Architectural Criticism



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    Best of 2015: The Year In Review In Architecture(ish) Books

    Jessica A.S. Letaw
    Dec 17, '15 9:52 AM EST

    One of the perks of architecture as a contemplative art is that there has been a tremendous amount of great writing produced around it.  Here is a roundup some of the best books I read in 2015 (hint: a great source of gift ideas for the architect or architecture enthusiast in your life!).

    Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry
    Paul Goldberger

    For those that are interested in reading about the people behind the buildings, this is a must-read.  A biography of late 20th-century art and architecture featuring Frank Gehry, this work is most powerful in its ability to unpack a man who, perhaps more than any other single individual, embodies the troubled word “starchitect”.  In contemporary media the conversation about architecture is often obscured, more rarely enhanced by conversation about the people creating it; this squarely falls in the latter category.  It is much easier to understand the enormous effect Gehry’s designs have had on architecture in particular, and the world in general, through understanding the process through which he creates those designs.  Goldberger leverages a four-decade friendship into this moving portrait and colorful history.  Great for architecture and biography lovers.

    Frank Lloyd Wright
    Ada Louise Huxtable


    “In the end, art is truth, as sententious as that sounds, or as close to it as we get, and the truth of the man is in the work.”

    As with Goldberger on Gehry, this is a powerhouse of architectural history.  Written by the 20th century’s preeminent architectural critic about the 20th century’s preeminent architect, this deceptively small book walks the reader through history, architectural evolution and revolution, and one of the most hotly contested figures in contemporary architecture with precision, rigor, and grace.  Huxtable’s wry humor lends itself well to a man so outrageous he became the self-caricature he created, slowly painting a subtly nuanced, varied yet accurate portrait.  A light, entertaining read excellent for history, biography, and FLW buffs.

    Ambient Commons
    Malcolm McCullough


    “How can electronic artifice bring alive a sense of belonging to the world, and not just suggest conquest, distraction, or escape?”

    This intensely dense book is a challenge to work through, and is quietly one of the most urgently-needed texts in the Information Age.  Beginning with definitions of attention and time and ending with a call for audio-visual ethics, McCullough carefully walks the reader through what it means to be a consumer of media, the unavoidable effects of digital media on physical environments, and the surprising opportunities that exist for each to augment the other.  Strongly recommended reading for anyone who uses the Internet.

    Writing About Architecture
    Alexandra Lange

    “Buildings are everywhere.  We walk among them and live inside them but are largely passive dwellers in cities of towers, houses, open spaces, and shops we had no hand in creating.  But we are their best audience.”

    The built environment rests in a funny place in most of our minds; although it affects all of us, all the time, we mostly don’t know how to think or talk about it in ways that everyone can understand, and therefore often feel handicapped in how we can participate in making it better.  Lange’s Writing About Architecture could have just as easily been titled Thinking About Architecture: from sensory-oriented walkthroughs to neighborly ruminations that change the world, Lange constructs a straightforward, highly accessible framework on how to evaluate buildings and built contexts using six pivotal examples from contemporary architectural writing.  An outstanding resource for architecture students, this would also be a helpful addition to any practicing architect’s bookshelf, and a useful primer for everyday citizens on how to think about, talk about, and feel ownership over their own communities.

    Kicked A Building Lately?
    Ada Louise Huxtable


    “There is a far more sophisticated sense of architecture and a deeper response to the built world today than ever before in history.  In these years, a kind of wisdom has emerged.  People have learned to see and feel the city.”

    For decades the authoritative voice in mainstream architectural criticism, first for the New York Times and later for the Wall Street Journal, Ada Louise Huxtable took a long hiatus from journalism to write a series of short, engaging books on architecture and urbanism.  In this volume, she wastes no time letting readers know through the title that architecture is a thing to be engaged with immediacy by anyone.  Like kicking tires on a car, she announces, one should be free at any time to kick a building: to evaluate for themselves its quality and effectiveness.  Through descriptions of cities, buildings, and architectural taxonomies, Huxtable shows through example how to think about the historical, political, financial, aesthetic contexts of our rich but often confusing built environments.  Published in 1989 with many essays originally penned in the 1970s, it’s also an interesting exercise to see how well each city or building has held up over time.  Each short, entertaining essay is a quick punctuation mark in a book that is dense with information, tart with commentary, and yet extremely easy to read.  A great book for architecture hounds and city planning enthusiasts.

    Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography
    John Comazzi


    “The book presents a collection of Korab’s most distinctive images of Modern architecture, each carrying the imprint of his sensibilities and practices used to reveal what [Korab] refers to as ‘the dynamic tensions between architecture, nature, and the human condition.'”

    While Julius Shulman is generally considered the starchitect photographer of Modern architecture, Balthazar Korab captured many of the era’s most iconic buildings.  The Hungarian architect made his way through Paris to Michigan, working closely with such pivotal designers as Eero Saarinen, Oscar Niemeyer, and Frank Lloyd Wright to produce images that were true to the architecture’s form and materiality, and whose true genius was maintaining a unique intimacy and vulnerable quality.  A quietly lovely book perfect for Michigan and Modern architecture lovers.

    Hearts of the City
    Herbert Muschamp

    “Architecture, no less than politics, is an art of the possible.”

    A collection of one of the liveliest thinkers ever to write for the New York Times, this book is a collection of essays on architecture, design, and other observations by the former architecture critic Herbert Muschamp.  Including his seminal essay, “The Miracle in Bilbao” (arguably the most widely-read architectural essay in history) and spanning work from 1987 until his death twenty years later, these writings are like the man himself: unabashedly partial, packed tight with references, relentlessly energetic.  A must-read for aficionados of architecture, New York, and highly entertaining nonfiction.

    • 1 Comment

    • Nate Hornblower

      Most of these books are old or not original. Best book of the year was Heroic by far--new but timely. Goldberger on Gehry .... Put me to sleep. Huxtable is the only one above worth reading.

      Dec 22, 15 2:42 pm  · 

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About this Blog

Architectstasy is a resource for the current, past, and projected built environments of Ann Arbor, SE Michigan, the U.S., and occasionally the world. Jessica A.S. Letaw and invited critics present critical readings of the city's trajectories that are situated within architectural discourse as well as news that is pertinent to residents and citizens.

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