Space & Anti-Space: The Fabric of Place, City, and Architecture, by Steven Peterson & Barbara Littenberg; introduction by Michael Dennis; foreword by Jonathan Barnett. ORO Editions, 295 pages, $40.
The argument posed in the title dates to an essay Steven Peterson wrote in 1980, when he pointed out how the free, open, Miesian modern space was “anti-space”—abstract and ineffable. In this rich exploration, Peterson and Littenberg, architect-planners and educators, further develop their ideas about space and place as volumetric and “differentiated, formed, finite, particular, multiple, and discontinuous.” The two, who both studied with Colin Rowe at Cornell University, give a close, insightful, and clear analysis of key concepts that Rowe developed on figure/ground, contextualism, phenomonal transparency, and collage that influence their approach to urban design. Through diagrams, they show how such elements as networks of streets, matrices of blocks, and architectural enclosures can beneficially shape a contemporary city’s fabric—and keep precedent and continuity intact. Suzanne Stephens
Lateness, by Peter Eisenman, with Elisa Iturbe. Princeton University Press, 120 pages, $26.95.
“Lateness” is the latest in a series of analogies and concepts (cardboard architecture, post-functionalism, indexicality, decomposition, the self-referential sign, the presence of absence . . .) that Peter Eisenman has used to interpret architecture, and that have defined the analytic methods that have made him a great teacher throughout his career. “Lateness” has served as one of the key pedagogical instruments for the studios he has taught during the past few years at Yale with the book’s coauthor, Elisa Iturbe.
For those versed in the writings of Eisenman and his mentor Colin Rowe, the arguments will be familiar. But they are written here with Iturbe in such an exceptionally didactic and succinct way, and illustrated so unmistakably, as to be rare amid the current proliferation of obscure and turgid architectural theories.
What really stands out are the penetrating formal analyses of the selected exemplars. The book examines the fundamental elements of architecture—facades, rooms, stairs, walls, and columns—in the works of three architects: Adolf Loos, Aldo Rossi, and John Hejduk, with reference to Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.
“Lateness” occurs not toward the end of a career but when a period of art is no longer new. It’s about the specific ways in which the governing principles of an artistic style break down and thereby become atemporal. Rather than the architect’s composing fragmented forms willfully, it is the adherence to the logic of the parts, at all costs, that disintegrates the conventional whole. Preston Scott Cohen