Tag Archives: monacelli press

Lettering Large

Lettering Large: Art and Design of Monumental Typography by Steven Heller and Mirko Ilić
The Monacelli Press, 2013
Hardcover, 224 pages

What happens to letters, words and phrases when they are blown up from their usual place on the pages of a book to occupying space within the public realm? The most obvious answer is that they become advertising, gracing the sides of buildings or billboards to entice consumers toward a certain product or brand. But as co-author Steven Heller asserts in a piece at Designers & Books, Lettering Large "is not about advertising—it’s about how the language of advertising is applied to architecture and art and identity."

Most of the examples of monumental typography collected in the book are fairly recent, but Heller and Ilić do acknowledge the history of large letters on buildings and in space, be it inscriptions on the buildings of ancient Rome or early modern attempts to synthesize architecture and graphic design. If one thing comes across while imbibing the many examples in the book's 240 pages, it is the blurring of the boundaries between art, architecture, typography, graphic design, and even landscape in many contemporary settings.

The authors compiled what seems like hundreds of examples of monumental typography into four chapters: Monumental Outdoor Type, Typo-Hypnotic Messages, Big and Better: Type as Object, A-R-T in T-Y-P-E. Generally, the venues for the first and last chapters are landscapes, while building facades and spaces are the canvases for the examples in the middle chapters, though this is hardly a rule. The book starts with the most monumental letters of all, those that are ideally read from above, via airplanes and even satellites. The North Carolina Museum of Art, with "PICTURE THIS" set into the landscape by Barbara Kruger, is actually one of the smaller such examples. For this and other large-scale messages to stay intact, the landscape will need to be maintained, but some of the more appealing examples are temporary formations of people (echoing the way Coca-Cola used birdseed in Piazza San Marco to entice pigeons to unknowingly spell out the company's name over 50 years ago) that are used for a variety of purposes, be it political, civic pride, or humor.


Not surprisingly, most of my favorites fall in the middle two chapters, where architecture takes on a more prominent role than in the chapters bookending them. The "typo-hypnotic messages" in the second chapter adorn building facades and line their insides, often conveying a message. Simplicity of the message is penultimate, even though in cases like the temporary MOMA QNS it took some effort, or being in the right place at the right time, to understand it. When used as an object in the following chapter, type becomes a pattern or just another texture or surface decoration. Words and phrases overlap and collide, symptomatic of our time when there is too much information to convey meaning adequately.

Heller and Ilić's helpful but basically uncritical text clearly places the emphasis on the great number of examples of monumental typography that exist, particularly from the last 10-15 years, and the even greater variety of applications. There is the feeling that letters, words, and phrases blown up to life-size and larger are a really good thing, even if the results are questionable at times – Mitsutomo Matsunami's Number House comes to mind. And it's easy to get swept along with them, taking in the ping-ponging fun, serious, and often colorful projects all over the world. Each page brings to mind a building or landscape with letters or words, making me see if the authors included it in the book; these searches make it clear the book really should have an index. But that is a small fault in an enjoyable book that is also a great reference of how type surrounds us even more than we could have imagined.

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Old Buildings, New Forms

Old Buildings, New Forms: New Directions in Architectural Transformations by Françoise Astorg Bollack
The Monacelli Press, 2013
Hardcover, 224 pages

I have always loved old buildings. They are the visible, three-dimensional record of our life on earth. They can be thrilling or modest architectural works; they can be interesting or banal. But they are always complex cultural objects, whose value lies in their very existence. -Françoise Astorg Bollack

Rather than looking at building types or buildings in a certain local, New York-based architect Françoise Bollack presents 28 projects that transform old buildings and contexts in various ways. She breaks down these techniques into five chapters: Insertions, Parasites, Wraps, Juxtapositions, and Weavings. Her book is predicated, as the quote above shows, on an appreciation of history and a desire to creatively change the relationship between it and our present. The book is full of some great examples of how old buildings are not static set pieces; they are canvases for the continuing evolution of places and the lives within them.

Many people will not be fans of the more jarring transformations within these pages, such as Steven Holl's replacement of the center wing at Pratt's Higgins Hall in Brooklyn or Will Alsop's black-and-white box on stilts in Toronto, but one of the most convincing aspects of the book can be found in the introduction to each chapter. There, Bollack presents historical precedents that lend credence to the handful of techniques she highlights, while also adding weight to the idea that transformations are necessary and welcoming.

One precedent, in the Parasites chapter, is the expansion of the 19th-century Boston Custom House, carried out by Peabody & Sterns in 1905. The large stone Greek Revival structure capped by a Roman dome would certainly be landmarked into stasis today, but Peabody & Sterns transformed the temple-like building into a base for a much larger campanile. Granted, visual character is maintained by classical elements in the tower, but I'd wager that it was greeted with a similar amount of shock as some contemporary additions.

I'm not advocating for matching new buildings to old ones (something Steven Semes argues), but rather that the contemporary juxtapositions between new and old should be seen relative to past epochs. When we look at the essence of changes like the Boston Custom House, they were more dramatic than we think all these decades and even centuries later. The same could probably be said about Higgins Hall, the Sharp Centre for Design, and other buildings collected by Bollack when we look back on them in the future.

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Three Books About Architecture and Its Relationship to Landscape

Contemporary Follies by Keith Moskow and Robert Linn
The Monacelli Press, 2012
Hardcover, 240 pages

White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes by Raymund Ryan
University of California Press, 2012
Hardcover, 120 pages

Wine and Architecture by Heinz-Gert Woschek, Denis Duhme, Katrin Friederichs
EDITION Detail, 2012
Paperback, 144 pages

Each of these three books collects a number of architecture projects—from a half dozen to over 50—that fit into particular typologies. One looks at follies, which one can argue are bound together through a certain purposelessness; another examines arts institutions; and the third presents wineries. While these three types don't have an immediate relationship to each other in terms of architectural program or function, they share an emphasis on how buildings fit into landscapes, be they relatively wild, designed, or cultivated. It would be difficult to consider follies that do not have a particular relationship to nature, for example, or near impossible to design a winery that does not have both a functional and aesthetic relationship to the acres of grapes feeding the process.

What is also shared in these three books is a dependance on tourism. It is most explicit in White Cube, Green Maze, given that many of the arts institutions featured in the book are intended to be cultural magnets for people from around the world and to therefore help bring money to rural populaces. Many of the projects in Contemporary Follies, as well, stem from a desire to provide adequate services for visitors in areas that lack them (Norway's National Tourist Routes are probably the most famous example these days). And then there's enotourism, which taps into the popularity of wine and a desire to get to its source; providing comfortable and architecturally significant appointments aids in raising a winery's stature. Yet even if we examine the commonality of tourism, the focus is still on architecture and landscape, as each uses the unique qualities of the surrounding nature to bring people to places well outside cities.

In Contemporary Follies Keith Moskow and Robert Linn (of Boston's Moskow Linn Architects) collect 51 recent projects that they consider follies. In his introduction Marc Kristal describes the term historically as "an ornamental structure intended to decorate or enhance a garden or landscape...typically fanciful or exotic in design." This last trait is pretty much intact centuries later, especially since follies offer architects a small canvas for exploring form, in some cases through some pretty innovative technologies. In most cases formal exploration responds directly to nature, be it the immediate slope of a site, distant views, or metaphorical qualities of a place.

Moskow and Linn launch into the projects directly after Kristal's introduction (no preface or general explanatory text by the authors), so they basically let each project stand on its own through their brief descriptions and photographs. The projects are partitioned into six chapters—observation, art, meditation, shelter, working, dwelling—that assign broad functions to each, but it's easy to imagine the almost full-deck of projects being tossed in the air and each one fitting comfortably into another chapter. One thing that the chapters do is to give the book a certain flow, even as the projects jump from forests to deserts to mountains, back and forth. It is ultimately a book made for browsing, witnessed by the fact the projects are not listed in the table of contents or the chapters, nor are they indexed. They exist within the book and on the page as calls to get out and get face to face with nature's drama.

Contemporary Follies:
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White Cube, Green Maze is an exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art's Heinz Architectural Center (September 22, 2012–January 13, 2013) curated by Raymund Ryan. As the subtitle of the exhibition and the companion book attests, the six "new art landscapes" examine the relationship between art, architecture, and landscape. Only one of the six projects (Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park) is in a dense urban context. The rest of the projects (Stiftung Insel Hombroich in Germany, Benesse Art Site in Japan, Inhotim in Brazil, Jardin Botanico de Culiacan in Mexio, and Grand Traiano Art Complex in Italy) are located in fairly remote sites, both in terms of proximity to large cities and in the global paths of art lovers—though often these are one and the same. These locations not only offer opportunities for curators, architects, and landscape architects to consider relationships between the various areas of focus, they give artists unconventional venues for creating and displaying art. Yes, the proverbial white cube exists many miles from the cities and its institutions, but so does the "green maze," as Ryan calls it.

Three essays preface the visual and textual exploration of the six projects: Brian "White Cube" O'Doherty discovers "a new museum ecology" in the projects; Ryan lays out broader contexts and discusses how the six projects fit into them; and Marc Treib theorizes on some of the blurring between the realms of art, architecture, and landscape. The presentations of the six projects (color coded and keyed from Ryan's introductory essay) are very solid, with words from Ryan, Iwan Baan's aerial and on-the-ground photographs, and two-page spreads with credits, site plans, and a historical photo or two. While the color-coded backgrounds don't work readability-wise in all cases and Baan's full-bleed photos compete with them on the page edge (making the keying less than ideal), the overall design is a benefit to the presentations and the arguments that Ryan sets forth. Yes, something new is happening, even as these and other new art landscapes have been taking shape for a while. A combination of abandoned industrial landscapes, art tourism, and the desire to break outside of the white cube is helping to create places where the experience of art is strengthened through architecture and nature.

White Cube, Green Maze:

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Of the three titles Wine and Architecture is the least interested in taking a hard look at the relationship between architecture and landscape, even though the link is stronger with wineries than with follies or arts institutions. This stems from a desire on the part of the publisher and authors (who work in the world of wine rather than architecture) to create a practical guide to wine and architecture in Europe. Yet the unique relationships between building and landscape are still evident in photographs, drawings, and descriptions of how climate and topography inform grape growing, for example.

Two introductory essays look at the long history of wine architecture (most of it before the 20th century) and "winemaking and facility design." Twenty-two projects follow, spread across six countries—Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain—Europe's biggest wine producers. It's a solid selection with a few notable omissions, but this fact is addressed in the "country guide to wine and architecture in Europe," which includes briefer descriptions of another 40 projects. While the ideal target audience—those designing and building a winery in continental Europe—is a small one, the book's appeal is broader, thanks to an emphasis on wine production. It's a book for architects and wine lovers, and when the two meet the book is a great invitation to Europe and its wonders of wine.

Wine and Architecture (German edition):

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Thomas Heatherwick: Making

Thomas Heatherwick: Making by Thomas Heatherwick with Maisie Rowe
Monacelli Press, 2012
Hardcover, 600 pages

If the size of a monograph is an expression of a designer's ego, Thomas Heatherwick has plenty to share. Clocking in at 600 pages and over two inches thick, this first retrospective publication on the British designer collects what must be everything Heatherwick has ever produced (and not had realized) since his school days in the early 1990s. The monograph coincides with the first solo exhibition on Heatherwick Studio, what the V&A calls "one of the most inventive and experimental British design studios practicing today." While one could debate if the beefy monograph and solo show are warranted, what is most rewarding about the book is its insight into the namesake designer's thinking. Process is key, and it comes across both in the illustrations and the conversational descriptions that accompany the designs.

Unlike many monographs, Making does not include essays from outside practitioners, academics, or authors praising the designs and author. A short essay by Heatherwick, "From I to We," starts the book, laying out the collaborative studio environment that has fostered designs like the UK Pavilion for the Shanghai Expo that graces the cover. The projects start less than 20 pages into the book, not breaking until page 590, making for a book packed with projects. More than individual designs, what stands out are the continuity between some of the projects and the yearly Xmas cards. The former is particularly evident in two projects -- Belsay Sitooterie, Barnards Farm Sitooterie -- that are obvious precedents for the UK Pavilion. They exhibit a working out of ideas at different scales, culminating in the studio's most distinctive work, one that has guaranteed international exposure for Heatherwick.

The UK Pavilion clearly brings Heatherwick into the realm of architecture (not his first architectural project, mind you, and certainly not his last, as his commissions grow in scale), but his projects range from the large down to the small, such as the Xmas cards. These clever creations were a great surprise, particularly for the way each one exploited the potential of materials -- envelopes, postcards, stamps -- that are now eschewed in favor of electronic greeting cards and social media notes. As much as the commissioned designs, the Xmas cards give insight into process, revealing the diversity of creations for what is basically the same design problem year after year. The cards also convey how design extends into every aspect of Heatherwick's and his studio's lives; design is not just a job that is done after clocking out at 5pm. This is hardly news to designers, but it's refreshing to be reminded of it in books like this one.

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Carrot City

Carrot City: Creating Places for Urban Agriculture by Mark Gorgolewski, June Komisar, Joe Nasr
The Monacelli Press, 2011
Hardcover, 240 pages

Urban agriculture in its latest guise is a concept I first encountered in 2004 when I wrote an article on Chicago's aptly named City Farm and its Mobile City Farmstead. Run by Ken Dunn, the project occupies vacant city lots of a certain minimize size, and grows vegetables for sale to the public and to restaurants. One of the latter is Rick Bayless's well known Frontera Grill, among other high-end restaurants in Chicago that serve this locally grown produce. City Farm is an example of urban agriculture that is echoed in the admirable Carrot City by Mark Gorgolewski, June Komisar, and Joe Nasr, but it is just one way of reintroducing agriculture into a context long paved over and supplied by fields far beyond the city's edges.

About half of the projects assembled in Carrot City are built precedents, typically small in scale, while the remainder are theoretical projects that tend to imagine urban agriculture on a larger scale. I'm drawn to the former for a number of reasons: It's very easy to imagine integrating farming into cities, but the reality is more complicated and requires testing, so working precedents are valuable; like City Farm, many of the built precedents are small, but they have a substantial impact on their surroundings, extending beyond the land being used for producing food (social, aesthetic); and these examples of urban agriculture can actually be visited, not just imagined.

The book breaks the 40 projects into four chapters: Imagining the Productive City, Building Community and Knowledge, Redesigning the Home, and Producing on the Roof. Highlights include the Inuvik Community Greenhouse, a conversion of an old skylit skating rink; the Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson Community Garden in Queens; the Edible Campus at McGill University in Montreal; Mole Hill Community Housing's sculpted alleyway in Vancouver; Fritz Haeg's popular Edible Estates; and the roof of the Gary Comer Youth Center in Chicago (the top photo on the cover). There is plenty for everybody.

A fifth chapter, Components for Growing, focuses on the pieces that go into creating urban farms -- composters, greenhouses, planting beds, etc. -- to better give readers an arsenal for implementing even smaller scale interventions on their own property, in community gardens, or some other location. Lots of recent and upcoming books are picking up on the urban agriculture trend, tackling it from different points of view, be it broadly (sustainability), theoretically (changing cities), or practically (how to___). Carrot City, as the name indicates, focuses on "creating places," and in this regard it should be referenced by individuals and groups when they take steps towards growing food in cities.

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SHoP: Out of Practice

SHoP: Out of Practice by SHoP Architects
The Monacelli Press, 2012
Hardcover, 420 pages

Given their output, it is probably surprising to many people that this is the first monograph on New York City-based SHoP Architects. But given the firm's distinct levels of diversity, control, and perfection -- evident in the fact they designed the branding and graphic design that defines the look and feel of the book -- this shouldn't be a surprise after all. Founded in 1996 by Christopher Sharples, Coren Sharples, William Sharples, Kimberly Holden, and Gregg Pasquarelli, the firm's name starts to describe the defining traits of the now 60-person firm. As an acronym of the five partner's last names, SHoP expresses the founding individuals but also a focus on the larger team and the desire to build. The last, as it becomes apparent reading the introduction by Philip Nobel and the various essays by SHoP, is what drove the five to start their own firm and what defines its shape and its output. Straddling the realms of high design, academia, and the corporate, SHoP is increasingly seen as a model for a successful 21st-century architecture office, the antithesis of traditional models based on the single design guru or the service firm on the other spectrum.

Evidence of their unique position can be found in the various offshoots and collaborations that extend from the base of SHoP Architects: SHoP Construction was created to "utilize emerging technologies to provide sustainable construction management"; HeliOptix aims "to become the preeminent supplier of building integrated energy saving and producing systems for new and existing commercial facilities"; and G.Works, a partnership between HR&A Advisors and Buro Happold Consulting Engineers, that is "a single source for real estate energy efficiency projects" and is working with SHoP on their South Street Seaport project. These companies illustrate the reach of SHoP's thinking and day-to-day activities beyond just design, even though it's clear that the firm has strong design skills and is able to get them realized to better effect through their firm structure. SHoP is most outspoken about their willingness to use digital technologies to aid in fabrication of various components (facades, screens, etc.) through an early involvement with fabricators and other sub-contractors. This approach extends their risk but often equates with more design control and the ability to achieve more innovative designs at the cost of standard solutions.

The sizable monograph, handsomely covered in green linen with embossed text, collects 13 completed and in-progress projects. These range from their first project (MoMA/PS1's Dunescape) to the Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards, which will make their name more commonplace beyond the architectural circles where they are currently known; the high-profile stadium for the Nets will be a visible piece of the unfolding saga of Atlantic Yards as well as a photogenic backdrop for televised basketball games.  Between each project are visual essays that describe the various ways that SHoP distinguishes itself in its approach to architectural design and construction. Examples include "What classifies architectural practice?", "What makes construction intelligent?", and "Can we go beyond green bling?" Halfway through the book the partners delve into these and other areas with a long text essay that uses narratives to describe how their approach actually works in practice. The accumulation of text (including Nobel's intro), visual essays, and the documentation of the projects leads to a good deal of insight into SHoP without sharing all of their secrets. Over the course of fifteen years they have gained the skills and defined a unique approach that not only sets them apart from their peers but has allowed them to grow at a time when most firms are shrinking. As the in-progress projects attest, this means larger projects around the world and a diversity of designs that stem from their uniqueness without screaming "SHoP."

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Rafael Moneo: Remarks on 21 Works

Rafael Moneo: Remarks on 21 Works by Rafael Moneo, with photographs by Michael Moran, edited by Laura Martínez de Guereñu
The Monacelli Press, 2010
Softcover, 668 pages

In the preface to José Rafael Moneo's book highlighting 21 of his completed buildings from 1973-2007, the Spanish architect asserts that "it is a chronicle of the theoretical concerns of the discipline at the time these projects were built." This approach, which makes this book less a traditional monograph and more a reflection on architecture in a larger context, links to book to Moneo's earlier Theoretical Anxiety and Design Strategies in the Work of Eight Contemporary Architects. The insight he levied upon architects like Rem Koolhaas, Aldo Rossi, and Alvaro Siza are now turned inward to the inspirations, the design process, and the issues influencing his architecture. The essays are more than insightful; they are honest, intelligent, and varied in what they say, each catered to the projects as carefully as the buildings are crafted to their unique sites and circumstances. For a sampling see this week's dose, featuring five projects by Moneo.

The 21 projects are treated consistently throughout the book: a front page highlights the principle addressed in the project (the National Museum of Roman Art, for example, is "Building over what was built."); 10-30 pages follow with Moneo's essay alternating with relevant illustrations (drawings, photos, archival images); specially commissioned color photographs by Michael Moran round out each project. The last contributes to the consistency of the book and elevates the beauty of the book considerably. The book's structure also reads on the edges of the paper, a striping that combines with the orange linen cover to create a handsome volume. This structure also gives equal weight to each project; arranged chronologically no single project stands out above the rest as the best or most important. Therefore the principles that Moneo uses to preface each project become extremely important, helping readers navigate the issues spanning four decades. These principles also show the care in thought Moneo gives in this book, evident in his architecture as well as the way he presents it.

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Immaterial World and a+t 36

Immaterial World: Transparency in Architecture by Mark Kristal
Monacelli Press, 2011
Hardcover, 216 pages

a+t 36: Strategy Public edited by Javier Mozas & Aurora Fernandez Per
a+t, 2010
Paperback, 320 pages

As I've mentioned on my web pages numerous times when reviewing books, collections of contemporary architecture need some sort of conceptual reason for choosing and presenting the projects in their pages. Gathering buildings by typology (houses, offices, retail spaces, hotels, etc.), on the other hand, are good for architects hoping to gain some inspiration and knowledge on a narrow field of vision, the one pertaining to their project at hand. Collections based on type range from cursory presentations with a paragraph or two from the architect and some color photos to in-depth case studies that highlight the unique aspects of the designs, from the general to the detail in photos and drawings. The same range basically applies to collections based not on type but on something else, be it sustainability, materials, geography, or some other conceptual thread. These two books stake out different territories in their contemporary collections, though each should be commended for conceptual clarity as well as quality architecture.

Mark Kristal's previous book, Re:Crafted, looked at contemporary notions of craft in a wide range of primarily residential projects, from the traditional to the quizzical. In Immaterial World the first impression is a subtle translucency, as evidenced by Thomas Phifer's Salt Point House that graces the cover. Yet this is not the case, Kristal is not aiming to present projects that seem to dematerialize themselves and the boundaries between inside and outside (even though a number of the projects inside do just that). His conceptual backbone is more nuanced; he presents a number of again varied projects in terms of transparency. Trying to find a building's essence, he contends that "transparency has enabled me to find my way into even the most resistant designs." So while the projects do not all share a predilection for perforated metal facades or super-clear glass, for example, their explanation is aided by Kristal's approach. In this sense the book is aimed at a more general audience, not directly at practicing architects like collections based on building type.

So how do Kristal's analyses in terms of transparency hold up? A few examples might help, one transparent, one translucent, and one primarily opaque. In the case of the first, he explains that SANAA's Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art uses physical transparency to achieve programmatic transparency, so views across galleries are present as are views of the workshops, places normally closed off from the public gaze. For the second and Phifer's Salt Point House, Kristal talks as much about the skylights and glass flooring as the perforated steel exterior that acts as a "thermal envelope" while giving the house an ethereal quality. Lastly, from certain angles UNI's XSmall House appears to be three solid wood boxes, but the windows are strategically placed to maintain privacy for its residents and the nearby buildings in a "residential compound" by the architects. In these cases transparency is respectively literal yet linked to program and history; varied in terms of percentage and exposure; and minimized to control views in and out. To me, this works quite well.

Strategy Public is Spanish publisher a+t's first issue in the new Strategy series, coming on the heels of Hybrids, and before that Civilities. As publisher and editor of magazines and books on contemporary architecture, a+t appears to value organization and categorization in their efforts to present buildings and landscapes. Their themes respond to what is happening in architecture and urbanism, without catering the different series so certain buildings can be included. For example, the Hybrids series presented urban developments that combined different programs in various ways. Sure it featured Steven Holl's Linked Hybrid and some other high-profile architecture, but the theme was rooted in observations on the urban condition and architects' attempts to integrate mixed-uses and vitality into large projects. Strategy is, like Kristal's collection, a means of analysis. It is a way of backtracking from a building's finished product to its genesis, finding important design strategies in this reverse chronology that are then cross-referenced with other projects. The result is a matrix that is focused on landscape urbanism (small letters, not the capitalized words and its semi-controversial movement) in its first issue.

Before getting to the projects, the reader is presented with the various landscape urbanism strategies. These range from abstractions like "connecting" and "integrating" to physical ones like "managing rain water" and "regenerating waterfronts." Each of the 22 projects is found in more than strategy, and these are highlighted in a matrix on the project page; the matrix is gridded with scale across the top (territory, site, objects) and approach down the side (environmental, social, formal). The combination of strategies and scale/approach matrix can be a bit overwhelming at times, but a designer utilizing the book as a tool for finding examples of, let's say, reusing parts of the site will find the book quite helpful. Likewise, if an individual project sparks one's interest, the matrix illustrates the various strategies, so exploration based on particular aspects of the design is aided. The project documentation follows the trend of other a+t titles, meaning its fantastic in its combination of photos and drawings. Here the strategies are layered across this content...literally, as the strategies are also placed next to relevant photos. As somebody who absorbs plenty of contemporary collections, I'm again impressed with a+t; as an architect I'll be even more happier if the next issue focuses on buildings.

Immaterial World:
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a+t 36:
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