Book Briefs #27

"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.

Adjaye Africa Architecture by David Adjaye, edited by Peter Allison | Thames & Hudson | 2016 | Amazon
Five years ago David Adjaye's seven-volume, slipcased survey of architecture in African cities was released. Retailing for $100, the book was out of reach for many people interested in the subject, so it's good news that Thames & Hudson has put out a miniature version of the book. At 408 pages and a page size of around 8 by 10 inches, it's not a tiny book, but too much smaller and Adjaye's numerous photos would have been too small. As is, the photos that make up most of the book are small but big enough to reveal the characteristics of the cities. Each city is presented across six pages, with two devoted to an overview, data, and maps, and the rest given over to photos categorized by typology: civic, commercial, residential, university, etc. Adjaye's quick, drive-by photos will not win him any awards, but the passion and thoroughness of his documentation is hard not to applaud, particularly in a package that more people can learn from.

Form & Data: Collective Housing Projects: An Anatomical Review by a+t research group | a+t | 2016 | Amazon
The research group at a+t continues its tradition of excellent project documentation with this collection of twenty collective housing projects. The approach here is anatomy (hence the x-ray elephant on the cover), so each project is documented with, in addition to the usual photos and plans, isometrics that peel away the walls to look within. Color coding enables the different parts of the isometrics to be grasped easily, while side-by-side diagrams at the back of the book allow different criteria (size and land use) to be compared easily. As in other a+t titles, the projects are primarily in Europe, where collective housing is very important, though it does include nARCHITECTS' Carmel Place in New York and OMA/Ole Scheeren's Interlace in Singapore, among other non-European projects.

The New Pavilions by Philip Jodidio | Thames & Hudson | 2016 | Amazon
I'd say this is the latest book by prolific architectural writer Philip Jodidio, but by the time this post is online another book of his will probably be released. Like other books by Jodidio, this one collects a bunch of contemporary buildings, in this case pavilions, be they temporary, like the annual PS1 and Serpentine pavilions, or permanent, as in the cover project by Snøhetta. Pavilions are a perfect subject for a contemporary collection, since they enable young and established firms alike to experiment with form, program, and other features. The numerous projects are put into seven quasi-typological chapters: gather, objets d'art, learn, exhibit, look/listen, live/work/play, and shelter. I say quasi-typological, since many pavilions are devoid of programmatic functions, and therefore projects in this book can fall easily into one or another chapter.

This Is Frank Lloyd Wright by Ian Volner, illustrations by Michael Kirkham | Laurence King | 2016 | Amazon
Frank Lloyd Wright is the first architect to be given the "This Is" treatment from Laurence King, which previously published illustrated biographies on a number of artists: Leonardo da Vinci, Paul Gaugin, and Andy Warhol, to name a few. Writer Ian Volner is paired with illustrator Michael Kirkham, and together they created an accessible biography of the great architect, one that touches on just about every major event and project of his long career. The cover and the short page length (80 pages) make it seem like the book is geared to children, but Volner's descriptive, info-packed writing is hardly something my eight-year-old daughter could get into – yet. Kirkham's drawings, which recall Chris Ware at times, help to pull people along on a beautifully told story of an architect who had one of the most captivating lives imaginable.

The Weltanschauung as an Ersatz Gestalt by Jan Turnovsky, edited by Eva Guttmann, Gabriele Kaiser, Claudia Mazanek | Park Books | 2016 | Amazon
Jan Turnovsky was not a name I was familiar with before receiving this book in the mail. A victim of suicide in 1995, the Czech-born Turnovsky attended London's Architectural Association in the late 1970s and there produced the thesis that this book reprints alongside a German translation (Park Book is based in Zurich). It's an enigmatic text that fans of theory will appreciate. So will some graphic designers, since the facsimile edition includes the author's typescript pages, which feature titles and borders formed by repeated "m"s.

What Makes a Great City by Alexander Garvin | Island Press | 2016 | Amazon
Add a question mark to the title of this new book from New York-based planner and educator Alexander Garvin and you have the impetus for the book and the two years of travel and writing that went into it. Without the question mark, the title is a statement, meaning Garvin has answered the question with this book. If the chapters are any indication – Open to Anybody, Attracting and Retaining Market Demand, Sustaining a Habitable Environment, Nurturing and Supporting a Civil Society, etc. – the answers are an almost equal mix of social, economic, and environmental concerns. With so much being written about cities these days, many people will take exception to Garvin's lack of coverage in Africa, Asia, and South America. This is something Garvin addresses early on, indicating that he traveled to cities he was familiar with rather than trying to grasp new lessons from new (for him) places. So the resulting book is a personal view of cities through his eyes (literally, with most of the photos taken by him) that focuses on the most successful parts of European and North American cities.