New and notable books on architecture, culture, and design

From Agit-Prop to Free Space: The Architecture of Cedric Price
BY Stanley Mathews
DESIGNED BY Fivebargate

Black Dog Publishing, 285 pp., $45

Price was a radical British architect who rose to prominence in the 1960s and has had a lasting influence despite building very little. He is remembered today for two unrealized projects: the Fun Palace, an unenclosed steel structure that could be adapted to an array of leisure activities; and the Potteries Thinkbelt, a retooling of the university campus as a mo­-bile learning center on railroad tracks. This exhaustive history of his career is not always very readable—Mathews tends to get bogged down in details—but you emerge marveling at both Price’s ingenuity and his optimism in the face of near constant rejection. Rem Kool­haas observed: “Nobody has ever changed ar­chitecture more with fewer means than Cedric Price.”

Manufacturing Processes for Design Professionals
BY Rob Thompson
DESIGNED BY Christopher Perkins

Thames & Hudson, 528 pp., $95

Anyone who works in the design industry—or maintains an interest in it through books, magazines, and blogs—knows about injection molding, CNC machining, rapid prototyping, and a host of other impressive-sounding modern manufacturing processes. But how many people honestly know how these processes work? For everyone who’s been fak­ing it, this massive tome provides the answers in detailed, accessible, extensively illustrated chapters. And it’s all here: more than 70 ­pro­­cesses encompassing forming, cutting, join­ing, and finishing alongside information on applications, cost, speed, environmental impact, and more. Basically, it’s the bible of manufacturing processes. You don’t need to fake it any longer.

Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance
BY Joshua Glenn and Carol Hayes

Princeton Architectural Press, 176 pp., $17.50

Exhibitions and books devoted to humble everyday objects that are, in fact, design mir­acles have become common in recent years. Taking Things Seriously adopts a different approach. Few of the tchotchkes here could be considered design totems. Instead, this is a collection of the crazy junk-pile finds, creepy childhood mementos, and ­sundry souvenirs that have accrued meaning in their owners’ lives. Some of the objects are bizarre, others hardly noteworthy. But the accompanying essays are engrossing. Of course you would cling to a bagel that Christopher Walk­en toasted (and burnt), but what about a Vel­veeta box, an old lightbulb, or a dried-out arti­choke? As Saul Bellow wrote, “The soul wanted what it wanted.”

Design: Intelligence Made Visible
BY Stephen Bayley and Terence Conran

Firefly Books, 336 pp., $50

This is an illustrated design encyclopedia, prefaced by eight essays. The tone is one of high seriousness about Design. But the rigorousness that the authors value in good design is not always evident in the book. Sometimes the writing is lively, other times moribund. Frequently you detect an authorial opinion, which seems at odds with the encyclopedic format. Thomas Heatherwick, Santiago Calatrava, and Jonathan Ive, for example, are praised to the skies—but the authors seem slightly bored by major figures like Marcel Breuer and Philip Johnson. The hundreds of large gorgeous photos make this a useful resource and a fun browse, but ultimately it falls short of being the definitive reference it seems to want to be.

Micro: Very Small Buildings
BY Ruth Slavid

Laurence King, 224 pp., $30

One is tempted to begin the review with a joke about whether “size matters” or not. Obviously, for the architects of the 53 really small structures included here, it does not. As you would expect, severe size restrictions have a tendency to distill a design to its most basic and efficient form. And for young architects, “micro-architecture” provides an opportunity to tackle real building issues of
a limited scope. But perhaps the most appealing thing about these tiny projects is their lightheartedness and lack of pretension (fairly rare qual­ities in much of the architecture community). “You can achieve a lot with a very small building,” Slavid writes, “but pomposity and portentousness are, thank goodness, almost always out of reach.”

Meggs: Making Graphic Design History
EDITED BY Rob Carter, Libby Meggs, and Sandra Wheeler
DESIGNED BY Rob Carter and Sandra Wheeler

John Wiley & Sons, 256 pp., $65

In 1983 Philip Baxter Meggs published A History of Graphic Design, the first real history of the field and still required reading in many graphic-design curricula. Meggs died in 2002 at age 60, and this book is a loving tribute to his legacy as an educator, scholar, writer, and designer. Essays and remembrances paint a portrait of an industrious, intellectually curious, personally modest colleague and friend. And 48 selections from Meggs’s three decades of writing on graphic design (which included a dozen books and more than 150 articles and papers) demonstrate the range of his knowledge in straightforward, precise prose.

Making the Modern Garden
BY Christopher Bradley-Hole

The Monacelli Press, 192 pp., $45

God knows the world doesn’t need another glossy gardening book; bookstore shelves already sag with seemingly endless variations on a genre you might call garden porn. Fortunately, Bradley-Hole, a British land­scape architect, has a mission: to put the garden into a Modernist context and, furthermore, to demonstrate how Modernism in garden design is an ongoing and vital movement. “What Modernism offers us,” he writes, “is the distillation and synthesis of certain fundamentals of garden design.” These fundamentals are explored in three sections: “The Poetry,” “The Grammar,” and “The Narrative.” Pompous titles aside, the writing is serious and informed, and the illustrations wide-ranging and beautiful (but tasteful!).

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