New and notable books on architecture, culture, and design

Paul T. Frankl and Modern American Design
BY Christopher Long
DESIGNED BY Baseman Design Associates

One of the founding fathers of Modern American design was an Austrian, educated in Vienna and Berlin, who opened a furniture showroom in New York City shortly after World War I. Summering in a small cabin upstate in 1925, Frankl created a space-saving arrangement of stacked bookcases that resembled a skyscraper. Within a year the Skyscraper style had exploded; in 1926 Good Furniture Magazine called it “as American and as New Yorkish as Fifth Avenue itself.” This monograph traces Frankl’s career from Vienna to New York and eventually Los Angeles, where he became interior designer for such Hollywood royalty as Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and Alfred Hitchcock.

The Suburbanization of New York
EDITED BY Jerilou Hammett and Kingsley Hammett

Is New York City becoming a massive, overpriced suburb—a sanitized urban Disneyland for tourists and the wealthy elite? Short answer: yes. At least that’s the overwhelming impression one gets from the 14 essays collected here. Fortunately, the writers are interested in exploring the historical and political forces behind this transformation and not just complaining about how many Starbucks there are in the East Village (three, if you’re wondering). Still, it’s hard not to feel nostalgic for the gritty 1980s downtown Manhattan that Maggie Wrigley recalls in her introductory essay: “all color and personality, unpredictability and, yes, some peril.” And now? “You cannot legally smoke in a bar.”

James Marston Fitch: Selected Writings on Architecture, Preservation, and the Built Environment
EDITED BY Martica Sawin
W. W. NORTON, 312 pp., $28

Remembered as the father of historic preservation, Fitch was also an early proponent of energy conservation and ecological sensitivity in architecture. In a 1984 essay for these pages, he wrote that, while the discussion of skyscrapers had become “a major spectator sport,” few people considered the towers’ effects on the occupants inside or on the street life below—an argument that could be made today with little modification. That essay, one of 24 collected here, is a good example of Fitch’s critical style: attuned to beauty and formal innovation but always pushing for a consideration of a building’s wider context and long-term viability.

The Function of Ornament
EDITED BY Farshid Moussavi and Michael Kubo
ILLUSTRATED BY J. Seth Hoffman, Joshua Dannenberg,
Raha Talebi, and Fred Holt
DESIGNED BY Manuel Cuyàs
ACTAR, 192 pp., $30

Fluted, aggregated, rusticated, textured, tonal, tartan, or camouflaged—­ornament in architecture can take a remarkable array of forms, as this graphic guide from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design makes clear. The book contains 42 ornamental effects—annoyingly called “affects” here—each of which receives four pages of detailed illustrations. The results are informative and addictive: the illustrations are fun to browse but also reward close inspection, and the architecture selections are excellent and wide-ranging, from the “cinematic” glass blocks of Pierre Chareau’s 1932 Maison de Verre to the quilted glass-and-steel cladding of Herzog & de Meuron’s 2003 Prada Aoyama store.

Domesticity at War
BY Beatriz Colomina
DESIGNED BY Reinhard Steger
MIT PRESS, 280 and 400 pp., $50

This tall, narrow hardcover actually conceals two connected books: one with Colomina’s text and, above it, a smaller flip-book of photographs. Looking at just the photos, you might guess that her focus is midcentury Modern design, with liberal doses of Mies and the Eameses. But Colomina, a professor of architecture at Princeton University, has a more provocative project in mind: examining how postwar American architects imported techniques and materials developed for military applications into the domestic sphere. Her argument is compelling and wide-ranging—hampered only slightly by the clumsy juggling act required to negotiate two books at once.

Inside Outside—Petra Blaisse
EDITED BY Kayoko Ota
NAI PUBLISHERS, 504 pp., $60

“Look at what architecture CAN’T do!” reads a caption in this dense and ­colorful survey of the Dutch interior and landscape designer’s work. The captioned photo shows a yellow silk curtain billowing out of a building in Amsterdam, where Blaisse’s studio, Inside Outside, is based. Indeed, curtains are what Blaisse is best known for, and there are plenty on view here—in tulle, plissé, velvet, and voile; for sun reflection, sound absorption, climate regulation, and, yes, ornamentation. The book is so crowded with images and text that it occasionally loses focus, but when Blaisse and her editor strive for coherence—as in the detailed 26-page chapter on the Seattle Central Library’s interiors and gardens—it’s all the more refreshing.

House: Black Swan Theory
BY Steven Holl
DESIGNED BY Project Projects

“Black swan theory” refers to Holl’s own proposal, in 1988, of an architecture rooted in its specific situation and hence “mutable and unpredictable.” So how does this collection of 15 residences designed between 1986 and 2006 measure up? Pretty well. Some of these projects are well known and have been published widely; others were never built and are shown here as models and renderings. But all of them demonstrate Holl’s commitment to buildings that reveal and enhance the unique qualities of their sites. And since the projects are ordered by size—from largest to smallest—you get the feeling as you flip the pages that you are viewing progressively more distilled versions of the same theme. By the time you reach the end, a wood-framed hut with no electricity, no plumbing, and no insulation (actually built in 2001) seems almost inevitable.

CURATED BY Tom Dixon, Maria Helena Estrada, Pierre Keller, Sang-kyu Kim, Didier Krzentowski, Julie Lasky, Guta Moura Guedes, Brian Parkes, Francesca Picchi, and Chieko Yoshiie
DESIGNED BY Jannuzzi Smith
PHAIDON, 444 pp., $70

With 10 curators, 100 emerging industrial designers, and 1,000 color illus­trations, this eight-pound sequel to 2002’s Spoon aims to catalog the most ­exciting product design of the last five years. In the preface Emilia Terragni is careful to point out some of the broad themes within this riot of products, particularly a concern with social responsibility, the widespread use of recycled materials, and the inevitable interest in portable and personal ­technology. But the book is just as noteworthy for the stylish oddballs and zany one-offs scattered throughout, from Manuel Bandeira’s ­whimsical suction-cup-mounted underwear-drying racks to Lambert Kamps’s bulbous inflatable PVC bridge.

Details in Contemporary Architecture
BY Christine Killory and René Davids

The first volume of PAP’s new “As Built” series, which will focus on formal and material innovation in architecture, this book presents 25 projects completed in the past two years in the United States and Canada. The idea is to focus in on significant details: screens, walls, doors, windows, roofs, and stairs that are particularly clever or technically impressive. For architects trying to figure out how Morphosis rigged the pneumatic facade system on the Caltrans District 7 Headquarters, or how Alsop Architects got its 80,000-square-foot addition to the Ontario College of Art and Design to float eight stories above the ground, this is the place to look.

Carlo Scarpa: Architecture and Design
EDITED BY Guido Beltramini and Italo Zannier
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Gianantonio Battistella and Václav Šedý
RIZZOLI, 320 pp., $65

For this chronological presentation of Scarpa’s five-decade career, spanning 1932 to 1978, the photographers visited all 58 of the Italian master’s completed structures (all but one in Italy), creating a gorgeous set of images in the process. Scarpa was often called upon to integrate his architecture into and around existing historic buildings, and the delicacy of these interventions still stands out. Yet his most famous work is the Brion family tomb in Treviso, a sprawling necropolis dominated by geometric concrete edifices that, nearly 30 years later, look like the ruins of an alien civilization. Scarpa is buried in the garden.

Visualizing Density
BY Julie Campoli and Alex S. MacLean
DESIGNED BY Peter M. Blaiwas, Vern Associates Inc.

Density, popularly associated with overcrowding, congestion, crime, and noise, gets a bad rap. But the authors of this impressively researched volume are committed to showing what constitutes good density, and how planners and developers can foster its growth. The hypnotic aerial photographs by MacLean help illustrate concepts like horizontal spread, green infrastructure, and monoculture. The second half of the book is devoted to the Density Catalog, a painstaking collection of photographs and plans documenting more than 250 examples of density at all scales, from less than one unit per acre (Beverly Hills) to nearly 300 (New York City).

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