Category Archives: guide

Façadomy

Façadomy: A Critique of Capitalism and Its Assault on Mid-Century Modern Architecture by James Cornetet
Process Press, 2013
Hardcover or Paperback, 426 pages

The intriguing yet slightly naughty title of this self-titled book by Orlando-based architect James Cornetet (of Process Architecture) refers to what happens when mid-century modern buildings are covered with postmodern pastiche to create the perception of value. Yet as Cornetet argues in the first half of the book, value-driven architecture (as he calls it) does not depend on inexpensive details and shallow associations; it achieves the most (for the client) with the most economical of means. Cornetet embraces mid-modern architecture as the ideal of value-driven architecture, the label he gives for the direction architect should be heading if it wishes to remain relevant.

It is an appealing argument that is explained in equal parts theory, criticism, and as a guide to the mid-century buildings near where he lives. The book is basically split into two: the main argument followed by the "tour" of Orange County, Florida. The transition between the two is basically non-existent, but Cornetet does refer to a number of the mid-century buildings in the first half, though in most cases these are the gems "façadomized" by later generations. Looking at the buildings of Orange County is like looking at just about any city, given the popularity, if short-lived, of mid-modern architecture. In this vein the best buildings respond to the Florida context through screens and other means of filtering sunlight.

Cornetet uses mid-20th-century architecture as a lens to discover how to design now. This tactic—and his strong opinions on architecture and the economy, among other things—provides plenty to critique in his critique. While I found his diagrams of the ebbs and flows of revivalism, modern, postmodern, and what comes after thorough and logical—as one of the numerous strong points of the book—I'm not convinced that making money for a client is the ultimate goal of architects working in a capitalist society. Buildings are traditionally generated by a client fulfilling a larger societal need, so that need should take precedence, as should even greater concerns (the environment, place, poetry) than bottom-line considerations. Ideally, clients are making the most money through architecture that creates meaningful, enjoyable, and environmentally responsible places; thereby architects are creating good for more than just clients. Yet most architects know the difficulty in this alternative proposition.

In addition to the theory, critique, and guide, how Cornetet sees value-driven architecture for the 21st century is found in a number of short case studies by his firm. These are inserted in a few places in the first half of the book, confusing any categorization of Façadomy; is it a monograph as well as a piece of criticism and historical guide? They are decent, small-scale designs that could be described as mid-modern architecture for today. They are simple and modern, with nice touches (such as a tactile column on the bus stop for the visually impaired) that give each project some interest. Cornetet's projects, like some of the mid-century pieces in the latter half, might not sufficiently sway people toward his way of thinking, but the argument he's crafted—full of an awareness of history and understanding of economics—is very convincing and the strongest part of the book.

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Two Guidebooks

Art Parks: A Tour of America's Sculpture Parks and Gardens by Francesca Cigola
Princeton Architectural Press, 2013
Paperback, 224 pages

Guide to New York City Urban Landscapes by Robin Lynn and Francis Morrone, with photography by Edward A. Toran
W. W. Norton, 2013
Paperback, 288 pages

As I write this, summer—at least the months between the end of one school year and the beginning of another—is winding down. But it's not too late to get out and enjoy the outdoors in warm weather. These two guides, both focused on landscapes in different ways, are invitations to do just that.

Art Parks calls itself "the first comprehensive guide to America's outdoor art spaces," and that seems long overdue. In a way, sculpture parks can be called the museums of the 21st century; they are art spaces that were prefigured by artists like Robert Smithson who transformed landscapes through large-scale earthworks. This guide is not limited to such types of art (the cover makes that known), but sculpture parks and gardens offer the potential to experience art through its juxtaposition with nature, and many artworks turn out to be site-specific pieces that heighten that relationship.

Think of a sculpture park or garden in the United States and most likely it's in this guide. That goes for my favorites: Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis, the Nasher Sculpture Garden in Dallas, and the Socrates Sculpture Park and the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, Queens. The entries are organized into three sections—leisure spaces, learning spaces, and collectors' spaces—and then geographically within each section. While a strictly geographical presentation would have emphasized the similarity of landscapes within a region, as well as potentially providing suggested routes for driving around different parts of the country, the thematic sections emphasize the relationships between host institutions, arguably not as important. Nevertheless one can easily use the guide to plan a trip in any part of the country, though it should be noted that the majority fall in the northeast.

Guide to New York City Urban Landscapes presents over 40 open spaces—most outdoors, but some indoors—in all five boroughs. Given the Bloomberg administration's continued and expanded transformation of formerly industrial waterfront into public parks, and the pedestrianization of streets like Broadway in Times Square, now is a perfect time to present a guide to these and other landscapes, new and old alike. Fittingly, given these transformations, the book is split into two halves: along the water's edge and inland. Eighteen entries are included in the first half and twenty make up the second half; each entry has a thorough description by either Lynn or Morrone, photographs by Toran, and directions on how to get there (many of the entries have maps, which—full disclosure—I made for the book). Helpfully, a "sampling of places to eat and drink where the space is right" rounds out the book.

Beyond the timely nature on the part of Lynn, who formerly organized walking tours for the Municipal Art Society (for which Toran often accompanied as a photographer), and Morrone, an architectural historian with many books to his name, the book's value lies in how the authors use each entry as a means of discussing issues larger than the geography of each place. It's not uncommon for an entry to receive X amount of words, with half of those about the specific place and the rest on issues spurred by it. For example, the first page of the two-page entry on the Brooklyn Grange discusses the popularity and benefits of green roofs in various applications, while the second page is about how it particularly uses a formerly industrial building in Long Island City as an urban farm.

Adorning the cover of the guide is a shot of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. This is an important choice for two reasons: Green-Wood predated and influenced the design of Manhattan's Central Park, meaning it indirectly influenced just about every park in the ensuing 150+ years; and given that the cemetery is running at capacity and therefore reorienting itself as a cultural amenity, it is symbolic of the changes that happen within a city, even as its evolution is hardly typical. Just as the High Line points to one way the city evolves, so does Green-Wood. What these landscapes, and the rest in the book, are about in the hands of Lynn and Morrone is use, not just design. Yes, the design of the urban landscapes is discussed greatly (as are history, the environment and other areas), but the focus is on how people use the places, and the book is an invitation to use them even more.

Art Parks:
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From Camp to City

From Camp to City: Refugee Camps of the Western Sahara edited by Manuel Herz
Lars Müller Publishers, 2012
Hardcover, 512 pages

On page 185 of this excellent analysis of the refugee camps of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in western Algeria, Mohamed Lamine, mayor of the El Aaiún camp says: "The definition of 'city' cannot be used for the camps." This statement is born of the fact that residents of El Aaiún and the five other refugee camps still utilize tents for many of their structures, but also because they see the camps as a temporary condition until they can return to the occupied Western Sahara. So stating that the camps are not cities is a political statement, yet for architect Manuel Herz and the ETH Studio Basel, headed by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the camps exhibit a number of urban traits that align them closer to cities, and are therefore worth studying.

This heavily illustrated book carefully documents ETH's analysis of the camps that were formed since the nomadic Sahwari population was displaced from Western Sahara by Morocco in the mid-1970s. A history of this conflict, the Western Sahara in earlier times, and of refugees around the world make up the first two chapters of the book. Here is where we start to see why the SADR refugee camps are worthy of study. Yes, it has been over 30 years since the Sahwaris have been living under conditions much different than they did traditionally (now sedentary and away from the coast), but the refugees are in a unique political situation because they administer their own schools and hospitals, have their own police force, and can monitor who is admitted to the camps. This situation is unlike camps elsewhere, where the host country controls these areas and removes most choice and control from refugees. This situation can also be seen as the main ingredients for urbanization, even as Mohamed Lamine and others don't wish to see it that way.

After a chapter on the planning of the camps of the Western Sahara, the book delves into the social aspects of Rabouni, Smara, El Aaiún, Awserd, Dakhla, and 27 February, what most of its 512 pages covers. These chapters, in the order of the book, are living, administration, moving and communication, commerce and work, health and education, and recreation and leisure. These areas are fairly logical and can find parallels in the built environment (living=houses, health=clinics and hospitals, education=schools, etc.), but the analysis has less to do with architectural design than with urban morphology and the meaning embodied in what is built and how. Those expecting to see examples of departures from the norms of refugee camps will be disappointed (unless read and examined closely, the buildings have a tendency to blur together into a sandy whole), but those wishing to learn about the place and what it says will be greatly rewarded.

Most of the documentation veers between two extremes: aerial photographs overlaid with markings to highlight certain things described in the text, and on-the-ground photographs—lots of them. There is very little visual information between these two poles, and that is a good thing, for therefore the book does not rely on abstract diagrams; it is a mix of top-down and bottom-up visuals that strike a good balance. This also means that the book reveals, when seen from above, how the camps have changed into cities (showing where camps have grown, where buildings have clustered together, and where certain types of buildings can be found); and it shows through the photos how people live (what a shop interior looks like, how goats are herded, how schools are set up, etc.). The back and forth between the two is a defining characteristic of the book and part of what makes it so successful—combined with the highly readable text—at conveying information about a place that would otherwise be overlooked.

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20th-Century World Architecture

20th-Century World Architecture: The Phaidon Atlas by the Editors of Phaidon
Phaidon, 2012
Hardcover, 824 pages

In 2004 Phaidon released the aptly named Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture, a volume featuring over 1,000 projects on 824 pages, a super-sized snapshot of architecture since 1998. Four years later the publisher released The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture and a thousand more projects on 800 pages. Even with the all-in-one-place international selection of top-notch architecture, the overriding impact is that the books are a cumbersome pair, even provoking Zaha Hadid to exclaim, "Now we need to reinforce the shelving!" Sure, Phaidon came out with pocket-sized travel guides for both titles, but with websites like ArchDaily filling people's inboxes with a dozen projects a day (an Atlas-worth every few months) the important question may not have been, "should the atlases be smaller?" but instead, "should we make the atlases at all?" Given the spread of contemporary architecture online, accessible via laptops, tablets, and smartphones, the heft of the atlases is easy to question. But what has arrived four years after the second title is a look back at 20th-century architecture rather than another collection of contemporary buildings.

The decision to look back at the 20th century with the latest in the Atlas series was a surprise to me when I learned about it, but upon considering what I mention above, it makes sense. People are discovering new buildings every day because they are being documented like never before in history, at least in terms of the number of projects photographed and shared. Yet as we move ahead with a constant stream of new projects, history gets lost behind. With this in mind the virtue of the third installment isn't the sheer number of projects included (more than 750) but the international scope, which equates with lots of new discoveries for everybody but the most seasoned architectural historians. The densest areas of discovery for me area in Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, though each part of the book includes something new. Of course, novelty is not the point, but the editors should be commended for such a wide-ranging selection of notable buildings.

With 750 buildings spanning ten decades, there are bound to be omissions. A few missing buildings that I realized at first glance were the Academy of Art and Architecture by Wiel Arets (who surprisingly is not included at all in the Atlas), Bernard Khoury's B018 (also an architect without any buildings included), and Mario Botta's Chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli (he has two buildings in the book). Yes, I'm partial to these three buildings because I featured them in the early days of my weekly web page, but they are indicative of the fact that everybody will have a list of buildings that should have been included but weren't. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if space denotes significance then the most important 20th-century buildings according to the editors at Phaidon (single buildings, not groupings of buildings like Brasilia, Chandigarh, or the Vitra complex) are the ones receiving two-page spreads: the Sydney Opera House by Jørn Utzon, St. Mary's Cathedral by Kenzo Tange, Glasgow School of Art by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier, and Taliesin West by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Given that the book relies heavily upon photographs, illustrations, and page design, it's worth discussing these aspects. People who are familiar with the first two books will notice similarities in regards to the last two, without the maps, layout, colors, and other elements being repeated verbatim. There is a language happening—colored blocks for continents and architect references, maps created by modular shapes, etc.—that creates a consistency across the atlases. The big difference in the 20th-Century World Architecture is the photography, which tends to be contemporary with a building's completion. This means that a good deal of the photos are black-and-white, and that they don't exhibit the reproduction quality of the digital photos that make up the first two books. I find the old photos appealing, and to specially photograph 750 buildings would have probably meant a 2016 release. Whatever the case, the book documents a time of remarkable architectural change when the seeds for the 2,000 buildings in the other Atlases were planted. Then to not have this installment is unimaginable.

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Thanks for the View, Mr. Mies

Thanks for the View, Mr. Mies: Lafayette Park, Detroit edited and with text by Danielle Aubert, Lana Cavar, Natasha Chandani | Placement
Metropolis Books, 2012
Paperback, 288 pages

While I'm a big fan of book-length case studies on buildings, I'll admit that most tend to focus exclusively on architecture and process at the expense of social concerns, especially how a building is used after the architect is out of the picture. One book counter to this that comes to mind is Peter Friedl's Working at Copan, which features interviews with workers at Oscar Niemeyer's Edificio Copan in São Paulo, but I'm hard pressed to think of a book that makes the users the subject of a book. So Thanks for the View, Mr. Mies is a refreshing arrival this fall, not only for looking at architecture through the lens of Lafayette Park's residents, but for crafting a marvelous book that gives a full sense of the place through text and images.

Danielle Aubert, Lana Cavar and Natasha Chandani of Placement are the trio responsible for the book, what promises to be the first of a number of examinations of "the interaction of people and places...both specific sites (Lafayette Park, Detroit) and...types of locations (the beach, downtown, bus stops)." Their first place of study arises from the fact that each had spent varying amounts of time in Lafayette Park, a housing development near downtown Detroit designed by Mies van der Rohe with planning by Ludwig Hilberseimer and landscape design by Alfred Caldwell. Aubert has actually been a resident of two of three types of dwellings that make up Lafayette Park: a high-rise and a townhouse (the courthouse is the other type).

LP, as it's often referred to in the book by authors and residents alike, is comprised of three high-rise towers (1956-1963), fifteen two-story townhouse buildings, and four one-story courthouses (both types of low-rises are 1958-1960), all sitting on 78 acres. This physical make-up of the place helps to structure the book, which moves from a chapter on townhouses to one on neighborhoods, ending with the high-rises. This gives the book a progression from the ground-up, from the grass and the trees to the views across Detroit's urban fabric.

Through interviews with residents, essays by residents, tours, photo essays, archives and "LP Sporadics," the book is in essence what Phyllis Lambert accurately calls it: a field guide. The reader learns so much about the place, even though the longest block of text is probably about 1,500 words. It's the mix of voices, media, and topics that congeal to paint a very vivid picture of LP; site plans and floor plans don't arrive until the very end of the book, and understanding is not lacking because of this. A few of LP's traits that come across through different parts of the book are the stable nature of the neighborhood, especially when compared to the rest of Detroit; the appeal of the apartments, even though heating and cooling certain rooms in the towers can be a headache; the neighborliness that exists in the place; and of course those views.

The book gives voice to the residents, but it also illuminates one of Mies van der Rohe's lesser known projects. The book reveals that Mies, the mythical universal modernist, was also a humanist, crafting a housing project that is very livable and has sustained itself for decades. This may not be the point of the book, but ultimately an exploration of the relationship between people and place will hopefully serve to make the latter better. Architects should take note.

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A Smart Guide to Utopia

A Smart Guide to Utopia: 111 Inspiring Ideas for a Better City
Le Cool, 2012
Hardcover, 160 pages

The first time I confronted Le Cool was with their Weird and Wonderful Guide to London, which is a guide -- in that it gives information and advice on a place that people are visiting -- but hardly a conventional one. But one thing I've learned from devouring guides is that conventions are waning. For example, they hardly need to be about a physical place anymore, they can also be about ideas. The Rough Guides are a good example of this (I read their Guide to Climate Change), but they are hardly unique. Which brings us to Le Cool's latest offering, their Smart Guide to Utopia*. It is an intriguing title, but one that immediately brings up questions: What is Utopia? Whose Utopia are we talking about? How does one craft a guide to something so contestable?

Well, this isn't really the type of book that gets into the meaning of Utopia, beyond the fact that Le Cool and gang want cities to be better. Yet wading through the 111 ideas I feel like they want cities to be improved for a very particular group of people, namely young(ish) European creatives who desire the fresh and the new. This is not a critique of the book or the people making it, but it is the outcome of focusing on changes being made by the very same people, or at least types of people. A good example of this can be found in the Work chapter (one of five chapters, which also includes Live, Eat & Drink, Buy, Play). The two sub-chapters in Work are called "creative support networks" and "co-working," which clearly respond to mobile, technologically minded people, not manufacturers or blue-collar workers.

The 111 ideas, which are very optimistic in their descriptions, parallel today's preoccupation with pop-ups, DIY urbanism, and other movements that deal with small-scale changes implemented by designers and other creatives. In this sense, the book is a valuable companion to the numerous other essays, books, and output that attempt to catalog the rapid and fleeting responses to apparent need. Some of the ideas may be familiar, but there are sure to be fresh ones for readers to be inspired by. (In particular I like the Cineroleum, which transforms a derelict gas station into a cinema with just scaffolding, scrap wood, and curtains.) While the text borders on the too small (am I getting that old?), it should be noted that the ideas are smartly presented, from the chapter illustrations (Play is shown above) to the page layouts, which caption the ideas on each page at the bottom, making the book very browser-friendly. After Le Cool's London guide, which took pride in not having a consistent layout or overriding theme, the restraint and the helpful design of their Utopia guide is commendable.

* The word "Smart" in the title has a double meaning. It also refers to Smart cars, which Le Cool mentions as being an inspiration in the book's credits.

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New York City Landmarks

New York City Landmarks, photographs by Jake Rajs, text by Francis Morrone
Antique Collectors Club, 2012
Hardcover, 236 pages

What are the new New York City landmarks? The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, Central Park, and the Brooklyn Bridge obviously spring to mind when considering the city's tried-and-true landmarks, but this book by photographer Jake Rajs with historian Francis Morrone spurs consideration of the city's 21st-century landmarks. It's a loaded question because, outside of official designations coming from New York City's Landmark Preservation Commission, the label is one that comes from a building or space's longevity and its appreciation by both residents and tourists. To call something a landmark, legal label or not, is to see the city and the landmark in synonymous terms: Think of New York City and the Statue of Liberty comes to mind; think of the Statue of Liberty and New York City comes to mind. But can the same thing apply to new buildings and spaces?

Of the 76 entries, I count around 15-20 entries dating post-2000. Defining this number is complicated by the fact that many of these 21st-century buildings are additions or renovations to historical structures, such as the Morgan Library & Museum, Hearst Tower, the Museum of Modern Art, the High Line. Like the city itself, these projects have evolved over time, gaining more buildings as they gained more land, adding amenities in response to contemporary times, renovating buildings or infrastructure for other uses, whatever the case may be. So a count of ground-up, post-2000 buildings (like the historical structures mentioned at the beginning of this review) brings us to a third of that, five or six, maybe seven. Buildings designed by Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, and SANAA are accompanied by a memorial in Lower Manhattan, twin-ish towers overlooking Columbus Circle, and two cubes: the Apple Cube and the Rose Center for Earth and Space. The defining characteristics of these new landmarks during a time of prevailing stylistic pluralism are attention-getting facades, lots of glass, and a desire to stand out from their neighbors. If they will still be landmarks in 75 years, just as the Chrysler Building is now (initially it was greeted with lukewarm reception), certainly remains to be seen.

This search for 21st-century landmarks illustrates that this guidebook offers plenty for travelers, not just the same old historical structures. Rajs and Morrone acknowledge the changing facets of the city; the former turns his camera on these attention-getting buildings while the latter tempers his usual distaste for contemporary architecture (people may remember his articles at 2 Blowhards). They are both adept at highlighting the best the city has going, be it the formal aspects and plays of light upon a building's surface or peeling away the historical layers to present obscure but remarkable stories about a place. With its handsome photographs and skillful descriptions, it's a book that is as fitting a memento as it is a guide.

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Architectural and Cultural Guide Pyongyang and Architecture 11

Architectural and Cultural Guide Pyongyang edited by Philipp Meuser
DOM Publishers, 2012
Paperback, 2 volumes w/slipcase, 368 pages

Architecture 11: RIBA Buildings of the Year by Tony Chapman
Merrell Publishers, 2012
Hardcover, 273 pages

These two books focusing on architecture halfway around the globe from each other may seem like an odd pairing for a book review, but each book -- unconventional guides, if you will -- shares the trait of boosting national identity through the presentation of architecture. One is a guidebook to a place that most people cannot or would not visit anytime soon (Pyongyang, North Korea), and the other is a collection of awards given out last year by a professional body (Royal Institute of British Architects -- RIBA) of an island country (Great Britain). In architecture, the similarities end there.

Architectural and Cultural Guide Pyongyang from DOM Publishers is actually made up of two guides: Volume 1 is a guide from the Pyongyang Foreign Languages Publishing House, published without comment; Volume 2 features illustrated essays by editor Philip Meuser and other contributors, focusing on urban and architectural history, propaganda, spatial production, and an outsider's experience of the city of 3 million. The former is clearly a means of propaganda by the North Korean government (the guide's publication date coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung's birth, aka "Year 1 of the new era," can also be read in this way), but one that functions differently than other guidebooks: Instead of existing as a companion to a visit, it is a substitute for seeing the city in person, even as the country appears to be opening its borders to more foreigners recently (journalists, mainly). Volume 1 is laid out similarly to other architecture guides, broken down into chapters by building type: Urban Planning, Residential Buildings, Cultural Venues, Education and Sport, Hotels/Department Stores, Transport Infrastructure, Monuments. Of course these are not typologies exclusive to North Korea, but their expression and cohesion in a Socialist utopia (or nightmare) is what makes the city and the book so unique.

Volume 2 breaks through the official language and photography of Volume 1 to present first-hand accounts and researched histories of Pyongyang. Meuser's introduction for "The Illicit Guidebook" lays out both the second volume's essays and the city itself; the latter via helpful aerial views from the Juche Tower, a blazing monument to the "state's ideology scripted by Kim Il Sung," as the Volume 1 description reads. The essays that follow the introduction can be fairly academic, yet they are highlighted by Meuser's first-person stroll through the city and his highlighting of the state's propaganda posters and artwork. More propaganda occurs in the excerpted text "On Architecture" (1991) by Kim Jong-il, which paints architecture as the expression of national character. Yet it is the abundant illustrations throughout the two volumes that are the most illuminating and valuable pieces in the guide; they give a broad and colorful insight into a place that is portrayed in a particular light depending on one's locale.

Pyongyang is a city that appears stuck in mid-20th-century socialist modernism (minus the glass-skinned Ryugyong Hotel), but then there is Architecture 11: RIBA Buildings of the Year, a celebration of contemporary architecture in all of its pluralism. RIBA's recap of recent architecture in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland presents what seems like hundreds of award-winning buildings. Winners, and in some cases runners-up, are grouped by prizes: Sterling Prize, Lubetkin Prize, International Awards, Manser Medal, Stephen Lawrence Prize, etc. Most fall under the RIBA Awards, which are organized by geography; not surprisingly, a great number are located in London. Tony Chapman's introductory "snapshot of the profession" paints a fairly negative picture of things -- "such is the profession's current state" -- but the wealth of good buildings found within the handsome book (I particularly like the chip board cover in Merrell's design) is for this reader a positive sign.

Returning to the thesis of this book review, what does Architecture 11 express about Britain's national identity, besides the fact it is obviously much more diverse than North Korea? For one, it shows that the public sector is an important client for buildings. The book also illustrates that contemporary trends like sustainability are important, a reflection of the architects but also the clients, be they public or private. In the way RIBA judges -- all shortlisted buildings are visited by juror -- it's evident that the awards are based on first-hand experience rather than merely form as presented in photographs. Ultimately the book illustrates that architects living and working in Britain (and many of them born and raised there) are skilled at creating quality architecture, a source of pride for the country. Even detached from notions of national identity, the book is testament to great architecture being produced in Britain during a time of economic crisis. Tightened purse strings mean fewer icons like Hadid's Stirling winner, but there is still plenty to admire in these pages.

Architectural and Cultural Guide Pyongyang:
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Architecture 11:
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St. Louis Architecture

St. Louis Architecture: Three Centuries of Classic Design by Robert Sharoff and William Zbaren
Images Publishing, 2011
Hardcover, 134 pages

American City is a book series created by architectural photographer William Zbaren and journalist Robert Sharoff. They describe the series, which started with Detroit in 2005, as "about Classical courthouses, Romanesque train stations, Art Deco office buildings, Mid-Century schools, Modern museums and the occasional geodesic dome." This broad range of styles and typologies clearly indicates that the books span long time periods, not just focusing on the old or the new. Detroit Architecture covered significant architecture produced between 1845-2005, and its follow-up on St. Louis starts with the Old Courthouse from 1864 and ends, 50 buildings later, with a 2010 plaza by Maya Lin. Forthcoming are books on Chicago and Savannah, but it's interesting to note that the first two titles focus on cities that are synonymous with 20th-century decline, be it population, jobs, manufacturing, and building stock. The first two books instill an appreciation for once booming cities, read in the impressive architecture handed down for generations.

First and foremost, St. Louis Architecture is a coffee table book. The format is large (approx. 11" square) and the photographs are also big, sometimes a page-and-a-half. Zbaren's photographs range from overall shots that situate the buildings in their urban context to details of ornament. Many give the reader a vantage point they might not otherwise have: a view from a building across the street, an interior they may not access. (Regarding the latter, the interior shots are public buildings that allow access -- not office buildings, for example -- but not necessarily ones that normally allow photography.) Minimal criteria are used -- no ruins, houses, or churches -- to select the "top 50 of everything right down to public works projects  like bridges and water towers." These top 50 follow a fairly in-depth introduction by Sharoff that highlights important architects at different periods in the last century-and-a-half. His text accompanying the photos are brief, so reading the introduction helps in learning more about the various architects and their influence in and beyond the city. Ultimately the photos and text work together to create the equivalent of a leisurely stroll through the city's architecture, where the beauty overrides the decline; a spur for filling in the blocks between these landmarks and moving back into the city, if ever there was one.

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Illinois Institute of Technology

Illinois Institute of Technology: The Campus Guide by Franz Schulze
Princeton Architectural Press, 2005
Paperback, 128 pages


The Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), on the south side of Chicago, is in something of a resurgence after the completion of both Rem Koolhaas & OMA's Campus Center and Helmut Jahn's neighboring dormitory. Both buildings sit across State Street from Crown Hall, address the elevated tracks, and break from the existing Modernist assemblage, in their own unique way. These buildings partly owe to a doubling of IIT's architecture program's enrollment in the last two years. But for the people who don't know the campus beyond these two new buildings and Mies van der Rohe's recently-restored Crown Hall, this book presents three walking tours that cover all of the school's structures, from the 19th century main building to the dormitory's east of the "L" tracks. Written by Franz Schulze -- an expert on Mies as author of a critical biography of the architecture department's chair (1938-58) -- and with an introduction by Elisabeth Logman, the book also includes a brief biography of Mies, in addition to the maps, photographs, and descriptions of the walking tours. While Schulz's admiration of Mies comes across too strong in the negative descriptions of other buildings, this guide lets the readers see each building firsthand, so they can make their own judgments.