Book Briefs #48

This latest installment of "Book Briefs" — the series of occasional posts featuring short first-hand descriptions of some of the numerous books that publishers send to me for consideration on this blog — features six books in three pairs. Obviously, these briefs are not full-blown reviews, but they are a way to share more books worthy of attention than those that end up as long reviews.

Two "Green" Books:

Green Reconstruction: A Curricular Toolkit for the Built Environment edited by Reinhold Martin, Jacob R. Moore, Jordan Steingard | Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture | September 2022 | 7-1/4 x 10-1/2 inches | 266 pages | $0 (available as a PDF)
The Buell Center describes Green Reconstruction as "an outline, an open work, for the repair of a world ravaged by three intersecting crises — of mutual care, of racial oppression, and of climate, all intersecting in turn with economic inequality." As the subtitle of the book makes clear, its aim is reworking education in the planning and design of the built environment so architects and urban planners could help in realizing ambitious proposals like the Green New Deal. The book is no less ambitious (Reinhold Martin, in a presentation of the book at the Buell Center in September, described the need to "redefine all professionals as public servants rather than as private entrepreneurs"), though it balances an overarching belief in the need for educational reform with three geographical case studies, or "a comparative object lesson" of three cities in "purple" states: Erie (PA), Greensboro (NC), and Buckeye (AZ). These color-coded chapters make up the bulk of the book and consist of stories that "can [hopefully] advance the conversation among students and professionals of the built environment regarding the tools, ideas, and methods needed to view climate-related challenges through the lens of justice."

Material Reform: Building for a Post-Carbon Future by Material Cultures (Summer Islam, Paloma Gormley, George Massoud) with Amica Dell | MACK | October 2022 | 4-1/4 x 7 inches | 144 pages | $22 | Amazon
Material Reform is one of a handful of new books that comprise the first collection of architecture titles published by MACK, the 12-year-old UK publisher known for books on art. They sent me a few, and given this book's portable size and breezy nature it was the first one I finished. Although it is a quick read, the subject is far from breezy, given that Material Cultures, a research and design practice based in London, aims to reorient architectural practice away from its destructive tendencies and toward biocentric materials, assemblies, processes, and — most importantly — thinking. The cover reveals the book's themes and chapters, where each predominantly one-word term is examined through short texts and photographs, the latter beautifully shot by Jess Gough. Things considered "green" — mass timber, etc. — are discussed frankly, cutting through the greenwashing and revealing that a dramatic, sweeping paradigm shift is necessary to even move in a direction that is truly sustainable. Highlighted terms in the text allow for cross referencing and refer to a helpful glossary. Also helpful is an annotated list of books that influenced Material Cultures in the making of their book. Material Reform is a reminder that powerful things can come in small packages.

Two Tokyo Books:

Emergent Tokyo: Designing the Spontaneous City by Jorge Almazán + Studiolab | ORO Editions | April 2022 | 5-3/4 x 8-1/4 inches | 250 pages | $24.95 | Amazon / Bookshop
Tokyo, like New York, London and other world cities, can sustain nearly infinite approaches to documenting and analyzing its urban condition, thanks to its layers of physical history but also the enormous appeal of exploring those layers. This book by Jorge Almazán and Studiolab (the research and design unit led by him at Keio University), with editorial assistance by Joe McReynolds and Naoki Saito, tries to understand Tokyo by focusing on five types of urban conditions: yokochō alleys, zakkyo buildings, undertrack infills, ankyo streets, and dense low-rise neighborhoods. As the title indicates, these are places that emerged spontaneously rather than being planned. Each condition/chapter includes three case studies that are documented through diagrams, maps, photographs, isometrics (like the cover), and text — all thorough and complex yet clear and easy to follow. I have been to one such place: Golden Gai, a yokochō alley and perhaps the most popular case study in the book. The documentation of Golden Gai and the two other case studies in the chapter is brief but beautifully presented, especially the perspectival sections that are reminiscent of Atelier Bow-Wow. Beyond the documentation, the texts also feature "learning from" sections that find Almazán and Studiolab finding the beneficial traits that architects should emulate in their own designs — in Tokyo or elsewhere.

Tokyoids: The Robotic Face of Architecture by François Blanciak | The MIT Press | September 2022 | 5 x 8 inches | 216 pages | $24.95 | Amazon / Bookshop
Tokyoids is like two books in one: a dense text of architectural theory and humorous photographs of building "faces" in Tokyo. The first starts with a long chapter analyzing the relationship between architecture and faces: spanning from the Middle Ages and Renaissance to the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and Deleuze. It is not an easy text, but there are fascinating points to be gleaned. Ultimately, Blanciak states, "each era corresponds a specific way of producing architecture, which itself corresponds to a specific way of representing a face." The six moody chapters (Awe, Mirth, Pain, etc.) that follow include more text as well as "photographic evidence" that considers "nearly imperceptible bits and pieces that might reveal a truer image of Tokyo's built environment, if not of its robotic unconscious." The book's release in September happened to coincide with the opening of Hello, Robot: Design between Human and Machine at Vitra Design Museum, indicating that the time is ripe for studying the relationship between people and robots, between designers and machines.

Two Books About Books:

Akzeptiere: Das Buch und seine Geschichte. Deutsche Übersetzung mit Einleitung und Kommentar von Atli Magnus Seelow by Atli Magnus Seelow | FAU University Press | January 2019 | 7-1/4 x 10-1/2 inches | 333 pages | Amazon
(This book is in German, which I can't read, but a PDF translated by DeepL enabled me to read Atli Magnus Seelow's lengthy, in-depth introduction to the German translation of Acceptera, which my comments focus on.)
Even though it wasn't translated into English until 2008, Acceptera, the 1931 manifesto by Gunnar Asplund, Gregor Paulsson and four others, is one of 100 books in my Buildings in Print (all of the books in it were originally in English or translated at some point). Given the avant-garde collage of images and words in Acceptera, I boasted — somewhat naively — that "the recirculated images from inside the book ensured the spread of ideas beyond Sweden," regardless of the delay in translation. Germans who wanted to read the text, though, had to wait another decade for a translation of the original Swedish text. Whereas English readers were given just a ten-page introduction, by Lucy Creagh, to "the manifesto of Swedish functionalism" in Modern Swedish Design: Three Founding Texts, German readers are treated to a nearly 90-page critical exposition by Seelow, author of Reconstructing the Stockholm Exhibition 1930, a study of the exhibition Acceptera grew out of. Seelow gives context to the exhibition in the decades leading up to it, both in Sweden and in Continental Europe; he describes the 1930 exhibition in detail, dives into the text of Acceptera chapter by chapter, and explores the impact and reception of the manifesto. More than anything, Seelow's well-researched introductory analysis argues that Acceptera was a product of Sweden's particular circumstances as influenced by outside forces, not merely the application of modern ideas on architecture and design from Germany, France and other parts of Europe to the Nordic countries.
As a last point, similar to Modern Swedish Design, the German translation of Acceptera that follows the lengthy introduction retains the design of the original (Seelow also handled the typesetting) but also the numbering of the original (the intro uses Roman numerals), which I appreciate regardless of not being able to read it (I have a print copy of the book so can attest to this). This might seem like a trivial point, but I believe that it is imperative for translations to maintain the original numbering; therefore references to page numbers in the original are easy to find in the translation. A frustrating example departing from what should be a standard is the "correct" Getty translation of Le Corbusier's Vers un architecture (Toward an Architecture, 2007), where Jean-Louis Cohen's nearly 80-page introduction puts the first page of the main text on page 83; the translation maintains the layout of the original but forgoes the original's pagination. Akzeptiere shows I'm not alone in this belief.

Reading Kenneth Frampton: A Commentary on Modern Architecture, 1980 by Gevork Hartoonian | Anthem Press | May 2022 | 6 x 9 inches | 222 pages | $125 | Amazon / Bookshop
I can't remember where I read it, but years ago I came across a book or article in which the writer asserted that Kenneth Frampton is one of the few — if not only — architectural historians popular with architects. It pertained to the sense that the ideas he promulgated — especially Critical Regionalism — have been applicable to architects, not just to other historians advancing the history of modern architecture. Wherever I read this, I recall that the text contended that Frampton's background as an architect, in Britain, before his shift to a historian, in the United States, contributed to his "style" of architectural history, where its relevance to architects stemmed from a firsthand understanding of how architects work, rather than being strictly situated in the realms of art history and architectural history. This isn't to say that Frampton was not cognizant of approaches to and theories of architectural history, but the "critical" nature of his 1980 book Modern Architecture stemmed from an understanding of modernism from an architect's perspective. 
I was reminded of this architect-historian view of Frampton's writing when scrolling through a PDF of Gevork Hartoonian's in-depth, scholarly study of Frampton's classic, which is subtitled A Critical History and has been updated four times since 1980, most recently in 2020. Hartoonian's historical study of the first edition of Modern Architecture aims, per the introduction, "to establish Frampton’s historiography and his ongoing endeavor to promote a critical understanding of the historicity of architectural crisis." Although he focuses on the first edition, whose chapters have been retained in subsequent editions but greatly added to (the fifth edition is 736 pages vs. the original's 324 pages), the last chapter of Reading Kenneth Frampton addresses Critical Regionalism, which was added in the second edition (1985), two years after Frampton wrote "Towards a Critical Regionalism" for The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. That seventh chapter follows chapters devoted to the epigraphs deployed at the beginning of each chapter of Modern Architecture, the three-part structure of the book, and important ideas (e.g., monumentality) that are explored in the original, especially in its more overtly critical third part; Hartoonian does not do a chapter-by-chapter account of Modern Architecture, in other words. Reading Kenneth Frampton is dense historiography for other historians, not a book for architects, even those enamored with Frampton. Nevertheless, I can't think of a text more fitting to such an in-depth treatment than Frampton's influential first book.