Friday, December 08, 2017

Book Briefs #32

"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.

American Libraries 1730-1950 by Kenneth Breisch | W. W. Norton | 2017 | Amazon
Fittingly, the cover of this history of libraries in the United States from the mid-1700s to just after World War II is graced by the George Peabody Library in Baltimore, designed by Edmund G. Lind and completed in 1878. Oddly, a photo of the Harold Washington Library in Chicago, designed by Thomas Beeby and completed in 1991, is found on the back cover. Turns out the latter is included in the Afterword, coming after six chapters (one devoted to Carnegie libraries) loaded with photos and drawings from the Library of Congress, and illustrating how public libraries are more important – and patronized – than ever.

Crown Hall Dean’s Dialogues 2012-2017 edited by Wiel Arets, Agata Siemionow | IITAC Press/Actar | 2017 | Amazon
Earlier this year Wiel Arets stepped down as dean of the Illinois Institute of Architecture after his five-year tenure. The official announcement boasts that "Dean Arets’ leadership has pointed the way forward for schools of architecture and built a strong framework for the College of Architecture’s future academic years," but one report says, "the faculty was unhappy with Arets's leadership." Whatever the case, this book (one among many put out by IIT during his tenure, which also saw the creation of MCHAP) signals it was a very busy five years. The book features interviews that were part of the College of Architecture's "Dean's Dialogues," with, to be expected, some impressive names: David Adjaye, Peter Eisenman, Phyllis Lambert, and Kazuyo Sejima, among many others.

New Architecture New York photographs by Pavel Bendov | Prestel | 2017 | Amazon
Although Pavel Bendov may not be a household name, the photographer is known to many people through his popular "archexplorer" Instagram that is full of, but not restricted to, buildings in his hometown of New York City. No surprise that his first book documents the building boom taking place in the city this century. New Architecture New York has around 50 projects, most in Manhattan but many gems, such as Tod and Billie's Lefrak Center at Lakeside, found in the outer boroughs. The texts – project descriptions by the editors at Prestel and an introduction by critic Alexandra Lange – are short, keeping the focus squarely on Pavel's skillful photos of the best NYC has to offer this century.

Toronto Architecture: A City Guide by Patricia McHugh, Alex Bozikovic | McClelland & Stewart | 2017 | Amazon
Although I wasn't familiar with the earlier editions of Patricia McHugh's guide to architecture in Toronto (the Goodfellows' contemporary guide is the only one I knew for the Canadian city), from what I can gather from this update they were kindreds with Norval White and Elliot Willensky's AIA Guide to New York City: short but sharply critical texts on architecture spanning centuries. The Globe and Mail's Alex Bozikovic is the most obvious, and best, person to update McHugh's guide – its first update time since 1989. There's lots to cover and Bozikovic does it logically and with a critical eye that rivals McHugh. With unfortunately small b/w photos for most, but not all, projects and 26 "essential" walking tours, this is clearly a book to carry around as one tracks the changes Toronto has seen in the last 25 years; its compact, lightweight format makes that easy to do.

The Icon Project: Architecture, Cities, and Capitalist Globalization by Leslie Sklair | Oxford University Press | 2017 | Amazon

Starchitecture: Scenes, Actors, and Spectacles in Contemporary Cities by Davide Ponzini, Michele Nastasi | The Monacelli Press | 2016 | Amazon
Earlier this year I conducted some email interviews with the authors of these two books for a piece at World-Architects. Released within months of each other, the timing just seemed right, though I would soon learn that Starchitecture was released initially, in Italian, in 2011. Nevertheless, these books follow the Newtonian logic of "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." In this case, they are responding to the globalization of architecture, the starchitecture phenomenon, the Bilbao effect – whatever one wants to call the proliferation of expensive, iconic buildings meant to attract media attention, tourists, and money. It was only a matter of time before books critic of the trend appeared.

Those looking for an academic, sociological perspective on the subject should opt for Sklair's book, which breaks down icons into a couple categories (unique and typical, or architects like Gehry and copycat architects) and examines them relative to the politics and economics behind their creation. Those interested in an urban planning perspective, as told through a handful of case studies (Bilbao, Abu Dhabi, Paris, New York City, Vitra Campus), will find more to like in Starchitecture, which combines Ponzini's words with Nastasi's photographs – not the typical photos in architecture journals, mind you, as the cover attests. Each book makes it clear that there is plenty of fodder for critiquing contemporary today, and plenty of ways of going about it.

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