June 1, 2007
New and notable books on architecture, culture, and design
We Love Magazines
EDITED BY Andrew Losowsky
DESIGNED BY Jeremy Leslie
Mike Koedinger, 392 pp., $50
Created for Colophon 2007, a three-day symposium in Luxembourg last March, this book highlights ten independent magazines on subjects ranging from Tokyo girls’ street style (Fruits) and Danish erotic fashion photography (S) to French junk-food culture (Yummy). There are also essays, a series of “great moments” in magazines, and a directory of more than 1,000 publications in 52 countries. Like a lot of the titles it celebrates, the book rewards browsing but is only intermittently worth reading. Still, there are some fun stories of publishing bravado. In 1994, when the art director of the defunct American music magazine Ray Gun received a lackluster interview with Bryan Ferry, he responded by setting the entire story in Zapf Dingbats, an unreadable, symbols-only typeface. We love self-destructive magazines.
The Nature of Photographs
BY Stephen Shore
Phaidon, 136 pp., $40
This primer was developed from a course Shore taught at Bard College for years, and it is full of brief, insightful comments. The author’s aim is not to examine content but “to describe physical and formal attributes of a photographic print that form the tools a photographer uses to define and interpret the content.” His writing is bolstered by dozens of examples by luminaries in the field—including William Eggleston, Robert Frank, Joel Sternfeld, Cindy Sherman, and Shore himself—as well as anonymous snapshots, film publicity stills, and a geographical survey photo.
BY Michael Webb
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Tim Street-Porter
DESIGNED BY Lorraine Wild, Victoria Lam, and Robert Ruehlman
Rizzoli, 224 pp., $45
The Modernist paradise in question is the Boyd Collection, a mother lode of twentieth-century furniture housed in Oscar Niemeyer’s only North American residence, in Santa Monica, California. In 2003 the Boyds rescued the home from demolition, restored it, and furnished it with classics and rarities by a who’s who of Modernist designers: Rietveld, Prouvé, Breuer, Jacobsen, the Eameses. The book is a lush, glossy tribute to the museum-quality collection, which also includes historic paintings, posters, books, and household accessories. Indeed, looking at the photos it’s hard to believe that a family of four lives here—although, as Gabrielle Boyd rightly points out in an essay, “All of these things were designed to be lived with.”
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe & Lilly Reich: Furniture and Interiors
BY Christiane Lange
Hatje Cantz, 208 pp., $55
Mies and Reich’s personal and creative partnership lasted 13 years, during which they worked on some of the most celebrated Modernist furniture of all time, including the iconic Barcelona and Brno chairs. One of their lesser-known collaborations was with the businessman Hermann Lange, who between 1927 and 1930 had them design his home in Krefeld, Germany, and his daughter’s Berlin apartment. When the author—Lange’s great-granddaughter—began researching the history of some family photos, she discovered a substantial amount of furniture by Mies and Reich, much of which had never been published. This book presents a catalog of that furniture, a detailed history of the designers’ work for the Lange family—and remarkably, not a single photo of Mies chomping on his trademark cigar.
BY Sim van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan
Island Press, 256 pp., $30
This is the tenth-anniversary edition of the influential text on ecological design, which the authors define as “any form of design that minimizes environmentally destructive impacts by integrating itself with living processes.” To illustrate five corresponding principles, they use the example of the “compost privy,” a household toilet that, yes, composts human waste. While most designers probably aren’t ready to take things quite that far, the fundamental ideas at work here—conserving resources, designing with nature, making people responsible for their own shit (literally)—undoubtedly deserve consideration.
Shop America: Midcentury Storefront Design, 1938–1950
EDITED BY Jim Heimann
ESSAY BY Steven Heller
Taschen, 246 pp., $50
A modern bakery. An exclusive hosiery shop. A cocktail lounge. A furrier. These are some of the places of business that, in the sunny world of midcentury America, demanded elegant and eye-catching storefront designs—a service that enterprising “storefronteers” were happy to provide. This monograph collects nearly 100 examples of the hand-illustrated “style suggestions” that designers circulated to business owners, exhorting them to make use of floodlit display windows, cantilevered flower boxes, and ribbon-type metal lettering to lure customers. Who, after all, could resist a dairy bar “sure to excite favorable comment” thanks to a human-size cow’s head in colorful Carrara glass, winking and wagging its tongue at curious passersby?
Furnish: Furniture and Interior Design for the 21st Century
EDITED BY Robert Klanten, Sophie Lovell, and Birga Meyer
DESIGNED BY Birga Meyer
Die Gestalten Verlag, 272 pp., $55
The editors’ mission was to explore “new domestic territories” for the new century, and the interesting and often bizarre furniture they selected—which includes heavy doses of the Bouroullecs, Established & Sons, and Jurgen Bey—certainly points to an unorthodox vision of the interior. Leafing through, one can’t help but notice two things: first, what a profound influence Droog has had on a generation of young designers; and second, how poorly the United States compares to Europe—there are only two American designers featured, compared to dozens from the UK., France, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
Judging Architectural Value
EDITED BY William S. Saunders
University of Minnesota Press, 175 pp., $23
Can architectural value be judged objectively? And if so, who is best equipped to make those judgments? And perhaps just as im-portant, who cares? These are some of the questions addressed in this Harvard Design Magazine reader, which includes 13 essays by architects, academics, and journalists—all of whom share a welcome conviction that buildings should be evaluated not just on their formal merits but also their impact on the people who live in and around them. Several authors also try to define that extra something—the “imaginative transmission” or “maximum aliveness”—that sets the sublime apart from the merely successful.
Blue Monday: Stories of Absurd Realities and Natural Philosophies
BY Robert Sumrell and Kazys Varnelis
DESIGNED BY Lea
Actar, 176 pp., $27
This is the first book from Architecture Urbanism Design Collective, an informal research unit formed by the authors in 2001. In the introduction they explain their motivation: “In the polar wilderness of contemporary life, like lemmings, we were drawn by a single compulsion, to understand the predicament of the individual through architecture.” While that mission sounds deadly serious, the approach in the book is to focus on quirky stor-ies: a woman who, in 1979, married the Berlin Wall; the strange history of the One Wilshire tower, in downtown Los Angeles; the business culture of the Muzak Corporation; and a desert town in Arizona that each summer attracts (yes, like lemmings) more than one million recreational-vehicle enthusiasts.
International Design Yearbook 21
EDITED BY Patricia Urquiola and Jennifer Hudson
DESIGNED BY Philip Lewis
Abbeville Press, 240 pp., $85
“After years of putting function first, it seems that design is becoming more subjective, and adaptive to our needs, desires and pleasures,” Urquiola writes in the foreword to the latest International Design Yearbook. Certainly the more than 450 designs included here—encompassing cell phones, kitchen sponges, sinks, sofas, chandeliers, and everything in between—tend to favor sensuous and ornate forms. Yet there are also plenty of simple functional products shown—such as a perfect stainless-steel kitchen knife by Industrial Facility or any of the rigorously pared-down consumer electronics by Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa.