hardy, and their voices are included in sidebar interviews conducted by Mildred Friedman. PS New York should be commended for taking the mix of photographs, descriptions by Hardy, and client interviews, and making a very readable book that carefully uses color throughout. I'm a big fan of monographs that push the typology beyond its norms, so I appreciate the effort and execution of Hardy's (more than a) monograph.

Princeton Architectural Press has created a trailer for the book, featuring the ever-youthful Hardy talking about his early days in architecture and some of the ideas he explores at greater length in his excellent book: