Book Review: Detail Kultur

Detail Kultur: If Buildings Had DNA: Case Studies of Mutations by Christoph a. Kumpusch, published by Aadcu, 2016. Hardcover, 1030 pages. (Amazon)

[All images courtesy of]

Even without the overused quote attributed to Mies van der Rohe, "God is in the details," architects would understand the importance of details, the way in which a building's success hinges on how its materials and assemblies are treated. In terms of books on the subject, they range from practical, technical guides to conceptual explorations, as in the exhaustive work of Edward R. Ford. Architect and Columbia GSAPP professor Christoph a. Kumpusch attempts to blend these two approaches, resulting in a massive, layered volume born from his PhD dissertation at the Universität für Angewandte Kunst - Wien.

Even before cracking open the thick chip board cover of Detail Kultur, it's clear this is a special book, a product of much time, energy, and passion. Additionally, the cover and its notched end pages spell out the structure of the book, specifically the ten themes (what Kumpusch call "lenses") explored by the baker's dozen projects listed on the front. The 13 projects are actually noted as "12+1 projects," since one of them – the Light Pavilion that Kumpusch worked on with Lebbeus Woods – inhabits Steven Holl's Sliced Porosity Block, one of the projects.

[Spread with Steven Holl's Sliced Porosity Block]

Even before the reader gets to the introduction, the author has provided a key to the book's layered structure and its many parts: the lenses and their icons, the projects, the various text boxes (Kumpusch's own text, dictionary definitions, quotations, captions, and citations), and finally the drawings, their thumbnail silhouettes, and their scales. All the relevant information is found on the page; there is no back matter outside of an index, bibliography, material key, and architects' bios. With so much information – practical and conceptual – packed on each page, a key is necessary to navigate the book's own detailed presentation.

[Spread with Neil Denari's HL23]

At just over a thousand pages, this is not a cover-to-cover read; it is something to dive into in a few ways. First is in terms of the lenses, which are notched on top of the pages and focus on such areas as "corners," "openings and closings," and "chassis geometry." Second is by project; every project does not fall into every lens, but the projects can be found easily via notches on the right side of the pages. (I found myself gravitating to projects I have some familiarity with, such as Peter Zumthor's Therme Vals, HL23, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro's The Broad.) Third would be a reading of the text that prefaces each lens's collection of relevant details; here Kumpusch explains his conceptual basis for each lens and references even more projects than the book addresses in its case studies.

[Spread with Eric Owen Moss's Samitaur Tower]

In terms of the details provided, kudos should go to Kumpusch for assembling them into a consistent graphic format with scales (most are 1:10) that allow for easy comparison. It's great to have access to details on 12+1 stellar projects. That said, some details are throwaways (are roof vent details, for instance, so important in this ambitious study?) and some of the photos that accompany the details suffer from low quality. But when Kumpusch pairs details with relevant, high-quality photos, as in the spreads here, the book excels as a means of providing technical information to conceptual thinkers – and vice versa, laying a conceptual foundation for architects otherwise focused on construction details.


  1. Love your book reviews and this one in particular looks fantastic. Can't wait for it to arrive. Thanks!

    - Peter


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