The Metropolis Summer Reading List 2014

Architects, designers, and curators tell us their favorite reads of the summer.

There are few things creative types like more than books. We polled a handful of architects, designers, curators, and our staff members about what they read this summer. Here’s a list of their picks.

David Benjamin
The Living

All book covers courtesy their publishers

Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis
Benjamin Kunkel 

Verso, 2014

These essays by my friend Benjamin Kunkel combine humor, culture, and Marxism into a bracing message about the future of humanity and the planet.

Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2014

This is a startling book of insights about design for uncertainty, design in the context of shifting and unknowable forces, and design for adaptation and regeneration.

Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin
Lawrence Weschler
University of California Press, 1982

This story of Robert Irwin’s early work is full of creativity and wonder. Not only does it offer a great microhistory of a specific moment of contemporary art, but it is also a timeless reflection on what it means to be human.

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
Grove Press, 2006

We could not live full lives without punk.
David Benjamin is principal of The Living and director of the Living Architecture Lab at Columbia GSAPP. Recently acquired by Autodesk, The Living designed this year’s MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program installation, Hy-Fi. In March, Benjamin was selected as one of the Architectural League’s Emerging Voices 2014.


Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space 
Keller Easterling
Verso, 2014

While we’ve followed (and admired) Easterling’s writing for some time, this book promises to be particularly relevant for us. We’ve previously explored the possibilities of physical infrastructure in some of our projects, and found that scaling down the raw materials and rugged simplicity of infrastructural processes and structures can be enormously productive for architectural practice. But this book explores the often-invisible infrastructures—political, social, and economic—that are equally active in shaping the physical world we inhabit.

The Architecture of the City 
Aldo Rossi
The MIT Press; Reprint edition, 1984

Not new to the Formlessfinder bookshelf, but as we’ve begun to think about and design our first permanent urban structures, Rossi’s contemplation of the urban artifact is an indispensable antidote to the steady march of generic master-planning and the growing banality of novelty buildings.

Studies in Tectonic Culture: The Poetics of Construction in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Architecture
Kenneth Frampton
The MIT Press, 1995

Another classic we’re excited to revisit. Theories of tectonics have always been closely tied to architecture’s formal organizations, so they have been important to our work from the beginning. But as we have recently begun building some of our experimental projects, we have been thinking through construction with a finer grain of focus, returning to Frampton’s fundamental insight that architecture’s structural systems do not need to be representational or image based; instead, they offer an internal set of protocols and constraints that can be used to rethink the discipline from the inside out.

How Music Works 
David Byrne 
McSweeney’s, 2013

The fact is that too many of our offices look the same and operate in the same way—which is exactly why architecture needs a book like this. Despite our fetishization of alternative cultural practices, we’re miles away from the places that music and art have gone. Not just a memoir, but an exploration of Byrne’s process of making, this book could challenge architects to think about how we go about the day-in and day-out of what we think of as a creative practice.

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food 
Dan Barber
Penguin Press, 2014

We’re often asked if there’s an architectural equivalent to some of the radical thinking that’s been happening with food. We’re not sure, but it’s an interesting question. Two jumping off points highlighted in The Third Plate seem like they would be interesting for architects to pick up on. First, how can we use and expand on the vocabulary of local and ecological thinking without oversimplifying the content we produce? Second, what if the path to something new and interesting doesn’t involve “truly delicious food” (or in our case the most easily digestible architecture)?

is a Brooklyn-based architecture firm founded by Garrett Ricciardi and Julian Rose. In 2013, Lars Muller released Ricciardi and Rose’s book, Formless: Storefront for Art and Architecture Manifesto Series 1.

Joyce Hwang
Ants of the Prairie

The Man With the Compound Eyes  
Wu Ming-Yi 

Pantheon, 2014

I’m attempting to always have one work of fiction on my reading list, especially in the summer! This novel toes the line between extreme fantasy and hard reality. The story, though apparently fantastical in nature (“hovering over the precipice of wild imagination” as described by The Guardian), is triggered by actual ecological concerns—such as the vortex of floating trash in the ocean—or more political issues, such as Taiwanese identity. The author is from Taiwan, and this is his first work translated into English. He has been compared to Haruki Murakami and David Mitchell—authors I enjoy quite a bit.

Life Would be Perfect If I Lived in That House 
Meghan Daum

Vintage; Reprint edition, 2011

Meghan Daum is a sharp, witty writer who also publishes as a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and has written for the New Yorker, GQ, Harper’s, and the Village Voice. As a kind of memoir of Daum’s experiences, moving from house to house, “fantasizing about finding the right place for the right price,” this book taps into the uncanny relationships between the human psyche and houses. I’m interested in our tendencies, as human beings, to project personal values, hopes, and dreams onto buildings.

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition, 2011

Ever since I finished reading Freakonomics several years ago, I have had SuperFreakonomics on my reading list. I am intrigued by the logics of economics, and how Levitt and Dubner specifically develop complex, yet tight (and often humorous) arguments that not only challenge assumptions, but also reveal dimensions of the world that previously didn’t exist in the public consciousness. I also understand that SuperFreakonomics has a controversial segment on global warming, and I have been very curious to read that.

Architecture Depends 
Jeremy Till

The MIT Press, 2013

Jeremy Till is a thoughtful, provocative voice in the field of architecture. I have been interested in his writing, and particularly in the theses of this book, namely, that architecture is contingent on the messiness of life. We all know that practices of architecture tend to operate on the affirmation of control—control of processes and control of form. But what happens when uncertainty enters into the picture? I am curious to read Till’s discussion of architecture as a social, cultural medium that is inescapably part of our living world of people, politics, and ethics.

Death in the Afternoon 
Ernest Hemingway 

Scribner; Reprint edition, 1996

Although it is popular among environmentalists to stand against bull fighting, I am fascinated by it from a cultural standpoint. Ever since having lived in Spain in the early 2000s, I have been interested in reading Hemingway’s meditations on the contentious sport. It is hard to find another activity that is so identity forming (think: aficionados), yet so elusively difficult to classify. Many describe it as something that exists somewhere on the boundaries between art, sport, and brutality. Federico Garcia Lorca refers to it in his discussion of duende, or the “soul” of an artform. He writes, “The bullfighter who terrifies the public with his bravery in the ring is not fighting bulls, but has lowered himself to a ridiculous level, to doing what anyone can do, by playing with his life: but the toreador who is bitten by the duende gives a lesson in Pythagorean music and makes us forget that he is constantly throwing his heart at the horns.”
Joyce Hwang is director of Ants of the Prairie, an office of architectural practice and research that focuses on confronting contemporary ecological conditions through creative means. In March, Hwang was selected as one of the Architectural League’s Emerging Voices 2014.

Glen Cummings

Permanent Change: Plastics in Architecture and Engineering 
Michael Bell, Craig Buckley (editors)
GSAPP Books and Princeton Architectural Press, 2014

This “rediscovery of the meaning and relevance of plastics” is a surprising and diverse collection of essays that demonstrates yet again how amazing our constructed world is, and how fruitful it can be to resuscitate discarded enthusiasms. Sharp editing from Messrs. Bell and Buckley.

A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics 19431988
Paul Ginsborg
Palgrave McMillan Trade, 2003

A narrative and statistical telling of the perpetual frustrations of the postwar Italian politico-economic context, beginning with scrambling partisans and trailing-off with the unresolved anti-Mafia initiatives of the late eighties. Gripping and direct in the best possible way.

“About Money,” Lapham’s Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 2, Spring 2008
Lewis Lapham, editor

I love the curious primary source documents Lapham’s Quarterly (LQ) pulls together to build a particularly broad and complex picture of a theme that grows more vivid yet never resolves. I’m inching my way through the imprint, but “About Money” sits on the top of my LQ pile at the moment.

Semiotext(e) Intervention Series paperbacks, 2011
Various authors

A great series, in particular the Tiqqun books (Introduction to Civil War and This Is Not a Program) whose fervent post-Negrian critique vacillates between insightful analysis and self-reflexive jargoneering. Assertive and sometimes peculiar snarls. Published at a NYC subway-friendly size.

Glen Cummings is partner and creative director of MTWTFa graphic design studio specializing in publications, environmental graphics and identity systems.

Brooke Hodge
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Having just arrived in New York for my new position as deputy director at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, I’ve been immersing myself in manuscripts and page proofs for the amazing books we are working on for the museum’s December 12th grand reopening. Here are two that I’m especially excited about:

Life of a Mansion
Heather Ewing
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2014

This forthcoming book tells the fascinating story of Andrew Carnegie’s mansion and the founding of Cooper Hewitt as we know it today. It’s been a fantastic resource for me as I bone up on Cooper Hewitt history and lore.

Making Design: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Collection
Designed by Irma Boom 
Cooper Hewitt, October 2014

I was awestruck as I leafed through the page proofs of Making Design. Not your average collection handbook, not by a longshot. I wouldn’t expect anything less from legendary book designer Irma Boom and Cooper Hewitt curators. Irma made her selections from more than 10,000 images and sequenced the book visually. Interspersed among the images are 55 essays by the curators on particular objects. It’s ravishing, and I can’t wait to spend more time with it. I predict it will be an instant classic.

Thomas Heatherwick: Making 
Thomas Heatherwick
Thames & Hudson and Monacelli, 2012

In addition to those titles, I’ve also been spending a lot of time with this book in preparation for an exhibition I’m curating that will open at Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas this September. The show will travel to the Hammer Museum in L.A. next spring and then on to New York, where it will open at Cooper Hewitt in June 2015. Heatherwick is fascinating, and the book is very special because the texts (written by Heatherwick) give a firsthand look into his studio’s creative process.

The Flamethrowers
Rachel Kushner

Scribner, 2014

And, since a little fiction never hurts, my beach read this summer is The Flamethrowers. I know I’m a little late to this particular party, especially since Kushner was one of my Echo Park neighbors in L.A., but the paperback edition fits so nicely in my weekend bag.

Brooke Hodge is deputy director at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

Paul Makovsky

Handmade Urbanism: From Community Initiatives to Participatory Models
Marcos L. Rosa and Ute E. Weiland (editors)

Jovis, 2013

I’m a bit troubled how our public spaces in New York City are increasingly corporatized, so I’m interested in how cities are changing especially from citizen-led perspective. A great city is one where public spaces truly belong to the public and this book has some great examples from Mexico City, Istanbul, Cape Town, São Paulo, and Mumbai.

Designing Patterns: For Decoration, Fashion and Graphics
Lotta Kuhlhorn

Gestaten, 2014

I’ve developed a keen interest in textile design and Lotta Kuhlhorn’s book is probably one of the most interesting books on how to make and develop patterns. One day, I’d like to design a textile, and this is the book (and CD!) that will help me.

Brazil: Land of the Future
Stefan Zweig

Viking Press, 1941

For a visit to São Paulo, I’ve been reading Stefan Zweig’s book on Brazil, written shortly after he moved to Petropolis in 1940. Brazil was the first country I visited as a child, and I’ve been fascinated with it ever since.

Louis Kahn: Beyond Time and Style
Carter Wiseman

W.W. Norton & Company, 2007

For the fall, I’m working on an upcoming feature on Lou Kahn, and this is just the first of a few books on the architect that I need to read.

History of Design Decorative Arts and Material Culture, 14002000
Pat Kirkham and Susan Weber

Yale University Press/Bard Center, 2013

At 704 pages, this monster of a book is a sweeping survey of the history of design and decorative arts that I want to read. Anything from the Bard Graduate Center is always impeccably researched, so I know this is an essential read.
Paul Makovsky is Metropolis’s editorial director.


Terreform ONE

Capital in the Twenty-First Century 
Thomas Piketty
Belknap Press, 2014

Why? The massive wealth inequality in the USA and globally is unacceptable. I wanted some cogent text and/or rationale to make sense of this crisis. As an architect who cares about people and the environment, I was hoping this could provide some solutions. I believe the primary driver for our ecological problems comes from the relentless pursuit of economic growth. We cannot expand the world GDP within a finite resource stream. 
Mitch Joachim, principal

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
Dan Barber
Penguin Press, 2014

Food and urbanism have been closely related since the first cities. We have all seen the numbers of urban dwellers that will grow, based on some projections, to 11 billion by the end of the century. And yet, we continue to pick food that is “ecologically demanding and expensive to grow.” Dan Barber offers a solution and many good stories. —Maria Aiolova, principal

Terreform ONE 
is an architectural design group that integrates ecological and synthetic biological principles into the urban environment. It presumes ecological design is not only a philosophy that inspires visions of sustainability and social justice but also a focused scientific endeavor.

Donald Chong
Williamson Chong

In Praise of Shadows
Jun’ichiro Tanaka

Leete’s Island Books, 1977

Fittingly, Japan is the closing leg of our Prix de Rome travels and the backdrop to this book. This essay in the sheep’s clothing of a short novel is a welcome battle cry, a manifesto to defend the virtues of the tactile experience in a world seemingly advancing too quickly for its own good. Tanaka feels it incumbent upon himself to defiantly (and elegantly, I might add) state how his fellow Japanese simply cannot lose touch with the honesty of well-made things and spaces that have already been surrounding them. You wouldn’t know that this was written in 1933.

Flash Boys 
Michael Lewis

W. W. Norton & Company, 2014

A little bit of Wall Street high-drama makes for a good who-dunnit kind of read. The protagonist’s inquisitiveness blended with the right amount of chutzpah unravels Wall Street’s apparently secret infrastructure. Refreshing to read about another industry’s reluctant but necessary capacity to truthfully re-examine itself bottom up—and therefore, an enlightening lens on not just how things really work, but how things can really change. (Doesn’t hurt that the hero of this true story is Brad Katsuyama, who I used to babysit in Toronto. True Story.)

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation  
Michael Pollan
Penguin Books, 2014

Not long ago, I strung together these five words: Small Fridges Make Good Cities. This came about while living in Lausanne, and upon registering the simple equation between food, neighborhoods, and urbanism. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, then, when several close friends upon hearing my little maxim immediately recommended that I pick up Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the effective starter course for his profound run of books like Cooked.

Marimekko: Fabrics, Fashion & Architecture 
Marianne Aav
Bard Center, 2014

Just something to add color to my summer, literally and figuratively. The book is as sure and bold as any of Arni Ratia’s original textiles and designs, but with the added flipside of narratives, trials, tests, and studies. The airy, optimistic feel Marimekko brought to the world from Finland seems to have snugly fit between the World War II and the eighties—and in many ways Marimekko’s story could complement an icy lemonade on any lazy summer afternoon.

Making Movies 
Sidney Lumet

Vintage; Reprint edition, 1996

We get so engrossed in what we do as architects or designers that sometimes I have to remind myself of how a baker, or a conductor, or a tailor, or—in this case—a filmmaker grapples with the natural forces and oppositions confronted when creating something new. A true insiders’ read with a gripping sense of what it means to hold on to that idea, as it develops and as it weathers through the process of “making” through to the finished piece.
Donald Chong is co-principal of Toronto-based architecture and design office Williamson Chong, which was selected as one of the Architectural League’s Emerging Voices 2014. 

Drew Seskunas
The Principals

Atlas of Remote Islands 
Judith Schalanksy

Penguin Books, 2010

Not surprisingly, the earth has a lot of islands. Surprisingly, many of these islands have some pretty interesting histories. This atlas documents some islands you may know and many you’ve never heard of, but all in the oceans you’ll be swimming in this summer.

Stories of Anton Chekhov 
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, translators
Modern Library, 2000

Chekhov is a little heady for a beach day, but in short-story format, this collection is a series of quick shots of literary brilliance when you need to read something beautiful but aren’t willing to take on War and Peace.

Roberto Bolano

New Directions, 2012

According to Bolano, this is the only book he wrote that didn’t embarrass him. My opinion is a little less harsh—in fact, I love everything I have ever read of Bolano. This is a nebulous amalgam of his entire collection; not really a story, not really a series of poems, more like an ephemeral journey into Bolano’s psyche.

Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to EinsteinColossal Mistakes by Great Scientists that Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe
Mario Livio

Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition, 2014

In the same vein as Carl Sagan, Marion Livio is one of the best contemporary science popularizers. Here, he takes five groundbreaking scientists, and analyzes their contribution to humanity and a major mistake that either led them away or toward greatness. Sort of like science gossip, both salacious and edifying.

A Little History of The World 
E.H. Gombrich

Yale University Press, 2008

Context is key, and knowing the history of our planet is a great way to begin thinking about its future. This book puts it all in perspective, moving from local to global scale and magically weaving seemingly disparate parts into a common history of the human race that is both horrifying and inspiring.

Drew Seskunas is a principal of Brooklyn-based The Principals. Prior to his move to New York, Seskunas collaborated on architectural projects with artist Arne Quinze and also directed the Berlin office of SAQ Architects.

Marianne Lamonaca
Bard Graduate Center

The Vignelli Canon
Massimo Vignelli
Lars Muller, 2010

Not to be missed by anyone interested in aesthetics. In honor of Massimo Vignelli, I have been rereading The Vignelli Canon. Massimo was dogmatic, but I must confess that I am comforted by his undying conviction and certainty about his approach. Long live Pantone Super Warm Red!

Waterweavers: A Chronicle of Rivers 
José Roca and Alejandro Martín, editors
(Bard Graduate Center, 2014)
This thick publication accompanies the Bard Graduate Center’s current exhibition. While I proofread it during production, I am now truly enjoying it as a beautifully designed volume by Irma Boom. José Roca, the project’s curator, along with Alejandro Martín, crafted a book of extraordinary depth and texture.

In Praise of Shadows
Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

It seems that every year I go back to one book that I love so dearly. Originally written in the 1930s, Tanizaki writes beautifully about the traditional Japanese home and the confrontation with modernity. My favorite passage is about the traditional Japanese bathroom.

Marianne Lamonaca is the chief curator and associate gallery director of the Bard Graduate Center, NYC.

Susan S. Szenasy

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
Charles C. Mann
Vintage, 2006

1491 is that moment in history when everything is about to change, and the world becomes modern and global. I’m looking for some parallels to our own time.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Jared M. Diamond
W. W. Norton & Company, 1999

This book is brimming with human knowledge as it has been accumulated by various specialist groups, leading to some fascinating connections between the seemingly unconnected professions, and a new understanding of why some cultures ended up dominating others, despite their relatively equal intellectual development. While I have dipped into this big volume before, now I want to learn some lessons on how we, too, can connect the many areas of knowledge to understand our own times.
Susan S. Szenasy is publisher and editor in chief of Metropolis magazine. She is also the author of Szenasy, Design Advocate (Metropolis Books, 2014). 

Mason White
Lateral Office

Petropolis of Tomorrow 
Neeraj Bhatia and Mary Caspar, editors
Actar, 2013

An elegant collection of student projects and collected writings on the idea of resource-based frontiers, this publication documents speculative roles that architecture and urban design can assume as sites of extraction increasingly resemble cities themselves. This is an inspiring, and very thick, pamphlet for any student of architecture or young practice.

Projective Ecologies
Edited by Chris Reed and Nina-Marie Lister
Actar/Harvard Graduate School of Design, 2014

This collection of contemporary essays chart the resurgence of ecology in the design fields, to claim agency away from an exclusively scientific practice. Reed and Lister have gathered an impressive roster of thinkers into a five-chapter collection arguing for a plurality to ecology within design practices.

Landscape Imagination: Collected Writings of James Corner 
James Corner and Alison Bick Hirsch, editors
Princeton Architectural Press, 2014

A must-have collection of one of landscape architecture’s most important and influential practice-based writer. This edited collection documents James Corner’s (Field Operations) writing through the 1990s and 2000s, a time when landscape architecture was emerging from its decorative garden status and into an essential city-building practice. This is a greatest hits of positional theory on landscape agency, design, and methods.

The Air from Other Planets: A Brief History of the Architecture to Come
Sean Lally

Lars Muller, 2013

This book collects projects and short texts recently completed by Lally and his office Weathers. The book constructs and visualizes arguments for architecture’s increased interest in energy and flows, environments and atmospheres. It is inspiring take on architecture as a speculative medium.

Use Matters: An Alternative History of Architecture
Kenny Cupers, editor
Routledge, 2013

The published results of a conference on the topic of architecture and “the user,” this collection of writings reveals both the historical and contemporary thread preoccupying architects on how architecture is used. In particular, the writings focus on participatory and interactive design. This collection is intended as an alternative history positioning architecture’s complex relationship to people as “users.”

San Rocco, Kerb, Volume, New Geographies
Various Editors

Despite exaggerated proclamations of its death, small-scale journals and other short-form publications continue to make impressive contributions to design thinking and experimentation. Some of my favorites are: San Rocco, an Italian, English-language theory journal; Kerb, an Australian landscape journal; Volume, a Dutch thematic journal; and New Geographies, a Harvard-based thematic journal.

Mason White is associate professor at the University of Toronto and a partner at Lateral Office. The firm curated the Canadian Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale.

Virginia San Fratello 
Emerging Objects

Printing Things: Visions and Essentials for 3-D Printing
Claire Warnier, Dries Verbruggen, Sven Ehmann, and Robert Klanten, editors

Gestalten, 2014

This book is an inspiring compendium of 3-D printing that showcases a number of different projects that use unique materials and highlights design ideas and strategies for 3-D printing. The books uses different projects from a multitude of different disciplines to illustrate how 3-D printing is being used within fashion, architecture, the medical industry, art, etc. The book not only looks at the design of objects themselves and the machines used to make them, but also at issues surrounding empowerment, copyrights, and machine interface.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values 
Robert Pirsig

HarperTorch; Reprint edition

We like to periodically reread this book because it reminds us that there is often a simple solution to what may seem like an overwhelming technological problem.

Dust: A History of the Small and Invisible
Joseph A. Amato 
University of California Press, 2011

Part of our work includes developing materials for powder-based 3-D printing, so we’re interested in powder, dust, tiny particles, and the history and poetics of these materials. One thing we have come to realize is that people have strong cultural and personal associations with materials—even “materials” like dust. Much of current 3-D printing uses plastic or resin-based materials, and so it is white and can sometimes seem material-less. We are interested in printing with materials like sawdust, dirt, and bone ash so understanding the history of these materials and how society has embraced or cleansed ourselves of them helps us tell the story about the materials with which we are printing. This book makes me think that some of our sand prints could really be the dust from a collapsing star—we’re 3-D printing with stardust. 

Why Walls Won’t Work: Repairing the US-Mexico Divide 
Michael Dear
Oxford University Press, 2013

We have been working on a design-protest for the U.S.-Mexico Border Wall for years, and this book encapsulates many of our positions on the wall and its shortcomings as a security infrastructure.

Virginia San Fratello is co-principal of Rael San Fratello, an Oakland-based design aterlier, and co-founder of Emerging Objects, a design and research company that develops new materials for 3-D printing. Emerging Objects was featured in our April cover story on new smart materials. In March, Rael San Fratello was selected as one of the Architectural League’s Emerging Voices 2014.

David A. Hanks
Lilliane and David M. Stewart Program for Modern Design

I am reading these as part of the research for the exhibition “Partners in Design: Alfred H. Barr, Jr and Philip Johnson,” which is being organized by the Stewart Program for Modern Design in collaboration with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, to be presented in Montreal in the Fall of 2015. There are many related scholarly books, but biographies capture the spirit of an era, as well as the character of the subject.

Gropius: An Illustrated Biography of the Creator of the Bauhaus 
Reginald Isaacs
Bullfinch Press, 1983
This biography is illuminated by its extraordinary photographs—not just of Gropius’s buildings but also of his family, friends, and colleagues. Gropius was very reluctant to leave his native Germany, but the Nazis’ censorship of art and architecture made it necessary. This book clearly expresses the profound human challenge of immigrating to countries where he didn’t know the language—first to England in 1934, then to the United States in 1937—and his wish to carry on his vision of the Bauhaus against a variety of obstacles.

The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein
Martin Duberman

Alfred A. Knopf, 2007

Kirstein, a major cultural figure of the twentieth century, initiated the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art—a forerunner of the Museum of Modern Art—while he was a Harvard student and organized the first Bauhaus exhibition in North America there in 1930. He was an advocate for the arts, including ballet, poetry, and photography. I was looking specifically for his influence on modern design in the 1930s and found the much larger world that he encompassed fascinating.

David A. Hanks is curator at the Liliane and David M. Stewart Program for Modern Design.

Samuel Medina

Nairn’s Towns
Ian Nairn
Notting Hill Editions, 2013

For those new to Nairn—and intrigued by the hype sparked by Gillian Darley and David McKie’s compelling 2013 biography—but unable to track down a copy of Nairn’s London or, far more difficult, Outrage, this is an excellent entry point. This compact volume collects Nairn’s essays for The Listener magazine in the early 1960s, which find him traveling to Britain’s provincial cities. The masterful text, while not quite the minefield of witty and rebarbative turns of phrase that color Nairn’s London, is carefully presented and updated by Owen Hatherley, arguably the finest writer on architecture today.

Pompey: A Novel
Jonathan Meades
Unbound, 2013

This notoriously macabre novel manages even to outdo Meades’s literary debut, Filthy English, in its desire to gross out its readers. The tale of a firework-maker’s progeny and their “antic lives and special deaths” is finespun, but the plot is necessarily subjugated to the whims of Meades’s spectacular, untiring prose. The British writer, television presenter, and other contender to the title of top contemporary architectural critic released Pompey in 1993, but the novel went unnoticed by the public and was altogether underappreciated. Here’s hoping this twentieth-anniversary edition changes that.

Bleak Houses: Disappointment and Failure in Architecture
Timothy Brittain-Catlin
Oxford University Press, 2012

History, so it’s said, is an agglutinative heap of lies agreed upon by and for the benefit of the victors. Lies or not, it usually makes for a dull tale. Much more interesting, as this thin book argues, are the losers. Cecil Corwin, Brittain-Catlin writes of Frank Lloyd Wright’s closest confidant, was unable to cope with the cult of the master and exited the profession altogether because of it. Quoting Jonathan Meades, Brittain-Catline also points out how Rodney Gordon, a designer for the Owen Luder Partnership responsible for many of the firm’s best buildings, “couldn’t be bothered to publicize himself.” Then, there’s Horace Field, the most frequently mentioned of Brittain-Catlin’s lovable, if unlucky duds. Field, an anti-modern architect, favored the Romantic charms of the Queen-Anne style and felicitiously expounded on its vernacular, designing banks and mechant’s houses in and around London. His legacy can be seen in the new, artificial “townscapes” of British and American suburbs, and, unfortunately, it’s clear that people like it.

Manhattan Atmospheres: Architecture, the Interior Environment, and Urban Crisis
David Gissen
University of Minnesota Press, 2014

This compelling read, from architectural historian and geographer David Gissen, investigates the so-called “socio-natural” dimensions of Manhattan’s familiar cityscape. Gissen uncovers the city’s underlying environmental infrastructure as manifested through a handful of cases studies, including Kevin Roche and John Dinkelloo’s Ford Foundation and the Sackler Wing containing the Dendur Temple at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (seen on the cover). For me, these spaces, which probably aren’t sustainable in any sense, gesture towards a utopian architectual thinking that died out in the 1970s. Call it hubris, but I think it’s admirable.
Samuel Medina is Metropolis‘s online editor.

Avinash Rajagopal

Architecture’s Historical Turn: Phenomenology and the Rise of the Postmodern
Jorge Otero-Pailos
University of Minnesota Press, 2010

Phenomenology played such a pivotal role in helping certain architects outside Europe and America to situate and legitimize their work on the international stage—Charles Correa is one outstanding example—that I think it’s a foundational concept for any international understanding of architecture today. Otero-Pailos’s critical history of phenomenology is certainly Europe- and America-centric, but I’m hoping it will give me some new tools with which to examine architecture elsewhere.

The Language of Houses: How Buildings Speak to Us
Alison Lurie
Delphinium, 2014

A Pulitzer Prize–winner for her fiction, Lurie attempts to do for architecture what she has previously done for fashion design—provide a lucid, encyclopedic social history in extremely easy prose. The “Houses” of the title is a loosely used term; the book examines not just residences but also houses of God, houses of confinement (prisons and hospitals), and houses of commerce (stores and offices).
Avinash Rajagopal is an associate editor at Metropolis.

Adam Lucas

Dear Navigator 
Hu Fang (Designed by Sam de Groot)
Sternberg Press, 2014

I’ve been wanting to read Hu Fang for a while. This collection of short stories seems like a good start, especially since it comes out of Sternberg Press, a publisher I like, and is designed by Sam de Groot, a designer I like.

Mel Bochner: Strong Language
Norman L. Kleeblatt and Mel Bochner

Jewish Museum, 2014

I saw the show at the Jewish Museum recently. I knew of Bochner’s use of language in his work, but I was especially struck by his novel use of color, particularly his intricately planned color combinations found in his large-scale Thesaurus Paintings.

Paul Chan: Selected Writings, 2000-2014
Paul Chan, with Eric Banks, Isabel Friedli, and George Baker (editors)

Schaulager, Laurenz Foundation/Badlands Unlimited, 2014

I want to know more about Paul Chan’s thinking and work, especially in regards to publishing. Chan runs Badlands Unlmitedan alternative publishing platform I really enjoy.

Carl Andre: Poems
Carl Andre

JRP|Ringier, 2014

I want to read and look at more of his poems.
Adam Lucas is co-art director of Metropolis.

Soohang Lee

Want Not
Jonathan Miles

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2013

I’ve stayed in the city this whole summer for first time in years, and a good NYC book is invaluable. Some writers just seem to understand people in impossible ways. In this book, Jonathan Miles proves to rightfully belong in that group, but does so with objectivity and affection. This book explores the themes of waste, consumption, desire, and decay by examining its characters’ relationships with material objects and with each other.

The Photographer’s Playbook: 307 Assignments and Ideas
Jason Fulford and Gregory Halpern, editors
Aperture Press, 2014

This is a brilliantly entertaining (and sometimes touching) collection of ideas, anecdotes, and stories from some of the most interesting people working in photography, edited by Jason Fulford of J&L Press, and Gregory Halpern. Although it is centered around the practice of photography, the ideas can be applied to any creative field, or by anyone simply interested in fun activities.

Milan Kundera

Harper Perennial, 1997

Speaking of profound understanding of people and characters, who does it better than Kundera? I’ve returned to this book almost every summer for a while now, partially because it’s short and light in both content and weight, making it perfect for bike rides to the beach. But beyond that, it’s the perfect masterful combination of sex, comedy, philosophy, and politics. Post adolescence, it was one of the first ‘happy’ books that ever spoke to me, and still to this day, it makes me more appreciative of people and being in general.
Soohang Lee is a photographer and Metropolis‘s photo editor.

Recent Viewpoints