Marlin Watson (DRAGON )
The eight books about rats I read last year, in no particular order:
1. Architourism: Authentic, Escapist, Exotic, Spectacular
Joan Ockman and Salomon Frausto. Prestel Publishing, 2005.
Based on a conference titled "Architourism: Architecture as a Destination for Tourism" at Columbia University in 2002, this collection of essays and projects grapples with the rise of the tourist and the consequences of the Bilbao effect on contemporary architecture. The book doesn't stray far from academic publications of similar ilk: Some works are brilliant, some are downright painful, and most have adorable archispeak titles. The Ockman piece titled "The Architect as Tourist" was a fine Rosetta Stone for understanding "the architect as tourist."
2. Terra Nullius
Sven Lindqvist. New Press , 2007.
Last year I selected Lindqvist’s book Bench Press for my CNY list. An explosive polemicist, in short, Lindqvist can write his assets off. An exploration of the arcane British maxim of Terra Nullius which stated that uncivilized land was unowned and thus a claim of the crown- Lindqvist brilliantly interweaves a travelogue, literary history with a memoir of his solo trek across western Australia while chronicling places and events tied to the near-extermination of Aborigines, and how the maxim of Terra Nullius was used to justify it. Ferocious. Easily the best book of last year.
3. The Best in Tent Camping: Wisconsin
Johnny Molloy. Menasha Ridge Press , 2007.
For two solid weeks this book provided one valuable detail I discovered other books in this series did not: park plots where I could pitch a tent are ranked and include descriptions of pros and cons. During the road trip, I rarely ever arrived at state and national parks with the sun up, so to have this simple little detail spelled out when it was pitch black was a gift. How had so many others overlooked this simple detail? Most of the time I’d spend a hot minute in the local section of a chain bookstore jotting down info on a notepad, but I actually bought this one. Indispensable. Most useful book of last year.
4. Neither Wolf Nor Dog
Kent Nerburn. New World Library , 2004.
Set against the sweeping plains and Black Hills of the western Dakotas, white American Kent Nerburn chronicles a roadtrip through Lakota Territory with a native elder and his nephew. In substance somewhere between Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Ulysses, the native, Dan, spends equal time fucking with Nerburn along the journey and espousing how the rift in understanding between European and Native America occurred. Prior to this, Nerburn had compiled a series of books on the oral history of native America. Insightful though at times a touch corny. Most unexpected book of last year.
5. America Town
Mark Gillem. U of Minnesota Press , 2007.
SGillem, a U of Oregon professor, urban planner and Air Force officer, delivers a diagnosis of the current practice of U.S. military base planning overseas, a world walled in with fast food chains, golf courses and broad garden apartments. This book provides a surreal portrait of the exportation of military protection and the consequences of the military’s practice of cultural avoidance overseas; and how setbacks determined by the detonation radius of a car bomb leads to a land use practice equivalent to suburban sprawl. An incisive dissertation rather than a Sunday read, Gillem’s status as both an Air Force officer and sustainable urban planner afford him a perspective few others can offer. Ultimately this is a valuable piece of the puzzle to understanding the current, and likely endless, war.
6. Buried Indians
Laurie Hovell McMillin. University of Wisconsin Press , 2006.
Is a Native burial mound in Trempeleau, Wisconsin, still a burial mound if it is dug up, flattened, and then rebuilt without anyone knowing? If travelogues are structured around the distance between points, this is a travelogue about returning home, a narrative radiating from a center: McMillin returns to her hometown of Trempeleau, Wisconsin, to make sense of the political controversy that surfaced after possible native burial mounds were identified in the surrounding hills. McMillin avoids the pitfalls of trying to communicate the broader nuances of a foreign culture by writing with the mature hand of a woman who spent her twenties thumbing her nose at her family and taking “self-discovery” jaunts to India, but now celebrates that inescapable fact that her perspective is rooted in a cozy home, a crazy Midwestern family, and an offensive high school mascot. This book was a nice companion to Neither Wolf Nor Dog.
7. AIA Guide to Chicago
Alice Sinkevitch. Harvest Books , 2004.
Arrive in Chicago. Visit Prairie Avenue Books. Pick this up.
8. Exterminate All the Brutes
Sven Lindqvist. New Press , 1996.
Using Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as a point of departure, Lindqvist again interweaves travelogue, history and memoir to chronicle the sobering history of Europe in Africa. I’ve barely cracked the spine on this one, but it begins like a bomb: “You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.”
RAT Varieties of Disturbance
Lydia Davis. Farrar, Straus and Giroux , 2007.
The short story can often resonate with the assembly logics of poetry. Varieties of Disturbance is an exploration in structure and technique that brings short narrative to points of near genius, never mind the astonishingly delicate and beautiful experiences hidden in each of Davis’ 57 stories. It seems to stay off my bookshelf, and will probably find its way back on to my CNY booklist next year.
Aaron Plewke (COCK )
9 books that never made it out of my Amazon Shopping Cart in 2007
1. Alvaro Siza: Complete Works
Kenneth Frampton. Phaidon Press, 2006.
I've flipped through this awesome monograph at the bookstore a few times, and as much as I love Siza and Frampton, $115 is a bit steep for someone on a young architect's salary living in New York City. It may be another year in the Cart for this one.
2. The Havana Project
Peter Noever. Prestel Publishing, 1995.
Frankly, I can't recall how I learned of this book, although it's likely that someone mentioned it here, in the discussion forum. From what I gather from Amazon's free e-preview, the author gets a handful of talented architect/thinkers together (including Thom Mayne, Lebbeus Woods and Carme Pinos) to investigate specific issues facing Havana, Cuba, and more general issues facing cities worldwide. The conference that this book comes from occurred in 1994, two years after a similar conference was conducted in Vienna, Austria, with many of the same participants.
3. Le Corbusier: An Analysis of Form
Geoffrey Baker. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1996.
With illustrations and lettering akin to those Ching books I never bought during undergrad, but with a far more intriguing and focused subject matter, this paperback has a pretty good chance of making it to my book shelf in the near future.
4. Marcel Breuer: Design and Architecture
Barry Bergdoll, et al. Vitra Design Museum GmbH, 2003.
In the midst of the SAVE ME! design charrette I added a handful of Breuer books to the Cart, only one of which I've since purchased. The others were all eventually removed, except for this one, with text by MoMA's Barry Bergdoll, great coverage of Breuer's furniture and architecture, and a nifty orange fabric cover.
5. Tristes Tropiques
Claude Levi-Strauss. Penguin Group, 1992.
Seen previously in Orhan's 2007 CNY list. While I tend to agree with Donnie Darko's protagonist that "you can't just lump everything" into two categories, I'm sure I stand to learn a great deal from the binary opposites of Levi-Strauss' structural anthropology.
6. Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa/SANAA: Works 1995-2003
Kazuyo Sejima. Toto, 2005.
Everybody needs a bit more SANAA in their lives.
7. The Landscape Urbanism Reader
Charles Waldheim. Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.
Seen previously in Mason's 2007 CNY list. I really need to get my hands on this book soon, if for no other reason than to bring some intellectual rigor to bear on my own half-baked ideas on this expansive subject.
8. Glenn Murcutt: A Singular Architectural Practice
Haig Beck and Jackie Cooper. Images Publishing Group Pty, Limited, 2002
My collection of monographs is not up to par, and after reading this brief review of A Singular Architectural Practice on archidose.org in early 2006, I decided to add it to the wish list. This book comes in as the veteran of the Cart, having spent the better part of 2 years there.
RAT Marcel Breuer: A Memoir
Robert Gatje. The Monacelli Press, 2000.
This fond memoir spent most of '06 and '07 in the Cart, and would still be there had I not found it on sale for $6.98 at the Neue Galerie's bookstore on the Upper East Side. Beat that Amazon!
Enrique Ramirez (PIG )
My choices this year veer towards historical topics. In no particular order:
1. The New Architectural Pragmatism
William Saunders. University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
This collection contextualizes the whole issue of "post-criticality" with contributions from Reinhold Martin, Sarah Whiting, R.E. Somol, George Baird, Phillippe Starck, Alejandro Zaera-Polo and others. However you may choose to side on the critical vs. post-critical divide, buy it if only for Saunders' introductory essay.
2. USA (Modern Architectures in History Series)
Gwendolyn Wright. Reaktion Books, 2008.
Here, the august architecture historian (and host of History Detectives) tackles the issue of modernism within a decidedly American context. Arranged thematically and chronologically, Wright provides a generous, informative survey of American buildings from Reconstruction to the present. It is a pity that the editors chose to omit photographs of many of the obscure buildings that become part of the narrative -- the end result being that the book reads more like a list of buildings. Though the book lacks much in terms of formal analysis, it is a useful reference that can point the reader in interesting directions.
3. Bauhaus Culture
Kathleen James-Chakraborty. University of Minnesota Press, 2006 .
The essays in this volume provide a much-needed assessment of the Bauhaus' historical significance. Nothing is sacrosanct -- from essays that detail the Wilhelmine/Prussian origins of the Bauhaus, to others that consider its students' fascination with fascism, and finally with a study of how the school fared after the Second World War, this book gives the reader a thoughtful and critical survey of the Bauhaus' life and after-life. The only drawback, however, is that book's included essays read more like reactions to historiographic trends, not a general history of the Bauhaus. Not for the faint of heart.
4. Architecture or Techno-Utopia?
Felicity D. Scott. MIT Press, 2007.
Felicity Scott provides a fascinating, near-alternative-history of a different strand of post-modernism: the Superstudios, Archizooms, and Ant Farms of the world. In an important "gap-filling" role, Scott achingly details a chapter from postwar architecture history where designers confronted technology and politics in unusual and provocative ways.
5. La Jetée/Sans Soleil
Chris Marker, dir. (DVD) Criterion Collection , 2007.
We know La Jetée, but buy this DVD for Marker's little-seen Sans Soleil. The latter film showcases Marker's strengths as an assembler of footage -- amidst a mysterious, meditative narration that probes the significance of memory and image, glorious shots of Tokyo, Iceland, and the Cape Verde islands provide the viewer with a steady diet of hypno-eye-candy.
6. Trying Leviathan
Graham D. Burnett. Princeton University Press, 2007.
So, is a whale a fish or a mammal? Historian of Science Graham Burnett demonstrates that this was a vital question at the turn of the 19th century.
7. Eliot Noyes
Gordon Bruce. Phaidon, 2007.
This very nice monograph of Eliot Noyes' polymath proclivities is a delight. The man did everything--not only was he an influential graphic designer responsible for some of the most familiar corporate identities, but he also was a solid architect and communication science innovator. He even designed the cockpits and visualizations for Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Cool!
8. Graphic Design: A New History
Stephen J. Eskilson. Yale University Press , 2007.
My copy is autographed. What about yours?
RAT Robinson Crusoe on Mars
Byron Haskell, dir. (DVD) Criterion Collection , 2007.
Awesome set design and visuals, and beautiful Chesley Bonestell-esue matte paintings. With a monkey-astronaut to boot. Sweet!
Quilian Riano (RAM )
1. Revolution of Forms: Cuba's Forgotten Art Schools
John A. Loomis. Princeton Architectural Press, 1998.
For a while now I have been interested in Cuban architecture from a ten year period starting in the mid 1950s until the mid 1960's. This book sits right at the cusp of that era, documenting the first major architectural project of the newly victorious 'revolutionary' government, commissioned in 1959. The Art Schools, Loomis argues, react strongly against the perceived architectural excesses of the Batista era, and even receiving praise from Fidel Castro himself. It further explores how this modest project was almost as quickly repudiated by the Cuban establishment, as it became hostage to the rhetoric of the Cold War. Great book to clearly understand the connection between architectural aesthetics and nationalist politics.
2. Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past
Reynher Banham. Harper & Row, 1976.
An oldie but a goodie... what is it about these over-sized projects that so many years later still feel like a whiff of fresh air? It may be that almost 100 years after modernism promised us a brave new world, with mixed results at best, architects are still having a hard time dealing with infrastructure and community in our new cities. Contemporary cities are split by large highways and in America we sprawl into character-less communities where is easier to just ignore your neighbor. Perhaps we like the way that the megastructure, and the raw brand of modernism it embraces, puts you in voyeuristic proximity, above highways, in an architecture that is literally on the move. Or it may be simply a backlash against the 'signature' architecture that now decorates our cities. Either way I find this type of architecture and its connection to infrastructures and the ephemeral nature of media a relevant precedent for today.
3. Real Places
Grady Clay. University of Chicago, 1994.
A call to action: stop and look around you.
4. Domesticity at War
Beatriz Colomina. The MIT Press, 2007.
When reading this book I was reminded of Allen Ginsberg's Wichita Vortex Sutra , when during his search for poetry's new American language in the plains and hills of Kansas he says:
"I search for the language
that is also yours--
almost all our language has been taxed by war."
The book shows how right before, during, and after WWII designers looked for ways to make the then new industrial manufacturing methods used for war work for design. The language they created is still with us, we use it and don't even realize it. The question I found myself is whether the war in Iraq, and the larger global struggle against extremism, can provide a new language for architecture. Then again, since the president himself has asked us to ignore the wars and just go shopping the wars themselves may not be as influential now as the global project that is bringing consumerism to the world.
5. Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation
Dalibor Vesely. The MIT Press, 2004.
This book is not an easy read, but is an earnest look at a way to couple the technological advances that modernism brought with the humanist ideals we may have forgotten. He does this while arguing that architecture because of its particular place at the center of abstract and the physical is best suited to make that connection.
William J. Mitchell. The MIT Press, 2004.
Architecture has traditionally been a frame through which we deal with nature, now technology is the frame through which we deal with architecture. The question is whether designers can use the emerging technologies (from the i-phone to second life) to help us bring the range of human emotions into the built environment (physical and otherwise).
7. The Mystery of Capital
Hernando de Soto. Basic Books, 2003
This book along with Mike Davis' Planet of Slums and Robert Neuwirth's Shadow Cities are daring architects to get involved coming up with innovative answers to the problem of slums and urban poverty. Now I know that the books do not talk about design or architecture directly, but they point at the many systems that must be changed to allow these communities to join the mainstream. Designers, and their systematic ways of thinking, may be well suited to re-think those systems.
8. The Ten Commandments of Typography/Type Heresy
Paul Felton. Merrell, 2006.
Very clear set of rules of typogrophy and how to ignore them completely, fun book.
RAT I am America and So can You!
Stephen Colbert. Grand Central Publishing, 2007.
I did this one the right way. As per Colbert's wishes I did not read it, I listened to it, and as advertised my patriotism went up by 25%.
J B Mollitt (DRAGON )
1. Lessons From Bernard Rudofsky: Life as a Voyage
Architekturzentrum Wien | The Getty Research Institute Birkhäuser , 2007.
Improving the quality of our lives by asserting the primacy of the human sensorium was one of Rudofsky's lifelong challenges. He was an inveterate traveler and tireless chronicler of "non-pedigreed architecture" and its associated cultural mores and environments. With this ever-expanding knowledge he persistently challenged the prevailing social conventions of Modern Western life, which he characterized in part as too stringently functionalist and inept at satisfying human sensual needs. This richly produced catalogue—whose tactile and visual pleasures alone are noteworthy—accompanies an exhibit which began in Vienna , made its way to Montreal , and will open at the Getty in L.A. in March of 2008. Better known for his 1964 MoMA exhibit, this architect, critic, theorist, exhibition designer, author, editor and fashion designer has much more to recommend him than the lingering inspiration of Architecture without Architects .
2. Catching the Big Fish
David Lynch. Tarcher/Penguin , 2006
Between musings on the fluidity of shooting DV and the chance meeting with Fellini shortly before the maestro's death you'll find quotes from the Upanishads, a digression on the texture of rotting bodies and a vivid childhood recollection about chewing Ponderosa pine pitch. This is an eclectic mixture from an eccentric mind, consisting almost entirely of single page insights into David Lynch's filmmaking process and the rewards of his meditative life. Here's a snippet from IDEAS: "In Blue Velvet , it was red lips, green lawns, and the song—Bobby Vinton's version of "Blue Velvet." The next thing was an ear lying in a field. And that was it."
3. Reyner Banham: Historian of the Immediate Future
Nigel Whiteley. The MIT Press , 2002.
You could be forgiven for temporarily suspending your disbelief or critical instinct when reading some of Banham's spirited critiques, such is the enduring allure of his "rhetoric of presence" , as Princeton's Robert Maxwell referred to it. Nigel Whiteley does no such thing, however, and methodically reveals Banham 's contradictions and theoretical lapses, without denying him due credit, in this engrossing survey of his critical oeuvre and career trajectory—from Pop to Postmodernism.
Orhan Pamuk. Vintage , 2005.
The process of attrition that inheres in the emigrant experience; the will to recover one's full identity and quiet a paradoxical longing for home; the quest for the fount of an imagination withered by dislocation; the struggle to fix wavering beliefs. These are only some of the challenges faced by this novel's protagonist. It reads like a darkly humorous political thriller about Turkey's religious tensions but I suspect it will linger in memory as the final act of mythopoesis by a man uprooted by his own will. I'm halfway through the book and continue to wonder what nuance was lost to translation.
5. Sorry, Out of Gas
Mirko Zardini and Giovanna Borasi. Corraini Editore , 2007.
John Ralston Saul: "…public policy is driven by ideas—incomplete, aggressive, inclusive ideas. That is the nature of the public good." This quote isn't from the source material but it speaks to one of the lasting impressions I'm left with after reading the catalogue and seeing the exhibit. Unfortunately, the public good was only partially satisfied by a "managerial logic" that ultimately gave birth to the notion of sustainable development. This idea forms part of Mirko Zardini's contention in his provocative, introductory essay "Think Different." There is no shortage of imaginative capacity and ingenuity in this substantial collection , which makes its timely reappraisal all the more fitting. In addition to the exhibit , the CCA has also made available a series of related podcasts from an earlier colloquium titled "Sustainable?"
6. The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts
Milan Kundera. Harper Collins , 2005.
This is a short book at just 168 pages but its references and allusions span a thousand years of European literary and cultural history. To quote one of his own headings this is "Maximum Diversity in Minimum Space." Fortunately, Kundera's gift for creating an intimate space for his erudition never falters. The formidable Burgess is one of only a few other essayists I've read that are capable of portraying the enduring vitality of literature with such consistent ease.
7. Development as Freedom
Amartya Sen. Anchor Books , 1999.
It's an intriguing title, but not one that rests comfortably when examining your own reflexive response to the term development—at least when considering the record of institutions like the World Bank and the IMF. In light of such phenomena as microfinance , fair trade, ethical capital and the rise of social entrepreneurialism however, there's reason to believe that Sen's thesis may find some tangible validation in countries predisposed to democracy. This book isn't a formula, but a deeply humane and nuanced approach that rejects "a compartmentalized view of the process of development". It is lucid, accessible and hopeful.
8. The Primary Colors: Three Essays
Alexander Theroux. Henry Holt , 1994.
If you've ever seen Seven Years in Tibet you probably wondered why the Tibetans stuck their tongues out when the two foreign mountain climbers stumbled into town. According to Theroux, sticking out your tongue when greeting someone in Tibet is a sign of good manners since it dispels the fear that you may be a Bön shaman , who according to legend were said to have blue tongues. These three essays are a breathless charge through blue, yellow and red arcana from antiquity to the present day. It was an exhausting and habit-forming read.
RAT XS: Small Structures, Green Architecture
Phyllis Richardson. Universe Publishing , 2007.
This is a small book but it has plenty of heft and "compact charisma." Richardson's text was a pleasant surprise. The individual projects are riveting, both visually and textually, despite the economy of means.
Back to Part I...
John Jourden is an (a)rchitect and pathological thinker living in New York.