Book Briefs #16

"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 my daily or weekly pages.

1: The Italian Townscape by Ivor De Wolfe | Artifice Books on Architecture | 2013 | Amazon
As somebody that spent a semester in Italy during architecture school, I can't get enough of books with photos of the country's distinctive and hard-to-dislike cities and towns, especially in and around Tuscany, where most of my semester was spent. So it's great to have this 1963 book by Hubert de Cronin Hastings, under the pseudonym Ivor de Wolfe (with photos by Ivy de Wolfe, in actuality Hastings's wife Hazel), which was reprinted by Artifice on its 50th anniversary. Nevertheless, Hubert's views of Italy are highly nuanced and personal, hardly resembling coffee table books with postcard photos. He wanted us to learn from the country's appealing urban conurbations as Modernism was transforming cities around the world, and to a certain degree it works through the photos and the sometimes quirky text (he starts the book by talking about bacon).

2: Sigurd Lewerentz edited by Nicola Flora, Paolo Giardiello and Gennaro Postiglione | Phaidon | 2013 | Amazon
Woodland Cemetery (aka Skogskyrkogården) in Stockholm is the most well-known project by Sweden's Sigurd Lewerentz (carried out with Gunnar Asplund starting in 1915), but a quick glance at the 150+ projects listed in the table of contents to this sizable monograph indicates this was one of many cemeteries or crematoriums that he designed. To somebody in the 21st century this may seem like typecasting or specialization, but as Colin St. John Wilson describes it in his introductory essay to this book originally published in 2002 by Electa (reprinted by Pall Mall and Phaidon this year): "Lewerentz did not flinch at the tragic sense...he fused the simple elements of construction into metaphors of brooding mystery." That mystery comes across in the many photos included in this book, but it is the architect's drawings that really come to the fore, making this a historical appreciation rather than a visual (eye candy) one. Nevertheless, this book is a must-have for anybody with an interest in an architect who deserves much more appreciation and attention.

3: New City: Contemporary Architecture in the City of London by Alec Forshaw | Merrell Publishers | 2013 | Amazon
While thinking of London may have triggered images of St. Paul's Cathedral, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, and other stone edifices, in the 21st century the city is being transformed by tall buildings of glass and steel (with some stone thrown here and there), many of them landmarks like their masonry predecessors. This book surveys the changes to the City of London (not to be confused with Greater London) through twelve geographical chapters, moving from "around St. Paul's" to "the Riverside." Each chapter maps the buildings (335 in the whole book) like a guidebook, but Forshaw opts for continuous text that meanders through each area like a walking tour, rather than breaking out each building into a separate entry. Actually many buildings would not merit inclusion if the book were a guide, even as each partakes in the city's 21st-century transformation. (See also 21st Century London: The New Architecture, also published by Merrell.)

4: Aircraft Carrier: American Ideas and Israeli Architectures after 1973 edited by Erez Ella, Milana Gitzin-Adiram, Dan Handel | Hatje Cantz | 2012 | Amazon
Last year's Venice Architecture Biennale was the first that I attended (writing about it for World-Architects). While I couldn't help from buying the miniature version of the "Common Ground" catalog (the big one was too big and costly to justify), in the year since I've gained three books produced from different exhibitions and pavilions at the Biennale. In addition to The Images of Architects and Wunderkammer (both part of the Arsenale exhibition) there is this book from the Israeli pavilion. While the other two books focus on the visual and tactile, respectively, as a source of inspiration for architects, aircraftcarrier is an overtly political affair, examining how global capitalism affected Israeli architecture. While the tongue-in-cheek tchotchkes (such as the peace-treaty bobble heads) don't have a strong a presence here as in the exhibition, the book is elegantly designed, making it a beautiful memento of a fairly serious show.

5: Kenzo Tange: Architecture for the World edited by Seng Kuan and Yukio Lippit | Lars Müller Publishers | 2012 | Amazon
In 2009 Harvard GSD presented a comprehensive exhibition on Kenzo Tange, Utopia Across Scales: Highlights from the Kenzo Tange Archive, which celebrated the 25th anniversary of the eponymous visiting professorship and included a conference. The latter helped to generate the essays in this handsome volume (with embossed cover and smooth, semi-gloss paper) that arrived when much scholarship on Tange was being produced, such as Project Japan and other books focused on his Metabolism influence. Photo/drawing portfolios are fitted between the essays, highlighting a few of Tange's most important buildings.

6: In Search of the Public: Notes on the Contemporary American City by Mario Gandelsonas, Rafi Segal, Els Verbakel  | Island Press | 2013 | Amazon
This book also arose from an academic conference, but in this case it took more than five years to translate In Search of the Public from a two-day conference at Princeton University in October 2005 into a publication. These seven years saw a shift from the Bush to Obama administrations, but more dramatically the Arab Spring and Occupy movements challenged notions of the "public" through their actions a couple years ago. The conference proceedings, as documented in this slim volume, precede these important events, but the texts still find relevance as questions of public space continue unabated.

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