July 1, 2007
New and notable books on architecture, culture, and design
Calatrava: Complete Works 1979–2007
EDITED BY Philip Jodidio
Taschen, 520 pp., $125
It seems like an odd moment to release Calatrava’s “complete works,” given how many of his large high‑profile projects are just now approaching construction—including the World Trade Center transit hub, a 48‑story residential tower in Lower Manhattan, and the 160‑story Chicago Spire Tower. Perhaps the book is a preemptive strike: Calatrava, after all, has been criticized recently for purveying obvious icons and kitschy one‑liners. Complete Works repositions him as the multitalented wunderkind from Valencia, an architect‑engineer‑artist equally at home mixing watercolors and spinning filaments of steel into impossibly delicate bridges. The lavishly illustrated 12‑pound doorstop—which comes packaged in a sort of cardboard suitcase—should provide plenty of fodder for fans and detractors alike.
Flexible: Architecture that Responds to Change
BY Robert Kronenburg
Laurence King, 240 pp., $50
Flexible architecture sounds a little more glamorous and high‑techy than its reality, which is simply any building that responds easily to changes in use, operation, or location. But even lowtech interventions can create remarkable effects. Gerrit Rietveld’s 1924 house for Truus Schröder-Schräder, for example, includes a system of sliding and folding walls and surfaces to create dynamic, changeable living spaces. In fact, the author’s interest in adaptable architecture stems from a student pilgrimage to Le Corbusier’s chapel of Notre Dame du Haut, in southeast France. Corbu could hardly be accused of flexibility—“machines for living,” “towers in the park,” etc.—yet his best work interacts with and responds to human needs in a way that is timeless and occasionally transformative.
La Maison de Verre: Pierre Chareau’s Modernist Masterwork
BY Dominique Vellay
PHOTOGRAPHS BY François Halard
Thames & Hudson, 160 pp., $60
This is a rare look inside Chareau’s 1932 residence for Annie and Jean Dalsace, a luminous three‑story glass box inserted into an eighteenth‑century town house in the center of Paris. The author is the Dalsaces’ granddaughter, and her introductory reminiscences of visiting the house as a child and later living in it as an adult set a tone of hushed admiration: the house seemed like an enigmatic presence even to the people who lived there. The 83 photographs, which document all of the main rooms, often from several angles, offer evidence as to why: sliding screens and hidden doors, exposed steel beams and towering metal bookshelves, and of course the glowing glass‑block facade all contribute to an aura of rigorous mysteriousness.
Vignelli: From A to Z
WRITTEN AND DESIGNED BY Massimo Vignelli
Images Publishing, 196 pp., $50
“Graphic design, for me, is the organization of information,” Vignelli writes in this first-person survey of his work (often done with his wife, Lella)—itself organized alphabetically by topic, from Ambiguity to Vignelli Associates. (For the last chapter he writes: “I really have nothing to say with the letter Z, so this is the end.”) Vignelli’s writing is candid and enthusiastic—if occasionally meandering—and the book is filled with tossed‑off aphorisms for his fellow practitioners: “The role of the designer should be subliminal; otherwise, it is a failure.” And then there is the work, much of which looks as fresh today as when it was created. The only chapter that hasn’t aged well is “G,” for Garments: Did people ever really wear the rounded, formless linen-and-wool jumpsuits that the Vignellis designed in the 1980s, which look like a cross between monks’ robes and a Star Trek uniform?
The Tennessee Valley Authority: Design and Persuasion
EDITED BY Tim Culvahouse
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Richard Barnes
Princeton Architectural Press, 144 pp., $40
The Tennessee Valley Authority is recognized for building the dams and power plants that rehabilitated a large swath of the American South after the Depression, and for being one of the most comprehensive, well organized, and successful of FDR’s New Deal programs. But less well known is its role in applying international Modernist ideas to the rural landscape of the South. An influx of European architects and engineers steered the agency toward an ornament-free industrial aesthetic, manifested in everything from the monumental raw‑concrete dams to compact, efficient home appliances. Six essays frame the TVA’s output as a surprisingly cohesive body of work.
Design and Landscape for People: New Approaches to Renewal
BY Clare Cumberlidge and Lucy Musgrave
Thames & Hudson, 224 pp., $50
This book presents 23 case studies, each an example of architects, designers, developers, or artists making measurable contributions to people’s lives—by, say, turning vacant lots into sources of food and employment, or designing a children’s merry‑go‑round that pumps water for a South African village. The projects are diverse, but as the authors write in the introduction: “They share common principles that are critical to their success: they are cross‑disciplinary, socially engaged, environmentally aware, and inventive.” It’s true, and there is much in the book to admire. But by the end of this parade of successful interventions, one almost wishes for a companion volume of the ill‑conceived and disastrous, just to put things in context.
Open House: Architecture and Technology for Intelligent Living
CURATED BY Jochen Eisenbrand, Gloria Gerace, and Susanne Jaschko
DESIGNED BY Thorsten Romanus and Bellinda Behnke
Vitra Design Museum, 267 pp., $75
This is the catalog for last spring’s exhibition at the Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, California, which travels next year to the Vitra Design Museum, in Weil am Rhein, Germany. For the show, 16 architects and designers imagined how new technologies and innovative materials will shape the future of domestic and residential architecture; the results are wildly varied but consistently engaging. Of the six accompanying essays, Beatriz Colomina’s on “houses of the future” as imagined in midcentury America—often a glassy domed thing on stilts or a giant insulated bubble—is particularly good. “The house of the future is about escaping today,” she writes. The imagined houses in Open House, by contrast, display a welcome inclination to embrace, rather than escape, their social and environmental contexts.