Designing a chair is an eternally tempting but precarious prospect: the humble seat, legs, and back must resolve the essential challenges of structure, function, form. And the end result is inevitably compared to a canon of predecessors.
Architects are, by nature, storytellers; they tell stories to their clients, to each other, and occasionally to a credulous public. Typically, these are stories about what buildings can do, or how the 'sense of a place' matters, or how their own professional or socio-artistic practice can deliver on such things.
By Roberta Brandes Gratz. Nation Books, June 2015, 404 pages, $28. A crisis is a moment of reckoning. By altering or destroying the status quo, a crisis opens things up, making visible what is often submerged, making possible what is usually thought otherwise. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina laid bare the deep inequalities in the city of New Orleans, while clearing paths for reform and change. In her new book, Roberta Brandes Gratz tracks efforts to reshape the city in the wake of the storm. Gratz is a self-proclaimed urbanist in the tradition of Jane Jacobs, and here, as in her
By Scott Sherman. Melville House, June 2015, 224 pages, $26. A historic-preservation battle over Carr're and Hastings's 1911 marble palace for the New York Public Library is the subject of Scott Sherman's Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library. The title's grandiosity is somewhat misleading: at no time was the landmark's exterior or its public spaces endangered by a controversial consolidation plan. Yet the battle over the main branch of the New York Public Library, which rises majestically along two city blocks behind a pair of stone lions (the Patience and Fortitude of
By Deane Simpson. Lars M'ller, March 2015, 384 pages, $50. In the fastest-growing city in America, the birth rate is less than half the U.S. average. Most of us aren't allowed to live there. It's The Villages, a Florida retirement community whose population has more than doubled since 2010 and now stands at 114,000. Ninety-eight percent white, 80 percent married, and 86 percent between the ages of 60 and 85, The Villages is uniquely homogeneous, banal, and bizarre by turns. America's largest gerontopolis is the most developed of four case studies in Young-Old: Urban Utopias of an Aging Society, an
By Giulia Foscari with a foreword by Rem Koolhaas. Lars Müller Publishers, October 2014, 696 pages, $32. To say Giulia Foscari's book is a beautifully put together trove of information about Venice's luxuriantly scenic architecture sounds gushy. Actually, it is an understatement. Foscari's distinctive analysis of the variegated riches that are a feast for the eye in this city of encrusted layers pays proper homage to its subject. By zeroing in on the architectonic vocabulary of facades, walls, ceilings, stairs, doors, and other elements, the author, who is a young architect in Hamburg, provides an intensive look into the creation
Villages in the City: A Guide to South China’s Informal Settlements, edited by Stefan Al. Hong Kong University Press and University of Hawaii Press, October 2014, 216 pages, $28. Handmade Urbanism: From Community Initiatives to Participatory Models, edited by Marcos Rosa and Ute Weiland. Jovis, October 2013, 224 pages, $40. Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change, by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia. Island Press, March 2015, 256 pages, $25. From the slum settlements of burgeoning megacities to the guerrilla gardening and pop-up everything we celebrate in the United States, recent years have seen a growing interest in creative and
By William J.R. Curtis (revised and updated). Phaidon, April 2015, 512 pages, $150. In the preface to his classic Le Corbusier: Ideas and Forms, published in 1986 and for the quarter century since the most thoughtful and complete analysis of the architect, William J.R. Curtis compared his subject's impact to that of Freud, Joyce, and Picasso. But why stop there? If the pronouncement-making passion of the early Corbusier makes him another Freud (explaining away the darkness, an answer for everything), then the later Corbusier—the architect of post-rational dreamscapes like La Tourette and Ronchamp —is another Karl Jung. There simply is
Edited by Nicholas Dagan Bloom, Fritz Umbach, and Lawrence J. Vale. Cornell University Press, April 2015, 296 pages, $70 (hardcover), $23 (paper). Nothing led to the disillusion with modern architecture during the postmodern era more than the critique of public housing. It was not, after all, Robert Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) that really ushered in the new style. That book was too complex and subtle. Charles Jencks's more colorful and bombastic The Language of Postmodern Architecture (1977) was much more influential, and it began with a view of the destruction of Pruitt-Igoe. With one facile fell swoop,