Friday 17 November 2023

London life

This is an illustrated fifty-two-page, soft-cover square booklet published by the London
Museum in 1973. I think it was connected to an exhibition but there is only one one reference to this in the text.  The seven chapters (Home, Spare time, The Nation's health, Politics, London grows, People at work, The capital city) each have an interesting essay mixed in with an excellent selection of photos and graphics. Well worth searching out if you are interested in the Thirties London life. Worth saying that it originally cost five shillings. 

Wednesday 18 October 2023

On the road

I'm pleased to see that there are still books being published with black and white photos and in the case of Florence Montmare's work there are overtones of Frank's The Americans. This is her first monograph with photos taken as she traveled seven thousand miles in a round trip across the US.

The sixty-seven photos are all exteriors of what can be seen from the highway, especially man-made activity combined with natural landscape shots. The book has another dimension though because mixed in with the highway photos there are sixty-one portraits of people Montmare met on her travels. Most of these have a quote about their lives next to their photo. 

I'm not convinced that the portraits work in the book's editorial design. They vary in how much of the person is shown and look rather bland. If they had been smaller headshots and connected typographically to their quotes I think it would have made the spreads more visually interesting. 


Friday 13 October 2023

The art of spartan living (5/5)

The two brief essays by Naomi Pollock and Hiroyasu Fujioka at the start of this interesting book explain why Japanese houses are so small and popular. A huge number of homes were destroyed in major cities during WW2 allowing architects to quickly design buildings within the limitations of scarce materials and government size restrictions. Cities have tightly packed individual houses and with virtually no visual planning restrictions, as Pollock says ...'in Japan anything goes'. Amazingly the lifespan of the average house is only twenty-six years because property values are connected to the site rather than the structure and the average interior space is only 1,080 square feet. Also contributing to the small size are high inheritance taxes which results in heirs subdividing plots and selling part to pay the taxes.

Bearing all this in mind the book reveals how architects designed the ninety-seven houses featured in the book. From the seventies onwards several houses show the structural elements as part of the interior decor. A 1976 Kazuo Shinohara house has substantial angled support concrete columns in the communal space. Kazunari Sakamoto's 1988 home uses steel uprights and tubes supporting the roof as part of the living room, this design idea was repeated in 1997 by Katsuhiro Miyamoto and includes a white exterior steel frame with two huge diagonal supports across a large window.

With a limited footprint, there are several houses with three stories. Useful because so many streets are narrow with no on-street parking and three stories allow for a notch to be cut out of part of the ground floor for the owner's car. Shigeru Ban created, in 1995, a literal curtain wall house with two huge polyester cloth curtains that can be pulled over the two upper floors of this corner property, when open the floors are indoors and outdoors to the street but sensibly Ban included sliding glass panels on both floors to seal them from the winter cold. Hiroshi Sambuichi designed a sloping house in 2003. Partially dug out of a hill, the three floors avoid interior walls that go up to the ceiling so that when windows are open at the top and bottom of the house a breeze can flow through the structure.

I enjoyed the editorial format of this book. The houses are divided into nine decades (the 1940s to 2020s) each starting with a page overview considering the country's economy, society and how this affected architecture. The houses have an essay, photos and a floor plan. At the end of each decade, there is a page essay about parts of a  house, for example: Walls and doors; Stairs and corridors; Kitchens and bathrooms; Gardens and courtyards. A nice touch was having ten houses with the owners revealing their experience of living in the house.

Naomi Pollock has written a fine analysis of Japanese houses and with 544 illustrations this is a very comprehensive coverage.