Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Book Briefs #37

"Book Briefs" are an ongoing series of posts with short first-hand descriptions of some of the numerous books that make their way into my library. These briefs are not full-blown reviews (though some might go on to get that treatment), but they are a way to share more books worthy of attention than find their way into reviews on this blog. This installment features six books grouped into three pairs with similar subjects and/or contributors.

Two California-centric collections:

LA Forum Reader: From the Archives of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design edited by Rob Berry, Victor Jones, Michael Sweeney, Mimi Zeiger and Chava Danielson, Joe Day, Thurman Grant, Duane McLemore | Actar | 2018 | Amazon
Made Up: Design's Fictions edited by Tim Durfee, Mimi Zeiger | ArtCenter Graduate Press | 2017 | Amazon
Further linking these two titles, one produced by the L.A. Forum and the other by Pasadena's ArtCenter College of Design, are brown duotone designs and the presence of critic Mimi Zeiger, who serves as an editor on both. The contents of each are divergent, though. As the title indicates, the LA Forum Reader digs out some essays, interviews and other content from the organization's first 30 years. The pieces alternate between texts set in various fonts and archives printed as they were originally (but in duotone); this gives a flip through the whole, appropriately enough, the feel of digging through an archive. Recommended most for people with a strong interest in the Los Angeles architecture scene.
Made Up documents an exhibition and series of lectures under the same name held at the ArtCenter's Wind Tunnel Gallery back in January 2011. With a publisher's release date of December 2017, that's quite a long time between event and publication. With content now seven years old, Made Up runs the risk of being immediately obsolete. But given the publication's focus on "critical design with overlapping interests in science fiction, world building, speculation, and futuring," I'm not so sure there's been much advancement in these areas since the original event. Of course, this statement may say less about the publication than my skepticism on the role of fiction as explored in academia and other places these days.

Two technology/network books:

The City and the Architecture of Change: The Work and Radical Visions of Cedric Price by Tanja Herdt | Park Books | 2017 | Amazon
Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media by Shannon Mattern | University of Minnesota Press | 2017 | Amazon
If most architects are known for buildings, then having realized only one permanent structure – the Snowdon Aviary – Cedric Price was far from a typical architect. Known instead for forward-thinking plans that considered information technologies and the impact of technology upon society, Price's many unbuilt projects, most with great names (the Fun Palace, Potteries Thinkbelt, McAppy), are ironically lauded by architects today. Last year the AA and CCA jointly published a massive two-volume Forward-Minded Retrospective on Price, but for those with an interest in Price but without enough disposable income, The City and the Architecture of Change is a good alternative. It has loads of illustrations that are handsomely packaged and fitted into an intellectual argument aimed at "[making] the widespread idea of Cedric Price as an 'anti-architect' appear in a new light."
When I attended the Urban Design Program at City College more than ten years ago, one of the lessons I absorbed was to be skeptical of technology in solving problems on an urban scale. Yet as we barrel forward into a future fueled by digital technologies, every month seems to bring some new technological "fix" for cities: driverless cars, tunnels for cars, and the many, many iterations of big data infiltrating urban infrastructure. I remain skeptical of these and other advances, so I'm glad to see media professor Shannon Mattern take the steam out of "the next big thing" by showing how "smart" information has shaped cities for thousands of years. With chapters organized by media and matter (waves and wires, steel and ink, writing and urbanization, speaking stones), my favorite focuses on the printed word, revealing how it is as much social as (or more than) solitary, with words being written across cities for centuries and shaping the architecture within them.

Two Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) guidebooks:

Buildings of Arkansas by Cyrus A. Sutherland and Contributors | University of Virginia Press | 2018 | Amazon
Buildings of New Orleans by Karen Kingsley, Lake Douglas | University of Virginia Press | 2018 | Amazon
Although both of these books come from SAH and are published by University of Virginia Press, they are quite different from each other. Buildings of Arkansas, which obviously tackles a whole state rather than just a city, is larger than your average guidebook. Complete with a hardcover, it makes a good side table book; if it had color photos, it might even be appropriate for the coffee table. I wish it was around a year ago, when I spent a couple days in Northwest Arkansas. The guide, organized by counties and part of SAH's "Buildings of the United States" series, makes it clear there's more to the area than Crystal Bridges and churches by E. Fay Jones. The book makes me want to return, with an eye on modern and historical buildings in the area.
Buildings of New Orleans falls into the "SAH/BUS City Guide series" and is therefore a compact book that is easy to carry around; if it were around in 2011 when I was in town for the AIA Convention, I would have been able to try it out. Looking up some of the few places I made it to and those I wanted to visit but didn't, the book comes across as hit or miss. The information on Piazza d'Italia is thorough and helpful (and it comes with a photo), but information on Brad Pitt's Make It Right Houses is thin, with no attribution to the architects, a mystery photo, and more criticism than background. Perhaps the last point is why there's a discrepancy between these and other entries. Although produced by SAH, it should be noted (if not already obvious) that both of these guides feature modern and contemporary buildings as well as historical ones.

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