Tag Archives: w.w. norton

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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Urban Landscapes:
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Grand Central: Gateway to a Million Lives

Grand Central: Gateway to a Million Lives by John Belle and Maxinne R. Leighton
W. W. Norton, 2012 (reissue)
Hardcover, 240 pages

On February 2 Grand Central Terminal celebrated its 100th birthday. The building looks a lot better than any people or other buildings from 1913, thanks to the restoration that was completed in 1998. For those who never saw the terminal before that year (like me), the building looks like what it must have been when it first opened. But the restoration—like any work of preservation—is equal parts creativity and cleaning. It removed the clutter that blocked windows, made spaces cramped, and otherwise detracted from the Beaux Arts architecture, but it also added elements and reconfigured others to give the terminal hopefully another 100 years of use.

This book—originally published in 2000 but recently reissued by W. W. Norton—is authored by John Belle, architect of the restoration (with Beyer Blinder Belle), and Maxinne R. Leighton, currently with Parson Brinckerhoff. Not surprisingly, the book devotes a good chunk to the restoration work and the documentation of its subsequent splendor. The book starts with the threats to Grand Central from the middle of last century, when even landmark status did not guarantee its protection. A Supreme Court ruling in 1978 in favor of the city's landmarking of the building owed much to Jackie O. and other celebrities that championed the cause in the decade after Penn Station was knocked down. Yet even though it was saved by the wrecking ball, the realities of the economy and train travel meant that advertising and other means of revenue reshaped people's experience of the main hall and other spaces. Such a situation survives to this day in the renting out of the original waiting room for events and pop-up stores, but at least those are temporary and can be avoided by using other entrances (and thankfully Apple's insertion into the main hall is fairly well done).

As valuable as the chapters on Grand Central's preservation and restoration are, the best ones tell the story of the terminal's coming into being. People may see the 100-year-old stone edifice and think that is everything, but the tracks, platforms and other infrastructure that the building serves extend well beyond its footprint, sitting under many of the buildings to the north. These buildings, Park Avenue, and Midtown east of 5th Avenue owe their existence to Grand Central, which was not the first train station on its site (it follows Grand Central Station and Depot) but is the most important, for it submerged the newly electrified rails to allow for building above them. The terminal acted like a magnet and attracted development, especially hotels and offices.

As Grand Central turns 100, its role in the "invention" of Midtown and the area's subsequent transformation is coming to the fore. Two events are underway that will reshape the area around the terminal: First is the LIRR East Side Access, which will deliver trains from Long Island to the east side of Midtown by 2016 (currently they end at Penn Station). Second is the city's proposed rezoning of Midtown East, which aims to boost development around Grand Central, particularly along Park Avenue to the north. These two undertakings illustrate how infrastructure and private development are linked; destroying Grand Central would have adversely affected the former (as the destruction of Penn Station did to the underground maze that New Yorkers inherited), but the days of either/or have given way to a symbiotic appreciation of urban complexity. While this book predates these newest developments, it gives a great background on Grand Central's solid foundations that make it an ideal hub for commuters and the ever-changing Midtown surrounding it.

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Portfolio Design

Portfolio Design, Fourth Edition by Harold Linton
W. W. Norton, 2012
Hardcover, 224 pages

Harold Linton's Portfolio Design was first published in 1996. I remember referencing it as I assembled my portfolio after graduating from undergraduate architecture school the same year. A lot has changed in the last decade and a half, much of which has influenced the shape and form of portfolios. Design work is produced in the computer, rather than by hand; images are modified and portfolio pages are laid out with Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign) or other software; and prospective employers would rather look at PDFs or websites before considering somebody for a position, after which they can look at a print portfolio during an interview. These are not hard and fast rules, of course, but advances in computer technology, and their influence on the production of architectural design, have necessitated three new editions to Linton's helpful book.

While I don't have the third edition, I do have the second edition from 2000. Number four differs from that one most overtly by having color illustrations throughout the book, not just on a few pages in the middle of the book. Linton's preface to the new edition makes it seems that the full-color examples are also a change from the third edition. It is important that every portfolio is example is presented in color: Since the examples are basically printed versions of pages made in InDesign or similar software, what we see on the pages is close to what one would see on a monitor. And this gets at what is missing in this shift to color and reproductions of digitally laid-out pages: Very few physical portfolios are presented as examples. Linton's second edition has plenty of photos of portfolios splayed out so one can see covers, binding, and some pages. But the need to design for digital and print realms simultaneously means the emphasis is on page layout rather than the portfolio's design as a physical book. This is not to say that page layout was not important before (Linton's guidelines from the second edition are pretty much intact in the fourth edition), but the examples stress it more than before.

By staying updated with trends in producing and disseminating portfolios, Linton has kept his book relevant. This is particularly true relative to the examples given, all of which appear to be fairly new. They exhibit the influence of the computer in design as well as in assembling images and laying out pages. Overall the text is helpful in knowing how to approach the design of one's portfolio and how to assemble digital and print materials, but it's the examples that give students and architects plenty of inspiration. Things fall apart a little bit in a chapter on "the interactive environment and portfolio package." While it even incorporates recent platforms like Architizer, Linton's emphasis on branding one's identity and his rudimentary knowledge of social networking make this chapter pale in comparison to the evolving, tried-and-true chapters on portfolio design that precede it. Nevertheless the book is a great reference for students and young architects looking for work or making their portfolio fresh, thanks to Linton's efforts in finding the best examples to go with his helpful text.

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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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American Art Museum Architecture

American Art Museum Architecture: Documents and Design by Eric M. Wolf
W. W. Norton, 2010
Hardcover, 272 pages

When I received this book "exploring the intersections of art, architecture, and design, at both renowned institutions and cutting-edge contemporary collections," I first thought it was simply a coffee table book. The paper sized (11x10.4") is quite large, numerous photographs and other illustrations are included, and even the font size is fairly large (not bordering on the "large type" category, to be sure). But delving into the text on museums in New York City (Frick, Whitney, MoMA), Chicago (Art Institute), Houston (Menil) and Sante Fe, New Mexico (Georgia O'Keefe), it's apparent that the book is a serious study of how these institutions have created buildings over time for their singular collections and approaches to presenting art.

Eric M. Wolf is Head Librarian at the Menil Collection, and he is therefore in an ideal position to study Renzo Piano's well known 1987 building -- and later Cy Twombly Gallery -- in relation to John and Dominique De Menil, their art collection, and the Texas context. His position no doubt made compiling the documents and quotes that depict the history of the institution somewhat easy (not so, see comment at right), but that thoroughness appears in all of the six case studies. In all cases Wolf looks at the shaping of the institution's focus (type of art, type of collection, people involved, etc.), at the important steps leading to the design and construction of their homes for art, and at the architecture's relationship to the art and client.

In a sense the book can be seen as a guide for designing an art museum, helpful for both the architect and the client in seeing primarily the successes in previous undertakings. This also applies to institutions expanding their facilities, as many are undertaking these days, since each case study in the book includes expansions or other means of dealing with growth. Of course the book's appeal is not limited to this quite narrow audience, since Wolf's text is very scholarly yet easily understandable; he is not esoteric in his prose. His articulation of the important considerations and events for each institution is clear and well integrated into the greater narrative for each museum. The cover made me wish for a case study devoted to the Wexner Center by Peter Eisenman, yet it and other institutions focused on contemporary art (New Museum, DIA, ICA) are treated in a final chapter on that area of emphasis. These museums do not have the case studies' decades of history to mine, but their inclusion is appreciated. It is a fitting end to an insightful book on six American art museums, their architecture, and their clients.

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Rematerial: From Waste to Architecture by Alejandro Bahamón and Maria Camila Sanjinés
W. W. Norton, 2010
Paperback, 340 pages

In my neck of the woods (New York City) a lot of attention is being lavished upon MoMA's latest exhibition Small Scale, Big Change and the "eleven architectural projects on five continents that respond to localized needs in underserved communities." A number of the projects utilize local labor, vernacular construction, and common and/or natural materials, but very few (overtly) recycled materials were integrated into the their design and construction. So as I revisited one of Alejandro Bahamón's recent books (here with Maria Camila Sanjinés, but see previous reviews of his books here and here), and I couldn't help think that a number of the case studies would be fitting additions to MoMA's show. These include the Azkoitia Municipal Library in Spain by Estudio Beldarrain (made from wooden railroad ties); Millegomme Cascoland in Cape Town, South Africa by REFUNC.NL (shelters built from old car tires); and a new headquarters for the Open Classroom Association in Granada, Spain (built from pallets and salvaged elements--windows, doors, etc.--from an old building). These three, and others in the book, may fit within the show's overriding social emphasis, but single-family houses by people who don't mind living in shipping containers and the like, restaurants, bars, and others not aligned with the theme are also found, showing how today's designs that incorporates old materials and assemblies bridge across various building types.

Rematerial is comprised of 34 case studies in five chapters on various typologies and an introductory chapter devoted to initiatives that have the potential to span multiple projects. At best I was familiar with half of the projects/designers when I first opened the book; the variety is impressive. In addition to the ones noted above, well known projects like the Big Dig House and projects emanating from Studio 804 and Rural Studio are found alongside lesser known designs like QENEP's Ecological Stove Workshop (it incorporates recycled diapers!) and Sheffield University's Space of Waste (it uses die-cuts and other waste generated in the process of design manufacturer). Ground zero for creative recycling appears to be the Netherlands and Dutch architects REFUNC.NL, who have four projects in these pages as well as an essay by co-founder Jan Körbes. His and the other essays interspersed between the chapters are helpful in framing the ideas found in the projects, and further aid can be found in a short but quality bibliography and list of web sites. And of course mention must be given to the diagrams that illustrate how each project recycles its primary material or assembly; in most cases they don't say more than the accompanying text, but their graphics become useful for making the processes and designs memorable, more than the photos that can be found in just about every other book...and exhibition.

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The Architecture of Patterns

The Architecture of Patterns by Paul Andersen and David Salomon
W. W. Norton, 2010
Paperback, 144 pages

The recent resurgence of patterns, according to Paul Andersen and David Salomon, is in need of some serious theorizing in order to utilize their capabilities to the fullest. A couple examples of this resurgence include Norman Foster's Swiss Re Tower in London and OMA's Seattle Public Library, both presented in this book alongside lesser known and unbuilt works of architecture. For the authors patterns are ideally multifunctional (structural, thermal, visual, etc.) and flexible (regular but variable in response so certain conditions), the results stemming from both considerations. One can find this in traditional patterns, but those tend to be small-scale, such as weaving, rather than architectural enclosures. The computer's role in today's resurgence is obvious and is the overt genearator of the projects presented alongsides Andersen and Salomon's fairly academic text.

While most of the projects here remain unbuilt, the potential is clear for patterns to be more than applique; they can be used to structure the various inputs that must be considered. My favorite example of this is Reiser + Umemoto's O-14 Tower in Dubai; its wrapping, Swiss-cheese exterior is a synthesis of a regular diamond grid with multiple influences: structure, daylighting, material and construction considerations. The result may be static but it exhibits a responsive and dynamic wrapper's idealized state based on what is happening inside and out. That it is only a screen (the glass window walls sit behind the concrete) is the only trait that keeps it from being the penultimate example of the patterns in architecture (though the architects contend the void between the two creates a solar chimney cooling the glass).

As a response to trends in contemporary architecture, Andersen and Salomon's book is a solid attempt at lending patterns some theoretical weight. But it's necessary to discuss the role of David Carson's graphic design for the book, how it contributes to or takes away from the argument. Carson is known for his layouts of skateboarding, surfer, and music magazines in the 1990s, layouts that challenged the reader to decipher the content. He basically took copy and made art out of it, layering text, literally copy and pasting it together with images, in one case even laying out an article in Zapf Dingbats, a commentary on the fluffy content. Now years later with graphic design firmly entrenched, like architecture, in the digital realm, the result is highly readable yet still an influence on how the content is conveyed and potentially interpreted. The techniques used (bold black blocks highlighting text, a variety of fonts throughout, etc.) in effect enliven a text that might have been too dry without his intervention. At its best the graphic design (images, fonts, horizontal layout) works with the words to create spreads that highlight the smaller, intricate ideas within the larger pattern of the book's complex theorizations.

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Key Urban Housing of the Twentieth Century

Key Urban Housing of the Twentieth Century: Plans, Sections and Elevations, by Hilary French
W.W. Norton, 2008

In the introduction to her collection of urban housing projects from last century, architect and architectural historian Hilary French cites Roger Sherwood's Modern Housing Prototypes and Friederike Schneider's Floor Plan Manual as influences. The former's 1978 classic (also maintained as a web page) presents 32 projects in five typological categories, and the latter brings together over 100 multi-story and low-rise housing projects in a similar categorization. French continues the reliance upon two-dimensional drawing conventions as a means for exploring and presenting the evolution of multi-family apartment buildings and the individual units, but she departs slightly by presenting the nearly 90 projects in chronological order, grouped into six thematic chapters that touch upon the general trends at the time. Chapters like European Modernism and Contemporary Interpretations are prefaced with brief explanatory text, elucidating the concerns and notable examples (some not included here) of the respective periods.

While the book's title indicates plans, sections and elevations, the emphasis is clearly on the first, particularly the floor plans of the individual apartments. This further aligns the book with the two preceding titles, though one wishes that more effort was expended on the sections and elevations, as many of the projects are missing one or both, in some cases when they are necessary for fully understanding the designs. Other minor quibbles include the lack of interior photographs (present on less than ten projects, with additional shots in the chapter intros) and confusion that stems from unit plans being rotated from site plans (especially with the less distinctive rectangular plan shapes), something easily remedied by additional north arrows. Nevertheless, the floor plans -- drafted consistently from project to project and at the same scale -- allow for comparison across projects and time. One can track, for example, how bathrooms, bedrooms and overall apartments have increased in size over the years. The selection of projects, not surprisingly, overlaps the book's precursors, though the inclusion of contemporary buildings makes it more appealing than Sherwood's for those with such an interest.

One aspect that sets this book apart from not only the two books mentioned above, but many architectural books today, is the inclusion of a CD-ROM with .dwg and .eps file formats for the 87 projects featured (like Key Contemporary Buildings). One is privy to the content that went into the making of the book, in a format that is typically not found or shared. With the proliferation of photographs on the internet, particularly of completed buildings, having access to CAD files on major architectural works is a rarity one gains with this book.


“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”

"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" by Richard P. Feynman
W. W. Norton, 1997
Paperback, 352 pages

Richard P. Feynman was a physicist, probably most well known for working on the Manhattan Project, what's equally one of the greatest and worst achievements in science. A whole section in the physicist and teacher's autobiography is devoted to his time at Los Alamos, but rather than learning about his work on the bomb, the reader hears stories about him and his wife passing codes back and forth past the mail censors, the author's experiments with human smell, and cracking the safes of scientists and military men on the top secret project. That's not to say Feynman didn't work and excel at his work. He received the Nobel Prize, taught at Cornell and Caltech, and worked at the Center for Physical Research in Brazil, among many jobs. Like Los Alamos, his stories in Brazil deal more with his performing in a mambo band than any actual scientific work, though during his time there we see his devotion to science as he criticizes the country's education and educators -- to their face, not just in this book -- for teaching facts rather than understanding.

While Feynman does not try to educate the reader on science, he expresses a genuine exuberance for the physical world and understanding of the way it works, be it the behavior of ants in his apartment, gambling odds in Vegas, or the laws of beta decay. Eventually we come to understand that one cannot separate Feynman's work from his escapades; they are one and the same in the life of an adventurous and "curious character."