Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Book Briefs #35: Better Late Than Never

"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. This installment features books I received years ago but never got around to posting about — until now.



African Modernism: The Architecture of Independence. Ghana, Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya, Zambia edited by Manuel Herz | Park Books | 2015 | Amazon
Although the size of a coffee table book and graced by full-page Iwan Baan photographs, African Modernism is a deep, scholarly work, not just something to flip through. Focused on the five subtitled African countries that gained their independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s (5 of 32 countries on the continent that did so), the book examines how architecture played a role in expressing their independence and modernity. Each country is given an introduction, a timeline, a photo spread by Baan, documentation of important buildings in photos (most by Baan) and words, and an in-depth academic essay. Though many buildings show signs of wear (not surprising, given the time between their realization and today), the architectural quality is astounding. That the buildings in the book are largely unknown points to a deficit in architectural education and publishing — and the need for more books like this one and Adjaye Africa Architecture.

The Architecture of Paul Rudolph by Timothy M. Rohan | Yale University Press | 2014 | Amazon
A lot has happened in the four years since this book's publication: Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago was demolished, Paul Rudolph's own Orange County Government Center was maligned through a partial demolition and insensitive addition, and the famed Robin Hood Gardens was demolished. A new exhibition, in fact, hones in on the demolition of Brutalist structures, something that books like Rohan's haven't been able to reverse. This isn't to say that saving Rudolph's buildings and others like it was Rohan's goal, but as Alexandra Lange points out in her 2014 review of The Architecture of Paul Rudolph, "it's a timely publication." That times seems to have slid by rapidly, but given that 2018 is the centennial of Rudolph's birth, we might just see a renewed appreciation in his work. If so, Rohan's thorough, well-researched book will surely play a part.

The Broad: An Art Museum Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro edited by Joanne Heyler with Ed Schad and Chelsea Beck | The Broad/Prestel | 2015 | Amazon
Like African Modernism, this book devoted to DS+R's Broad museum in Los Angeles relies upon the photography of Iwan Baan for much of its appeal. In fact, the book's Introduction starts on page 63, coming after 62 pages of Baan's photos — many of them full-bleed and double-page. Following those pieces is a roundtable discussion on the building with Eli Broad, Liz Diller, Paul Goldberger, and book editor Joanne Heyler. After that are essays by Aaron Betsky and Joe Day, more Baan photos, drawings, and construction photos (not by Baan) that show what went into make such a photogenic building — or, in Betsky's words, "a veiled icon."



Brodsky & Utkin by Alexander Brodsky, Ilya Utkin | Princeton Architectural Press | 2015 | Amazon
I'm not certain when I first learned about Russian Architects Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin. Maybe it was in a 2005 blog post at Pruned. For sure it was well after the title that Princeton Architectural Press put out on the duo in the early 1990s, as well as the 2003 first edition they put out and then printed again (with new Preface) in 2015. The duo's intricate etchings are more art than architecture (they're represented by Feldman Gallery, after all), though many were submissions for architectural competitions hosted by Shinkenchiku and others in the 1980s. At 9x12 inches, the book isn't small, but with so many layers of information in their images it could easily be twice as large.

Le Corbusier, Homme de Lettres by M. Christine Boyer | Princeton Architectural Press | 2010 | Amazon
When I received this book way back in 2010, I had every intention of reading the whole thing — all 702 pages (780 pages with notes and index). Well, life got in the way and I only got through two of the book's twelve chapters before putting it down and, unfortunately, not returning to it again. I recall those hundred or so pages being — though not an easy read — certainly an enjoyable one. Boyer managed to mine Le Corbusier's original documents and discuss them in a way that pulls the reader along. A strong interest in Le Corbusier and his writings (the book focuses on 1907-1947) helps greatly; though there are plenty of architects out there meeting that criteria.

Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns by Victor Dover, John Massengale | Wiley | 2013 | Amazon
If this book came out in 2006 rather than at the end of 2013, I just might have used it as a reference while in graduate school for urban design. Much of my work on our class project located in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, looked at the town's streets: all varying degrees of depressing. While it's hard to imagine the many examples peppering the book by Dover and Massengale being directly applicable to a frontier oil town in the Amazon jungle, it's hard to deny their assertion that "making good streets comes naturally to people." The focus in their book is clearly on improving towns, suburbs, and cities in the United States, though the examples are culled from other countries as well. Although the authors focus on design in a primarily neo-traditional manner (much of it culled from Dover's practice), it's hard to argue with their general approach to give more parts of streets back to pedestrians and turn them into healthier places to be.

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