August 1, 2006
New and notable books on architecture, culture, and design.
Le Corbusier’s Hands
By André Wogenscky
Translated by Martina Millà Bernad
MIT Press, 96 pp., $14.95
Le Corbusier has become such a mythical figure that it’s easy to lose sight of his humanity. And who better to remind us than his longtime assistant and friend, André Wogenscky, whose decades at Corbu’s side gave him a unique understanding of the man behind the myth? In 50 short poetic chapters, he recounts his conversations and experiences with the Modernist master, including the memorable day that Picasso spent at the Marseilles site. Fascinating as these anecdotes are, it’s the author’s recurring portraits of Le Corbusier’s hands that tell his true story—one of genius and frailty, power and tenderness.
Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House
Photography by Paul Clemence
Foreword by Dirk Lohan
Schiffer, 93 pp., $34.95
Nestled among the trees lining the banks of the Fox River in Illinois, the Farnsworth House is a quiet testament to Bauhaus ideals. Paul Clemence distills its purist spirit in grainy black and white, with exterior views of the house that capture the flirtation between its stark right angles and rugged natural setting. Color interior shots capitalize on the warm tones of Mies’s leather-upholstered furniture and smooth wooden surfaces, coaxing a domestic feel from the functionalist sparseness. Dirk Lohan, Mies’s grandson, provides the historic background for the photographic study.
Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America
By Alan Berger
Designed by Project Projects
Princeton Architectural Press, 255 pp., $34.95
If you’ve ever looked out of an airplane window over the American urban landscape below, chances are you’re familiar with the “drosscape,” the sprawling wasteland on a city’s periphery that supports the spillage and detritus of industrial life—acres of contaminated land, redundant commercial space, and dumping grounds for infrastructure. Is it possible to reclaim this land profitably, sustainably, and holistically? Berger’s “Drosscape Manifesto” suggests that with some creative thinking, it is. And judging from his aerial photos, it’s a task that’s long overdue.
Designing Pornotopia: Travels in Visual Culture
By Rick Poynor
Designed and typeset by Nick Bell Design
Princeton Architectural Press, 208 pp., $24.95
We all know that sex sells, but are we selling our souls—and spoiling the mystery of eroticism—by overdosing on sexual imagery? What are the implications of this media flesh frenzy? In his anthology of essays, author Poynor muses on the deluge of lusty design, unabashed advertising, and subversive visual messages that saturate our environment. His travels take us from an encounter with Stefan Sagmeister to an imagined world without ads, probing beyond the sexual to reveal the subtleties of our visual culture. Poynor’s prose is witty and direct, his ideas provocative, and his observations utterly on the mark.
Claude-Nicolas Ledoux: Architecture and Utopia in the Era of the French Revolution
By Anthony Vidler
Graphic Design by Sylvie Milliet
Birkhäuser, 160 pp., $46.95
Hailed by some as Le Corbusier’s eighteenth-century forerunner, Ledoux envisioned a utopian architecture that would embody Enlightenment ideals in stone. However, his particular brand of social reform, his outlandishly exaggerated neoclassical geometry, and his ancien régime connections didn’t go down well with critics in the Revolutionary climate. Vidler delivers thoughtful studies of Ledoux’s built and projected works, situating their unconventional forms and ideology within the intellectual and architectural atmosphere of the day. Replete with reproductions of engravings and rich photography, this meticulously researched monograph is a valuable source on a wayward—though ultimately very influential—French architect.