Book Briefs #29

"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 this blog.

Ellen Kooi Above Rotterdam: One Glass Tower by Wiel Arets & Nine Situations by Katrien Van den Brande edited by John Bezold | Actar | 2016 | Amazon
Wiel Arets Architects' B' Tower is the subject of this book, which is unlike any other architectural case study. A collaboration between Arets and artists Ellen Kooi and Katrien Van den Brande, the book presents glimpses into the tower's units through Kooi's photographs and Van den Brande's stories. I was drawn primarily to the photos. Although obviously staged, the images reveal scenarios that activate the modern and often bare spaces of the five apartments portrayed. Ironically both the photos and the poetic words between the apartment spreads embody a way of thinking and interacting with the surroundings that is so much more artistic than the mundane, day-to-day lives often depicted in photos and writings about buildings.

Figures in Stone: Architectural Sculpture in New York City by Robert Arthur King | W. W. Norton | 2017 | Amazon
In a trailer to the documentary short Stonefaced, architect and educator Robert King describes modern buildings as "faceless." This phrase refers to the lack of detail in boxes covered with glass and metal, but it can also be taken more literally, since modern buildings are not adorned with the carved animal and human faces that King is enamored with. When I try to recall a relatively recent visage on a building, all that comes to mind is Charles Moore's Piazza d'Italia, where the architect himself spews water into the basin. But on King's turf, New York City, I come up with nothing. We must go back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries to find such representations and King has done just that, producing two books in the process – Faces in Stone and Animals in Stone – that are collected for the first time in a single volume. The figures take center stage in large photos – usually one to a page – but the book also includes small photos of the buildings they adorn, addresses, subway information, and helpful maps. With all this extra information, readers can venture out to see in person the faces that often go overlooked but which King has carefully trained his camera on.

MIT: The Campus Guide by Douglass Shand-Tucci | Princeton Architectural Press | 2016 | Amazon
My first, and so far only, trip to Boston was about five years ago. Although I made it to Harvard's campus, I didn't have the time to visit MIT, which is home to a number of notable modern and contemporary buildings, such as Aalto's dormitory, Saarinen's chapel, and another dormitory, by Steven Holl. As much as I like to visit a place with an architectural guide, I'm not sure this one would have made the ideal companion at MIT, even if it were around at the time. At 400 pages, it is a hefty guide, split into two halves: eight "portals" that paints a historical portrait of MIT, and eight "walks" that highlight different areas of MIT's campus on the left bank of the Charles. The second half – the true guide – is as verbose as the first half, with one walk consisting of basically standing in one point on a bridge and getting an overview of campus. The merits of the book include some beautiful photographs and a map, the latter of which visitors can carry around in lieu of the heavy book that is better suited to reading before taking a trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Thinking the Contemporary Landscape edited by Christophe Girot, Dora Imhof | Princeton Architectural Press | 2016 | Amazon
Last year, when I wrote a forthcoming book on modern landscape design, one of the most helpful resources was Christophe Girot's The Course of Landscape Architecture, a large-format book that covered the subject from prehistory to the present. Though not exhaustive, Girot's critical takes on the projects in the book got me excited for this collection of essays edited by the Swiss landscape architect and professor with art historian Dora Imhof. The seventeen essays, composed into three sections (landscape reframed, landscape composed, landscape rethought), "look at the profession of landscape architecture as it reacts to new challenges posed by both societal and environmental change and considers new fields of action." It does this with some heavy-hitting contributors: James Corner, Adriaan Geuze, Girot himself, David Leatherbarrow, Saskia Sassen, Charles Waldheim, Kongjian Yu, and numerous others. It's a diverse collection that is deep and thought-provoking but will also, as the editors admit, "raise more questions than it will bring answers."

Transmaterial Next: A Catalog of Materials That Redefine Our Future by Blaine Brownell | Princeton Architectural Press | 2017 | Amazon
Most books that collect multiples of certain things, such as buildings, partition them into chapters defined by typology or some other characteristic. That applies even more to a catalog such as this fourth Transmaterial book by architect Blaine Brownell. Here the chapters are material categories: concrete, metal, glass, digital, and so forth. But the small tabs on the edge of the cover hint at two more layers of definition. On the right side are such qualities as interfacial, intelligent, repurposed, and transformational, while on the left side are three broad categories: material, product, and process. Each of the more than 100 entries is defined by one of each, so readers can hone in on certain applications or qualities and find them fairly easily. Nevertheless, I can't help but continue to think that information in the Transmaterial books (previously I reviewed Transmaterial and Transmaterial 2) would be better in digital form – where entries can be cross referenced and changes made more easily – rather than in printed matter.

Wright Sites: A Guide to Frank Lloyd Wright Public Places edited by Joel Hoglund | Princeton Architectural Press | 2017, Fourth Edition | Amazon
2017 is the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright's birth, which is being celebrated with exhibitions, publications, and other events. It's as good a time as any, then, to release the fourth edition of Wright Sites, which features 71 built projects open to the public in the United States and Japan. Most numerous, obviously, are the US buildings (all but three of them), which are organized alphabetically by state. The buildings are documented with photos, descriptive text, addresses, contact information, and details of public access. Six suggested itineraries at the back of the book are especially helpful for people planning trips to visit multiple Wright buildings. For those interested in a more comprehensive view of Wright's oeuvre, the fourth edition of William Allin Storrer's indispensable Complete Catalog will be released in June, but Hoglund's slimmer Wright Sites is handy for carrying around to the relatively small number of Wright buildings open to the public.