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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Book Briefs #33: Imminent Commons + 3

"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.



Imminent Commons: Urban Questions for the Near Future edited by Alejandro Zaera-Polo, Hyungmin Pai | Actar | 2017 | Amazon
Imminent Commons was the theme for the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017, directed by historian Hyungmin Pai and architect Alejandro Zaera-Polo. The multi-pronged exhibition focused on nine "essential commons as a viable path towards a sustainable and just urbanism": four Ecology Commons (Air, Water, Fire, Earth) and five Technology Commons (Making, Moving, Communicating, Sensing, Recycling). Though the inaugural Seoul Biennale does not (yet) get near the attention or press that the ones in Venice and Chicago do, there's no shortage of ambition by the two directors, witnessed both by the exhibition theme and the three books that accompany it.

Book 1, also the largest at 440 pages, is Urban Questions for the Near Future, the one with the red cover. The many contributions are structured via the nine essential commons, though I found myself drawn to the shorter quotes that populate the back of the book. These smaller "bites," or "storylines" as the editors call them, are categorized into the same commons, and are included because they confront the same themes explored at greater length elsewhere in the book. Some of these storylines, such as Richard Ingersoll's "How to Enjoy Climate Change," jump beyond the page via QR codes.

Imminent Commons: The Expanded City edited by Alejandro Zaera-Polo, Jeffrey S. Anderson | Actar | 2017 | Amazon
Most similar to Urban Questions for the Near Future is Book 2: The Expanded City, the one with the blue cover. Just a tad shorter, at 424 pages, this book keeps the nine-commons structure of the first book but applies it to "providing arguments of continuity between urban and extra-urban areas." Although the 2017 Seoul Biennale "focuses on issues and proposals, not on authors and works," there's plenty of overlap between the contributors in these two books; fitting, given how they came out of the Biennale's main "Nine Commons" thematic exhibition.

Imminent Commons: Commoning Cities edited by Hyungmin Pai, Helen Hejung Choi | Actar | 2017 | Amazon
The third Imminent Commons book is also the slimmest, at only 152 pages. Reflecting the "Commoning Cities" exhibition at the Biennale, accordingly the book is structured as an alphabetical list of cities rather than via the nine commons. How cities will fare in a future of climate change is the idea behind the public initiatives, projects, and urban narratives presented here. With Alexandria, Egypt, for instance, Melina Nicolaides of Bibliotheca Alexandrina describes the challenges the city faces, such as seawater flooding during high-intensity storms. In her entry, solutions are still to be determined – one of many cases where more questions exist than answers.



Platform 10: Live Feed edited by Jon Lott, John May | Harvard GSD & Actar | 2017 | Amazon
I can just imagine the editorial meetings for Harvard GSD's annual book documenting student work, lectures, exhibitions, and other important happenings during the school year: "We have tons of stuff to cram in, but whatever we do, we can't repeat any of the previous Platforms." Every year I've seen something different (Platform 8 from 2016, with its dictionary-like format, stands out from the others), including the latest – edited by Jon Lott from PARA-Project and John May of MILLIØNS, with design by Pentagram – where format is key. Instead of pagination, the book is page after page of numbered photos – from 727 to 001 – followed by chronological captions to each and every photo, but in reverse order of their visual presentation. As the book's subtitle conveys, it's like a digital feed of the school's day-to-day activities jumped to the page. Remarkably, the editors started with exactly 117,518 photos culled from a crowd-sourced database and somehow managed to narrow those down to the final number.

Public Catalyst by Manuel Bailo Esteve | Actar | 2017 | Amazon
This book came out of the author's PhD at Escola Tècnica Superior d'Arquitectura de Barcelona in 2012. Based on its contents, and the fact it's really two books in one – Public Catalyst and Catalysts Drawn – Esteve's interest in the city is wide-ranging, focused broadly on life and what can be done to catalyze it. The first book within a book is more academic, delving, for instance, into Werner Hegemann, Camillo Sitte, Edmund Bacon, and others that came before the author. Here we see the big picture, while the second "book" takes aim at the details, doing so through twenty beautifully illustrated case studies. Most of the examples are real (e.g. a shade structure designed by Enric Miralles and Carme Pinós), but the inclusion of a scene from Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle illustrates that inspiration can come from fiction as well as reality.

Suprarural: Architectural Atlas of Rural Protocols of the American Midwest and the Argentine Pampas edited by Ciro Najle, Lluís Ortega | Actar | 2017 | Amazon
In November 2017, the Guggenheim and OMA announced a 2019 exhibition curated by Rem Koolhaas, tentatively titled Countryside: Future of the World. Many reacted as if Koolhaas, known for investigating cities, was leaping into territory not explored by other architects. That, of course, is not the case. One example is Ciro Najle and Lluís Ortega's Suprarural, which combines two American landscapes: the US Midwest and Argentine Pampas. Putting these two regions together may seem odd, but it was born from the duo's studios and seminars taught at schools in Buenos Aires and Chicago. The goal, as stated in the preface, is "to develop techniques to straightforwardly urbanize with and through the rural." The bulk of the book is research and analysis, followed by "visions of the suprarural cosmopolis." The student visions vary widely in terms of form and purpose, but they tend to follow the existing agricultural grids and armatures that have already shaped the countries' landscapes.

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