Aug 13, 201401:23 PMPoint of View

Recap: The Metropolis Summer Reading List

Recap: The Metropolis Summer Reading List

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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 oceanor 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 Mitchellauthors 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 controlcontrol 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.

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