Book Review: MCHAP Book One

MCHAP Book One: The Americas edited by Fabrizio Gallanti, published by IITAC Press/Actar, 2016. Hardcover, 444 pages. (Amazon)

In October 2014 the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) announced the winners of the inaugural Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize (MCHAP), with Álvaro Siza's Iberê Camargo Foundation in Porto Alegre, Brazil, winning for 2000-2008 and Herzog & de Meuron's 1111 Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, Florida, winning for 2009-2013. By the time this book documenting the prize and its seven finalists came out last year, the winner of the 2014-15 MCHAP was already announced: SANAA's Grace Farms in New Canaan, Connecticut. MCHAP recognizes the best building realized in the previous two-year period (minus the inaugural) in North and South America, such that it functions like an Americas equivalent of the EU Prize – Mies Award.

Even though it documents the winners and finalists, this book isn't really about them. This is clear from the introductory essays, by Dutch architect and IIT dean Wiel Arets and editor Fabrizio Gallanti. The former is about cities and technological developments on the two continents and "the creation of a new dream," while the latter explores the fluid ideas and meanings of "America" – nary a mention of the prize is found. Furthermore, if one were to read the book from cover to cover, they wouldn't learn which projects won until page 417. Between the introduction and back matter, with its listing of the winners, finalists, outstanding, and nominees, are seven chapters thematically organized around the seven finalists. Herzog & de Meuron's Florida parking garage sets up the theme of mobility and infrastructure, for instance, and Siza's project is the spark for exploring "the role of travel and cultural exchange for designers," per Gallanti's essay.

Each of the seven chapters is structured the same way across roughly fifty pages: a short introduction, a long essay, photos of the finalist and an interview with the architect, and an "anthology" of articles, essays, photo essays, and book excerpts related to the theme. With this structure, there's no need to read the book cover to cover – or all of it for that matter. Instead, people can dip into projects or themes that are of interest, taking in lessons both new and old that paint a picture of the evolving Americas. It's a tactic that is more rewarding than a straightforward presentation of the MCHAP finalists, though there is one omission that hopefully future editions will balance out: Canada. The United States, Central America, and South America are well represented in the projects, contributions, and anthologies, but there's very little touching on our overlooked neighbor to the north.