Tag Archives: laurence king publishing

Architecture: From Commission to Construction

Architecture: From Commission to Construction by Jennifer Hudson
Laurence King Publishers, 2012
Paperback, 240 pages

Books that collect works of contemporary architecture tend to present them in some fairly typical ways, particularly by building typology (houses, museums, public space, etc.) and as finished projects with highly polished photography. The former trait allows architects to examine precedents when pursuing a particular project, and the latter paints a building in as positive light as possible, for both other architects and potential clients. But what about the process of a project? Isn't that as important as the "final" building? Of course it is, given that the building is the result of successive steps, from concept design to construction documents to the actual construction, and all the steps in between. So it's refreshing to see Jennifer Hudson's survey of 25 buildings, of varying typologies, that traces them from, as the title says, commission to construction.

The book's format is pretty straightforward, and is consistent from project to project. The first two-page spread gives a view of the finished building alongside Hudson's descriptive text and the projects details—location, use, client, site and building area, dates of design and construction, and budget. The three or four spreads that follow visually document the project from early sketches and models through the subsequent steps to completion. It's refreshing that only one page of the six or eight pages is devoted to finished photography, with much of the rest featuring drawings and other documentation that isn't typically shared in books or online. The example accompanying this review is Peter Rich's Mapungubwe Interpretation Center in South Africa, a project that won the 2009 WAF Building of the Year. Additionally, this week's dose presents another project from the book—Écomusée du pays de Rennes in Rennes, France, by Guinée *Potin—and uses the opportunity to further examine how Hudson's book gives insight into parts of a project that are often overlooked.

The most important parts of the book are Hudson's captions that accompany the numerous illustrations documenting each project's process. It's not enough to show, for example, drawings of the facade for LOT-EK's Weiner Townhouse without explaining how they were submitted to New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission so that windows made of truck bodies could be used in a historic district. The captions lead us through the drawings and other illustrations, like a narrator in a documentary explains the images that tumble before our eyes. Thankfully, the selection of projects is varied in many ways (if a bit heavy on projects in the UK and designed by UK architects): There are houses, formally extravagant cultural institutions, installations, a stadium, projects that have to deal with preservation, and so forth; about the only thing missing is a tower (a highly specialized typology that gets plenty of in-depth investigation elsewhere). It's a good book for architects to see how other practitioners work through a project, but it's more valuable for students to understand how a building makes its way from an idea to a reality in the world.

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Detail in Contemporary Glass Architecture

Detail in Contemporary Glass Architecture by Virginia McLeod
Laurence King Publishing, 2011
Hardcover, 224 pages

 

Virginia McLeod continues her series of Detail in Contemporary... books (previously I reviewed ...Residential Architecture) with a collection of 50 buildings that use glass in innovative ways. Structured into chapters by building type, the projects include the obvious -- SANAA's Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art, Steven Holl's Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art addition -- but also the idiosyncratic -- Cecil Balmond's Coimbra Footbridge, Carpenter Lowing Architecture's Chapel for the Salvation Army. Overall the selection is a good one, veering towards the big names but clearly illustrating the varied ways glass can be used today. Each project is presented across four pages: The first page includes descriptive text and photos; the second page features plans and sections; the third and fourth pages are reserved for important details that elucidate the ways glass functions in the building.

A book devoted to details about glass, a material often thought of as invisible, may be a bit odd at first; how does one detail the invisible? Of course details are about connections, joints, transitions from one plane, material, or assembly to another. So those connections take on more importance than the actual drawing of glass, which is most often a few parallel lines. Even with projects that add effects to planar glass to give it a weight or effect that is much different than the more prevalent vision glass, the details are but one part of the story; hence the pages devoted to photos and other illustrations. But then a project like FAM's 11 March Memorial in Madrid (pictured in two spreads here) makes one realize that glass is not simply a planar material; it can also be a solid object with weight and presence that belies expectations. In this project glass is the whole detail. And while glass block may not be as popular as it used to be, in this project it breathes new life, and is a fitting addition to a book on glass in contemporary architecture.

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The Embodied Image and Thinking About Architecture

The Embodied Image: Imagination and Imagery in Architecture by Juhani Pallasmaa
Wiley, 2011
Hardcover or paperback, 152 pages

Thinking About Architecture: An Introduction to Architectural Theory by Colin Davies
Laurence King Publishing, 2011
Paperback, 160 pages

The Embodied Image is Finnish architect, educator, and writer Juhani Pallasmaa's third and final installment in his "study on the role of the senses, embodiment and imagination in architectural and artistic perception, thought and making."  It follows The Eyes of the Skin and The Thinking Hand, both also highly recommended titles. Those familiar with these and other titles by Pallasmaa will find Pallasmaa treading familiar ground: valuing architectural experience over intellectual conceit; seeing image as metaphor for structuring our lives over the aestheticizing of fetish forms and objects; and embracing art and architecture as ways of elevating life's experiences. This does not mean that Pallasmaa does not have anything new to say. If anything his arguments are so subtle, his dissection of imagery so nuanced that this essay adds to and reinforces his call for an architecture that balances newness and tradition with our experiences as embodied individuals.

Pallasmaa discusses imagery in architecture, art, poetry, and literature across five chapters. The majority is expended on "the many faces of the image" in the middle of the book, where the author distinguishes between the unconscious image, the iconic image, the collaged image, and many other types. It is not until the last chapter that he goes into depth on the architectural image, but coming after the previous exposition the direction is clear. Nevertheless his call for "the fragile image" is an intriguingly worded direction that can be found today in the architecture of Peter Salter, Sarah Wigglesworth and others, but is exemplified in the buildings of Carlo Scarpa and Alvar Aalto. Pallasmaa values architecture that responds to context over architecture that strives for concept and strong images. His call may be drowned out by the plethora of publications, both print and online, that continue to focus on the latest iconic forms, but every action has a reaction. In this sense Pallasmaa's well-formed arguments provide a strong basis for reconsidering image based on experience rather than image based on novelty.

Common ground between Pallasmaa's triumvirate and British architect, professor, and writer Colin Davies' introduction to architectural theory can be found in the latter elevating the importance of the embodied individual in architectural thought. The first chapter in his book that focuses "on the ideas rather than the theorists and philosophers behind them" makes this clear: Representation in architecture arises from humans being creatures that have evolved to stand between the ground and the sky; columns do the same, and Davies describes it in a way that "we have hit upon something fundamental in the nature of architecture." Over the next seven chapters -- Language, Form, Space, Truth, Nature, History, The City -- a similar conversational tone prevails, making the book ideal for students in architecture but also for professionals with an interest in theory but not its dense presentation. (His quote from a JAE article humorously runs this point home.) Also, like Pallasmaa, Davies ends on a note of response, in this case towards reality and away from the virtual. He finds it interesting that people populate Second Life with buildings, even though the rules of the world (gravity, shelter, etc.) don't exist. In this he finds that people want to grasp onto what makes them human, something found in the "physical, spatial, enduring, human architecture."

The Embodied Image:
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Thinking About Architecture:
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Greening Modernism and Towards Zero-Energy Architecture

Greening Modernism: Preservation, Sustainability, and the Modern Movement by Carl Stein
W. W. Norton, 2010
Hardcover, 296 pages

Towards Zero-Energy Architecture: New Solar Design by Mary Guzowski
Laurence King Publishers, 2010
Hardcover, 208 pages

With the buzzwords "energy" and "sustainability" dominating any discussion on the present and the future, how these rarely defined terms are dealt with in books on architecture is increasingly important. All too often considerations of energy and sustainability in architecture are subject to "greenwashing" or a dose of hyperbole, such that buildings that do little beyond the minimum are embraced as models for our sustainable future. At a time when many believe action is needed more than thought, the opposite may be the case, so that movement forward can be theoretically grounded to best deal with dwindling resources, climate change, and the urban canvas upon which they play out. These books, though widely different from each other, take thorough approaches to their subjects that make them good guides for tackling the problems of today and tomorrow.

Carl Stein of collaborative practice Elemental has created a primer of sorts for thinking about energy and sustainability, more than a manual for designing green buildings. But this is a good thing, for he gives the reader a solid background on how to think about energy relative to buildings, why we should design sustainable buildings, why we should preserve buildings, and how Modernism ties all of this together. The last may be the most perplexing going in to the book -- can't a lot of our present crises be blamed on modern man's myopic exploitation of resources? -- but Stein capably illustrates how modern thinking can help architects, owners, and builders tackle the various challenges to find solutions. Any by expending a good deal of the book on energy, Stein contends that opportunities should be looked at relative to energy in its various guises. Here is where preservation enters the picture, because demolition will always result in more energy being lost (in the value of the existing) and used (in both demolition and new construction). In this regard energy isn't just heating, cooling, and power; it is the potential found in materials shaped in the past or in the future into constructions for human use. Stein ends the book with some Elemental case studies, but the valuable portion of the book precedes seeing how he has implemented his own way of thinking.

There is much to commend on how Stein has structured his ideas into a physical book: it is well structured so subchapters highlight key points; these subchapters are bite-size; generous illustrations and charts accompany the text; his writing style is thorough -- even technical at times -- but never hard-to-follow. Yet I'm baffled why a book on energy and sustainability is so wasteful in how it uses paper. A lot of white space is found in the page layouts of this not-small book (10.1 x 8.7 inches), none more so than the bullet points that begin each subchapter. I can think of numerous ways that these important phrases could have been given the weight they deserve on a smaller page size and over fewer pages. I'm guessing the parties involved wanted the book's design to reflect the importance of the text, highlighting Stein's color photos in the process. Unfortunately this leads to a high price tag and more paper in a book that should find itself on the bookshelves of those concerned with energy, sustainability, and architecture.

Mary Guzowski's collection of new solar design in contemporary architecture, like Stein, takes a broader approach towards the sun than just the heat from the sun creating energy via PV panels on roofs. They see how climate is rooted in solar radiation: wind's movement results from the areas of low and high pressure created by the sun heating the atmosphere; rain and hydrological power come from the evaporation caused by the sun's heat. Guzowski focuses on "a true architecture of the sun and wind [that] is more than the sum of passive strategies, technological systems, and ecological engineering." Ten case studies are collected in five chapters: ecological vision, passive design, an ethic of enough, responsive envelopes, an ecological aesthetic. Half of the buildings are from Europe, and three of those are from Germany, hardly a surprise given the countries well known green building codes. Also not surprising is that many of the projects striving for "zero-energy architecture" are prototypes, experiments in sustainable architecture.

The project selection is varied in terms of context (climate, geography, urban/rural) and design (how they reflect Guzowski's considerations). Consistency comes in the form of analysis. Each case study features the requisite photos, floor plans, and building sections, but they also include wind studies, sunpath studies, climate data, and a design profile, all rendered equally from project to project so their merits can be compared easily. Additionally, descriptive text gives background on each project, highlighting the various solar design strategies. It should be pointed out that Guzowski's chapter introductions are helpful for situating the case studies within the various strands of solar design that she's defined, but they are valuable links to environmental literature. The bibliography features other books that focus on the technical and design side, yet alongside theoretical texts that should be required reading for those seriously considering energy and sustainability.

Greening Modernism:
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Towards Zero-Energy Architecture:
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Two Books about Modern Houses

Houses: Modern Natural/Natural Modern by Ron Broadhurst
Rizzoli, 2010
Hardcover, 300 pages

The New Modern House: Redefining Functionalism by Jonathan Bell and Ellie Stathaki
Laurence King Publishing, 2010
Hardcover, 240 pages

These two collections of contemporary residential architecture attempt to find unique strands within the well documented typology. One book looks at houses with strong ties to nature, and the other book finds houses that place function over aesthetics. How well does each argue and present its case?

Modern Natural starts with a foreword by MoMA curator Barry Bergdoll, who uses Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe as the Modern masters most diametrically opposed in their views of nature. Broadhurst's subsequent introduction points to a preference for Mies's framing of and existential relationship to nature, but the nearly thirty examples that follow also embody Wright's use of natural materials and dramatic siting. Here the houses inspired by nature in both their construction and physical relationship to it are spread across the globe but concentrated in three countries: Japan, Switzerland, Chile. In the first case nature is not scenery but the world around, be it a dense urban condition or overlooking the ocean; for Switzerland and Chile, mountains, forests, and water are the features that the houses respond to in their design. Unlike The New Modern House Broadhurst is content to simply present the designs as a snapshot of how architects confront nature in unique circumstances; he does not argue for a new movement. The result is a coffee table book with generous photography and drawings of some stunning architecture. Examples include Pite House by Smiljan Radic, the Palmyra House by Studio Mumbai, and the Passage House and Square House, both by TNA.

Bell and Stathaki use The New Modern House to outline their argument for a "New Functionalism," first in a lengthy introduction that finds favor with Modernism's original goal of "social progress through technological innovation," and then with a collection of case studies in rural, suburban, and urban contexts. They explain how the fifty projects they've assembled go against the popular, if not prevailing, tendency for "elaborate formal invention." While the aesthetics of the various designs in the book are diverse, their argument for hitting upon this so-called New Functionalism is problematic, because they fail to define function. Is it how the house serves the occupants? Is it how the house meets greater concerns, such as environmental ones? Is it something different than the Vitruvius's "Commodity"? While they may rely on an unspoken definition for the term, with an argument predicated on function it should be clarified at least. As presented, function is not so much the overriding aspect of the houses, but the hinge upon which their aesthetics revolve, because it is clear on just a quick flip through the book that form and aesthetics are very important to these designs. As well they should be for any architect creating architecture.

But I'm not convinced that these fifty houses function any better than ones with the elaborate formal invention they are rallying against. I think the designs illustrate how architects can be influenced by function in its many guises (program, site, structure, environment, etc.) to find something appropriate for each design, rather than espousing a particular aesthetic. A few examples in the book have been featured on this web page: Casa Tóló by Alvaro Leite Siza Vieira, Casa no Gerês by Graça Correia Arquitectos, and the Element House by Sami Rintala. The last isn't actually a house, but a pavilion that is "as close as possible to a fully functioning residence." Its inclusion points away from function and towards aesthetics responses. Again, function is the hinge, and these and other designs show that thinking of the basic concerns of architecture can lead to some great houses.

Modern Natural:
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New Modern House:
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