Modern Architecture and Interiors
Prestel, August 2020
Paperback | 6 x 8-1/4 inches | 878 pages | 868 illustrations | English | ISBN: 9783791386096 | $40.00
In 2006, architecture and design curator Adam Stech embarked on a photographic project to document the best Modernist architecture around the globe. More than thirty countries and more than a decade later, the fruits of that monumental project are gathered in this impressive collection covering nearly a century of architectural history. Driven by a passion for rediscovering forgotten or lesser known architectural treasures of Modernism, Stech took thousands of diverse photographs of exteriors and interiors. This survey features often overlooked details and hidden projects that Stech helps bring to light. His brief commentary on each featured building reveals insights into his vast collection of images that includes treasures of Italian Modernism, American mid-century classics, South American Art Deco, Belgian organic architecture, French Brutalism, forgotten Australian modern houses, and much more. This expansive and inspiring book is the definitive guide to architecture in the 20th century in all its different forms and tendencies from its strict rationalist to flamboyant decorative styles.
With 868 photographs of 868 buildings across the same number of pages, Modern Architecture and Interiors is the equivalent of a pre-carousel Instagram feed printed on paper and bound into a thick book. The photographs Adam Štěch took of mid-century buildings are presented in alphabetical order by the main architect on each project, resulting in a book that jumps around in time and space as one flips through the book, like I did, from front to back; some cohesion does occur here and there, though, as when certain architects are featured multiple times. Although the book is full of hundreds of buildings I've never heard of and dozens of architects I also didn't know, I decided to hone in on the repeaters, to see what architects Štěch appeared to like more than others and figure out what that might mean.
Thirty-four architects have at least four buildings each, adding up to 205 buildings/photos, or nearly 25% of the whole book. Of these 34 architects, twelve of them are in Italy, with the rest of them spread fairly evenly across other countries in Europe (10), the United States (6), South America (3), Australia (2), and Japan (1). Štěch's apparent love for Italy extends to the number of buildings that he photographed by Carlo Scarpa (15), Gio Ponti (11), and Luigi Moretti (10), numbers that are higher than any other architect in the book, outside of Antoni Bonet Castellana (10), the Spanish architect with buildings in Spain as well as Argentina and Uruguay. The last architect is in the minority, though, as most architects in the book are documented with buildings in just one country, subtly expressing the localized nature of architecture in the middle of the last century, before today's global nature of architectural practice took hold.
What do the numbers say? For one, they paint a loose picture of Štěch's itinerary over a decade and a half as well as indicating his home base is somewhere in Europe. The back cover text indicates that he visited "almost thirty countries" and most of those fall into Europe and the Americas. Africa is missing entirely from the book, while Asia and Oceania are barely represented. This nitpicking is a bit unfair, though, as Štěch does not assert any comprehensiveness to his selection of buildings. Perhaps the geographical weighting — the global imbalance — made the alphabetical order by architect preferable to a geographic order, where omissions would be more pronounced. Whatever the case, the other big omission that is easy to grasp, thanks in part to a preference for the names of individual architects, is the dearth of female architects. There are very few, but I think that says more about the state of the architectural profession 50 to 100 years ago than any bias in where Štěch pointed his camera.
Moving beyond the numbers and focusing on the photographs themselves, Modern Architecture and Interiors is most valuable for the way it hones in on buildings that are not the usual icons. Yes, some of the buildings are famous, but for every Munich Olympic Stadium (first spread, below) there are dozens like Yuri Platonov's Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences (third spread). With just one photo each, the book is clearly a jumping off point for learning more about what strikes the reader's fancy; for this one, it happened more with exterior photographs rather than interiors, though I'm amazed at how much access Štěch gained to buildings, many of which are private. There are numerous puzzling photos, but Štěch's brief descriptions aid greatly in understanding what we're looking and why we should care. Without those words the whole book — much like photos on Instagram — would just be a collection of images; as is, it is hundreds of invitations to learn more about overlooked architectural gems.