Spring Books: 19 New Architecture and Design Titles to Read
Spring has sprung, along with a new crop of books—here are our top picks.
As cold months finally come to a close, we herald springtime renewal with a fresh list of the books we’ve been reading here in the Metropolis offices. The 19 volumes featured in this list dig into everything from the evolution of social housing, to Bucky Fuller’s days hanging out with ex-gang members, to Stanley Kubrick’s unfinished magnum opus. Get yourself a copy and get out of the house.
Written by Michael Sorkin, Verso, 384 pp., $34.95
“I live and work in New York City and revel in its saturations,” writes Michael Sorkin in the introduction to his latest anthology of essays—his fourth to be centered around the city. New York has undoubtedly changed since Sorkin began writing about it (and, “the scintillating world-large parochialisms of local architectural politics” he satirized in his first compendium, Exquisite Corpse) in the late 1970s for the Village Voice. And yet, the gilded mediocrity that so often came under fire in Sorkin’s early columns is now president—a fact that Sorkin dwells on most directly in one of the book’s key essays, “Architecture Against Trump.” Even so, he fingers, in a passing remark, a more dangerous would-be democracy-digger: Mark Zuckerberg. Which is really to say, architecture is no match for the virtual.
Written by Robert McCarter, Phaidon, 256 pp., $79.95
The buildings of Grafton Architects, writes Robert McCarter in his new monograph of the celebrated Dublin-based firm, are premised on an idiosyncratic understanding of plan and section, the former conceived as a “logical structure of social activities,” the latter, as “an emotional enclosure of atmosphere or mood.” This strategy is best illustrated by Grafton’s best-known works, the Università Luigi Bocconi School of Economics in Milan, and its campus project for UTEC in Lima, Peru. But the value of McCarter’s book is to show how these same considerations—in addition to concepts of place and geography—play out across scales, from houses and schools to museums and other institutional structures.
Edited by Enrique Walker, Design by Luke Bulman—Office Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 88 pp., $20
Nary an introduction welcomes the reader to the contents of this slim volume. A pitiable paragraph alone establishes any semblance of a theme, and it accompanies a skeletal table of contents, essentially a list of conversations with names attached to them—Rem Koolhaas, Denise Scott Brown, Yoshiharu Tsukamoto of Atelier Bow-Wow, and Enrique Walker. But a theme does indeed emerge, on the book-on-cities manifesto that Koolhaas and Robert Venturi/Scott Brown pioneered and the contradictions the format contains. Walker, an architect and associate professor at Columbia GSAPP, is the constant presence of the book, and he brings to each chat a learned set of observations, a valuable sense of history, and a gentle testiness that at times pushes his partners-in-dialogue to cough up some interesting admissions.
Edited by Jonathan Massey and Barry Bergdoll, DAP/Lars Müller., 368 pp., $60
The Hungarian-American architect Marcel Breuer set the bar for the post-World War II Modernist movement in the U.S. Building Global Institutions analyzes the “bureaucratic genius” that helped make Breuer an ideal builder for clients engaged in soft-power experiments like UNESCO and university chancellors alike. The book’s roster of essays examines various facets of Breuer’s practice, from his penchant for precast concrete to his trials in master planning to his aversion to the term “Brutalism.”
Written by Martino Stierli, Yale University Press, 320 pp., $60
For the academically minded architecture enthusiast, MoMA curator Martino Stierli takes a deep dive into the history of montage, a distinctly 20th-century compositional technique. Stierli casts a wide net, looking at sociology, the arts, film, and many schools of architecture—everyone from Piranesi to Rem Koolhaas makes an appearance. However, connections to today’s digitally inflected trends in architectural representation are sparse. Those interested in questions of rendering, social media, and Photoshop won’t find much to whet their curiosity. Technology has, quite literally, consigned montage to the history books.
Written by Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, Phaidon, 288 pp., $79.95
At first blush, the premise of Exhibit A may sound tedious: a comprehensive study on architectural exhibitions. But, this is fertile ground, as exhibitions—from Expo ’70, which thrust Metabolism into the global spotlight, to MoMA’s 1988 Deconstructivist Architecture, which seemed to conjure a new movement out of thin air—have marked many seminal moments in the profession. Exhibit A showcases 80 such shows, with entries both short (a single paragraph) and long (several pages and multiple images). If each exhibition is a snapshot of architectural thought, then by flipping through the book, readers can catch glimpses of architecture’s cultural evolution during the latter 20th century.
Written by Rania Ghosn and El Hadi Jazairy, Actar, 232 pp., $29.95
Rania Ghosn and El Hadi Jazairy think big—very big. The duo, who together form the studio Design Earth, create drawings that explore our ecological impact at the macro scale. Their new book, Geostories, showcases multiple drawing series on this theme. For example, one series depicts how humanity might adapt to an atmosphere-less Earth, while another details a real proposal that would use Antarctic icebergs to the supply the Middle East with water. Ghosn and Jazairy, who were tapped to participate in the U.S. Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture, approach their sometimes grim scenarios with a sense of humor: Superstudio’s Continuous Monument, Tatlin’s Tower, and Bucky’s Dome, among others, make cameos. It’s slightly disappointing, however, that Geostories mostly reproduces Design Earth’s color drawings in black-and-white.
Edited by Justinian Jampol, Taschen, 800 pp., $40
When the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989, the early stages of reuniting Germany—referred to as Die Wende, or “the turnaround”—involved a purge of anything related to socialist East Germany. By the following year, the new nation had disposed of 19 million tons of East Germans goods, including street signs and political monuments. The encyclopedic East German Handbook, whose eight sections are written in both German and English, showcase 2,000 such items, all sourced from the Los Angeles-based Wende Museum. In an effort to further understand life behind the Iron Curtain, each section offers a detailed preface elaborating on the historical context surrounding each item.
Written by Sam Hecht and Kim Colin, Design by Graphic Thought Facility, Phaidon, 292 pp., $89.95
Since its founding in 2002, Sam Hecht and Kim Colin’s London-based studio Industrial Facility has gained quite the following for its designs, here collected and cataloged for the first time. Interestingly, Hecht and Colin’s voices are not foregrounded in the text, as the duo preferred to leave the storytelling to collaborators and curators (and, in the case of the foreword, to the pop philosopher Alain de Botton). With a sprawling selection of work ranging from coat hangers to toothbrushes, this handsome monograph exemplifies the subtle attention to detail that has solidified Industrial Facility as a powerhouse firm.
Written by Syeus Mottel, Pioneer Works Press/The Song Cave, 240 pp., $27
In 1970, Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome, met with six ex-gang members in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. A workshop and dialogue ensued, and the latter, going by the name CHARAS, decided to make a go at Fuller’s construction methods. A newly expanded edition of Improbable Dome Builders, originally published in 1973, re-examines that project. The book’s first half discusses the building of the dome in a vacant lot near the Manhattan Bridge, including the team’s search for funding, as well as intensive training (and occasional fires). The second half includes in-depth interviews with the original six members of the project, asking them about their experience and the newfound sense of direction it gave them.
Edited by Emily Bills, Sam Lubell, Pierluigi Serraino, Phaidon, 240 pp., $59.95
Marvin Rand may not be as well known as the architects whose buildings he photographed—Louis Kahn, Craig Ellwood, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Frank Gehry among them—but his images helped define the visual style of SoCal midcentury Modernism. In California Captured, editors Bills, Lubell, and Serraino bring together a robust biography of Rand and a treasure trove of his sumptuous photographs. The images celebrate the poetry of Modern architecture across a wide range of building types, from office towers such as the Capitol Records building and sleek homes in Palm Springs and Malibu to institutional buildings such as Kahn’s masterful Salk Institute.
Text and photographs by Oliver Wainwright, Taschen, 248 pp., $60
In Inside North Korea, Guardian architecture writer Oliver Wainwright takes readers on a stunning visual tour of the hermit kingdom. The book is a journey through smartly appointed hotels, monumental public squares, grandiose and mostly empty athletic facilities, and ornate metro stations. Throughout, Wainwright describes how the Kim regimes used architecture and public art to project an image of power and prosperity. The family’s efforts to develop the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, as “a socialist fairyland” have resulted in the creation of a grand, dazzling, and flimsy urban set piece. Wainwright’s photographs reveal the somewhat bizarre and totally unique visual sensibility of of a country largely cut off from the world for over half a century.
Written by Matt Waggoner Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 144 pp., $18
Though the philosopher Theodor Adorno never undertook a serious study of housing in his lifetime, themes of dwelling, displacement, and exile pervade his writing. In this, the first book-length examination of Adorno as a philosopher of architecture, Waggoner traces four themes across Adorno’s writing: homelessness, no man’s lands, the nature theater, and the property relation. In light of our national (and global, as Waggoner argues) housing crises, Adorno’s thoughts on the social and moral questions of shelter, belonging, and displacement are a welcome invitation to re-consider the relationship between people and their homes.
Written by Zvi Efrat, Spector, 965 pp., $70
In subject matter, page count, and prosody, architect and historian Zvi Efrat’s The Israel Project is anything but light reading. At nearly 1,000 pages, the book is a fascinating and in-depth critical study of the architectural and land-use practices that gave rise to modern Israel. Efrat argues that the Zionist project was and continues to be undertaken through the built environment, namely in the design and construction of towns and settlements. The book’s 34 chapters follows the formation of the Israeli state, from its beginnings to the present day. The text is accompanied by hundreds of original documents and photographs that give a sense of this immense state-building project.
Edited by Luca Massimo Barbero, DAP/Skira, 325 pp., $70
The Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass is best known as the founding member of the Memphis Group; for colorful—and oftentimes wacky—designs like the Carlton room divider; and for his pioneering product designs, ranging from typewriters to telephones. But just as enduring are his whimsical experiments in colored glass. A new book from DAP and Skira chronicles Sottsass’s entire body of glasswork, beginning in 1947 and concluding with his death in 2007. The works—sculptural vases and objects—display the same eccentricities as the rest of Sottsass’s design ouvre, some testtube-like and phallic, some jubilant and festooned with jewelry-like baubles. These features, both gem-like and surreal, are captured in the book’s large, luminous photographs and described in a central essay by curator Luca Massimo Barbero. As Sottsass himself said, “Using only one color would be like me using only one word when speaking.”
Written by John Boughton, Verso Books, 336 pp., $26.95
Written in the aftermath of the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster, historian John Broughton’s Municipal Dreams is an essential, and timely, look at the history of social housing—“council homes”— in the United Kingdom. This meticulously researched book examines the social, political, and architectural forces at work in the evolution of the country’s public housing stock, from Victorian-era slum clearance to the utopian promise of Modernism, to the emergence mixed-income housing models. Though set across the Atlantic, Broughton’s history traces a remarkably similar arch to that in the United States—both an extraordinary look in the mirror and a cautionary tale.
Edited by Martino Stierli and Vladimir Kulić, DAP/The Museum of Modern Art New York, 200 pp., $65
To most, Brutalism conjures up images of stark concrete creations by noted architects such as Paul Rudolph, Marcel Breuer, and Alison and Peter Smithson. A highly anticipated exhibition at MoMA, opening this July, seeks to recalibrate the predominantly Western Brutalist canon and focus on the tremendous architectural output of the former Yugoslavia. For the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue, photographer Valentin Jeck traversed the Balkan states and documented the breathtaking work of architects relatively unknown to the English-speaking world, including Bogdan Bogdanović, Milan Mihelič, and many others. The catalogue comprises numerous essays by MoMA’s architecture and design curator Martino Stierli, exhibition co-curator Vladimir Kulić, and curatorial assistant (and Metropolis contributor!) Anna Kats.
Edited by Isabel Abascal and Mario Ballesteros, Park Books, 304 pp., $35
Latin America is increasingly making a name for itself as a hotbed of architectural ideas and emerging design voices, thanks in no small part to independent architectural institutions like Mexico City-based LIGA, whose influence goes well beyond its pocket-sized gallery. The organization, founded in 2011, has released its second book documenting its last dozen exhibitions and its “Interludes” events series. This particular volume also tackles the challenges and paradoxes of exhibiting architecture through a series of essays from architects and curators, ranging from MAIO’s Anna Puigjaner and Guillermo López to MoMA’s Barry Berdoll.
Edited by Alison Castle, Design by M/M, Phaidon, 1,112 pp., $69.99
Stanley Kubrick buffs have for years speculated on the director’s aborted magnum opus, a biopic about the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. A new tome from Taschen, Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made, gives a heightened sense of the would-be film’s sprawling vision and the ambition behind it. Had it been made, Napoleon would have ranked among the most epic in Kubrick’s magisterial filmography, dialing up the historical pageantry of Barry Lyndon and adopting the cinematic sweep of 2001. The book is the document of this “unfilmed masterpiece” and reproduces in its pages the thousands of visual documents pertaining Napoleonic Europe Kubrick had at his disposal, a bibliography, and the final draft of the screenplay. Several introductory essays from film and Kubrick scholars round out the monograph’s contents.