2023 in Architecture Books, So Far
Life, they say, throws you curve balls, and that's just what happened last month, when a family emergency had me put this blog on hiatus. This post, appearing on a Friday instead of its regular Monday, does not mean regular weekly posts will resume, as I'll be dealing with said emergency on and off for the foreseeable future. Although reading has been low on my list of priorities under the circumstances, I wanted to take the brief chance I have now to highlight some books released so far this year — a dozen of them, presented in order of date of publication. Even though I haven't made my way through all or most of these books, they are ones that I find important and/or timely and/or beautiful, based on my limited firsthand glances of them as well as what I've gleaned from reviews on other platforms. If you think I left out any worthwhile books published so far this year — and I'm sure there are plenty — please let me know in the comments.
The Architecture of Disability: Buildings, Cities, and Landscapes beyond Access by David Gissen, published by University of Minnesota Press. US release date: January 24, 2023
As in other calls for equity — social, racial, gender, etc. — it is imperative for people with disabilities to have positions where they can make decisions and, in the realm of architecture, contribute to designs as more than accessibility consultants; they need to be at the core of projects rather than just making sure designs meet accessibility codes, designs that are otherwise geared toward able-bodied people. Although such a practical role is not the main point of the latest book by David Gissen, a disabled designer and architectural historian, it is one takeaway from his nuanced and persuasive reexamination of architecture through the lens of disability. "[The] question should not be how does this book relates to practice," he writes near the end, "but how can we (you and I) reimagine practice to relate it to those marginalized by it?" No doubt, people reading this book are eager to take on the question.
architect, verb: The New Language of Building by Rienier de Graaf, published by Verso. US release date: February 28, 2023
In my review of this book last month at World-Architects, I described the latest by OMA partner Rienier de Graaf as "a book of lists." By this, I was referring to how his "rebuttal of doctrines which have been applied to architecture over the last twenty years," as he describes it, includes numerous lists: a "Dictionary of Profspeak," for instance, and numerous "data" sections prefacing the chapters focused on those doctrines, which include starchitecture, sustainability, and placemaking, among others. I was also referencing the way he writes: stuffing his paragraphs with lists that seems to illustrate how architects are bogged down in standards and other considerations that border on the absurd. Thankfully, de Graaf's writing is very good and humorous at times, not just a dry recitation of data and business-speak foisted on the profession from without.
A Book on Making a Petite École edited by Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample and MOS, published by Actar Publishers. US release date: February 28, 2023
The cover of this latest book by MOS closely resembles Houses for Sale, the children's book that Meredith and Sample, a married couple with kids, put out a few years ago. Will parents spend $50 on the new book, which Amazon indicates is for grades 1 through 6? Those who do will find that, unlike Houses for Sale, A Book on Making a Petite École is far from simply a children's book. I'd say it's a family book: a book for architects to read with their children, with the architect-parents enjoying the brief texts, numerous drawings and photographs of the building designed by MOS, while their kids will like doing the step-by-step exercises ("Design a Bed for Sleeping Beauty") as well as figuring out what the drawings and diagrams of the building actually depict. The book is a fitting result of a building, the Petite École, that functions as an architecture school for children.
M³: modeled works [archive] 1972-2022 by Thom Mayne and Morphosis, published by Rizzoli. US release date: February 28, 2023
For architects like myself who went to architecture school in the 1990s, the monographs of Morphosis were indispensable, not only for the designs of Thom Mayne and company, but for the beautiful drawings and the amazing, instantly recognizable models. My classmates and I used to ape those models ("The smell of Bondo filling the architecture school hallways is still fresh in my memory," I wrote at World-Architects), and I'm guessing younger architects still find inspiration in the models churned out by the firm, now with 3D printers rather than chip board, basswood, and modeling paste. Hundreds of those models — and nothing else — are on display in this brick of a book: five decades of built and unbuilt projects documented over a thousand pages. Words from fellow SoCal architects and other friends of Mayne run across the top of each page, but the focus is clearly on the models that have made Morphosis so enduringly influential.
Geoffrey Bawa: Drawing from the Archives edited by Shayari de Silva, published by Lars Müller Publishers. US release date: March 21, 2023
High on my list of must-visit places are two projects by Geoffrey Bawa (1919-2003): Lunuganga, the 25-acre estate he started shaping in the late 1940s; and Kandalama Hotel, completed nearly 50 years later. That they are both in Sri Lanka points to me most likely never seeing them in person, just as last year I didn't see Geoffrey Bawa: It is Essential to be There, the first exhibition on Bawa to be shown in his home country. (It's on display until May 2023.) Although it was just published in March, the exhibition actually followed from the book, which beautifully depicts many of Bawa's drawings from his archive. Eight projects, including Kandalama, are highlighted in drawings and photographs, accompanied by seven essays and a statement by Bawa himself. The book is a must for fans of Bawa and a further enticement for them — and me — to find a way to Sri Lanka.
A House Deconstructed by Office of (Un)Certainty Research (Mark Jarzombek + Vikramaditya Prakash), published by Actar Publishers. US release date: March 28, 2023
Coming out of a research project that was part of the main exhibition at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale, this book illustrates the enormous ecological footprint of a small addition to a house in Seattle. It appears that no matter what architects do to make their designs sustainable or ecologically friendly, the primary materials they use (glass, plastic, steel, ceramics, concrete, wood) embed their designs in a global web of extraction and production that is harmful to the earth and to humans. This isn't news, but it is explained through photographs and data visualizations in a manner that makes the impact clear while also capturing how overwhelming and imprecise it is to quantify the impact modern construction methods have on the environment. "The question," the authors write early in the book, "ought not to be: How does one describe architecture? Rather it should be: How does architecture describe the world?"
Hybrid Factory, Hybrid City edited by Nina Rappaport, published by Vertical Urban Factory. US release date: March 28, 2023
The latest book by the author of Vertical Urban Factory is a collection of contributions to Hybrid Factory/Hybrid City, a symposium organized by Rappaport at the Future Urban Legacy Lab at Politecnico di Torino in early 2020, before the country shut down due to COVID-19. Rappaport's promotion of mixed-use urban districts that actually embrace light industry and other types of production facilities appears to have arisen from a fellowship twenty years ago that focused on the integration of culture and industry in Long Island City, Queens. This book shows she is not alone in tackling the subject, one that continues to occupy her energies. Although primarily European in its contributions, the qualities of the built and proposed designs should help sway skeptics toward the merits of vertical and mixed-use factories — in and beyond Europe.
Marina Tabassum: Architecture, My Journey by Marina Tabassum, published by ArchiTangle. US release date: March 28, 2023
Although the publication of this monograph in Europe in February of this year coincided with the opening of Marina Tabassum Architects: at Architekturmuseum der TUM in Munich (it's on display until June 11), the book does not serve as a companion to the exhibition. The timing arises from the attention lauded on the Bangladeshi architect who won an Aga Khan Award in 2016 and then the Soane Medal in 2021. This monograph, billed as the first one devoted to Tabassum, features 17 projects, ranging from the Museum of Independence, designed with Kashef Chowdhury while at URBANA, to the mosques and other brick structures she is known for and the modest bamboo structures serving the poor in her country. Numerous essays and an interview accompany the stunning projects.
Monumental Controversies: Mount Rushmore, Four Presidents, and the Quest for National Unity by Harriet F. Senie, published by Potomac Press. US release date: April 1, 2023
The first book I read by Harriet F. Senie, professor emerita at City College of New York, my alma mater, was The Tilted Arc Controversy, an account of Richard Serra's controversial sculpture installed in, then subsequently removed from, Javits Plaza in Lower Manhattan. (It was indispensable in a paper I wrote about the plaza in grad school.) Some years later, in Memorials to Shattered Myths, Senie directed her focus toward Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the National September 11 Memorial, and other contemporary memorials. Her latest looks at the grandest figural memorial in the United States, Mount Rushmore, examining it in the wake of calls to remove memorials to former presidents and other past leaders, especially Confederate ones. Though more art history than architecture, the book is certainly timely and should be of interest to architects, in part for the way Senie explores other memorials pertaining to the four presidents enshrined on Mount Rushmore. Chapters on the taking of the land of the Lakota Sioux and sculptor Gutzon Borglum's troubling character, in addition to multiple chapters on each of the four presidents, create "an account of Mount Rushmore and other memorials that acknowledges that their subjects did many great things but were far from perfect."
Architectures of Spatial Justice by Dana Cuff, published by MIT Press. US release date: April 4, 2023
In 2006, Dana Cuff founded cityLAB at UCLA, "a multidisciplinary center [...] focused on leveraging design for spatial justice and to address contemporary urban concerns." This book effectively summarizes cityLAB's efforts to date and draws attention to practices that are aligned with it, including Elemental in Chile and Walter Hood in the US, among others. "Can architecture embody principles of spatial justice?," Cuff asks in the book's introduction. Although she admits that "architecture is almost unimaginable without privilege and its concomitant historic and structural biases," she is not alone in seeing the need for the discipline of architecture to shift from its dependence on capital to a focus on the common good. More books on this subject are surely to come, but for now this is the textbook on architecture and spatial justice.
Yasmeen Lari: Architecture for the Future edited by Angelika Fitz, Elke Krasny, Marvi Mazhar and Architekturzentrum Wien, published by MIT Press. US release date: May 9, 2023
It is a good year for architecture exhibitions on women from Asia: In addition to the TUM exhibition on Marina Tabassum, featured above, AzW is displaying a major exhibition (until August 16) on Yasmeen Lari, Pakistan's first female architect. The companion book to Yasmeen Lari: Architecture for the Future is compact and somewhat modest, befitting Lari, an architect who designed modern buildings for decades but reversed course this century, after retiring from architecture in the service of the rich. The book presents this trajectory "from exemplary modernist to zero carbon revolutionary" through projects, an interview with Lari, and numerous essays. Lari's humanitarian homes have garnered her much attention — much of it well outside of Pakistan. This book puts those efforts into a wider context.
On the Street: In-Between Architecture by Edwin Heathcote, published by HENI Publishing. US release date: May 16, 2023
Born from a short series Heathcote wrote for The Financial Times, where he is the longtime architecture and design critic, On the Street is a delightful and probing tour through the many elements that comprise urban streetscapes. Though generally called street furniture, the elements in the book are titled with verbs rather than nouns, proper or otherwise. So, instead of benches, we find "sitting"; subway canopies are "commuting"; even streetlights are "streetlighting." This shift to verbs puts the focus on actions, clearly, but also relaxes Heathcote's writing so it focuses on the meaning of street furniture rather than (strictly) their design. His words, which blend history, criticism, and first-hand accounts (the last make the book highly London-centric), are accompanied by photographs that veer from the documentary and the poetic to, as in the cover, the absurd and the humorous.
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