Saturday, September 13, 2014

Book Review: Furniture by Architects

Furniture by Architects edited by Driss Faith
Images Publishing Group, 2013
Hardcover, 208 pages

The appeal of furniture for architects – both as something to use to improve a space and something to tackle as a design problem – is undeniable. But it's also been said (by Mies van der Rohe, most famously) that designing a chair is much more difficult than designing a building. Perhaps that is why architects have created so few masterpieces of furniture, especially when compared to their raison d'etre of buildings. Sure, in the former camp, the Barcelona chair by Mies comes to mind, as does Marcel Breuer's Wassily chair and Eero Saarinen's Womb chair, but the hits are few. Still, this does not stop architects from trying, especially if they have an enlightened client who is willing to pay for an architect's experimentation with furnishings, experiments that can move from the custom realm to mass production. This book collects over 80 pieces of furniture by contemporary architects, a collection that runs the gamut in terms of who, what, why and where.

[UNStudio's MYchair Lounge]

Before delving into more words about the book, I'll admit that I'm a sucker for the idea of architects designing furniture; I wrote a piece for World-Architects that surveys the designs produced by W-A member firms, such as UNStudio's MYchair Lounge (also included in the book reviewed here), and I even own a catalog on a 1980s Whitney exhibition of furniture by American architects. Like the Whitney's Shape and Environment book, I was hoping for an overview that also put today's architect-designed furniture in context. Instead, this book from Images Publishing Group is basically a catalog of products, more marketing than insightful commentary, pulling text from architects alongside photos of the pieces. Thankfully, most of the photos show the furniture in context, and only occasionally floating on a white background.

[SLHO and Associates' Modular Outdoor Furniture]

If you are looking for a source with numerous furniture designs, unlike me, then this book will do the trick. As I mentioned, it includes a wide variety of furnishing – different authors (who), different types (what), different approaches to design (why), and different contexts (where) – with names that range from the famous (Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, UNStudio) to the less-so (FINNE Architects, Griffin Enright, and Saaj Design have some of the most pieces in the book).

Aside from highlighting a wide variety of primarily good furniture designs, the book could have been improved in terms of organization and cross-referencing. Even though "architects" is in the title of the book, the furnishings are arranged alphabetically by name, an odd tactic considering how arbitrary these names can be and how this disperses an architect's pieces throughout the book. An index of architects is given at the back with simply the page numbers where their furnishings appear, but it's too little, especially when their creations could have been cross referenced, as could have similar types of furnishings (chairs, benches, dining room tables, light fixtures, etc.). Instead each piece floats in a vacuum, making the book a catalog without prices when it could have been so much more.