Tuesday, 21 April 2015

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A remarkably comprehensive look at American's contribution to world architecture. The 1232 pages, divided into twenty chapters, use articles from the leading architectural magazines to explore 169 companies (who each get a profile spread) and 675 examples of their overseas work. Though the book starts its historical look from 1900 it isn't until the Thirties that a large number of European architects (including Neutra, Pie, van der Rohe, Gropius, Breuer, Gruen, Sert) emigrated to the US to join existing or start their own companies, they all helped create the powerhouse of the American architectural office.

The years after 1945 provided a huge increase of overseas work with, for example, American oil companies and hotels chains expanding around the world. The Cold War and politics also provided plenty of creative stimulus. US embassies and staff accommodation required contemporary structures in dozens of countries. At the end of each chapter there are spreads with thumbnails of overseas buildings plus details of the architectural office who designed them. All the embassies have a logo saying: United States of America Embassy, they keep appearing right up to 2010.

The Gulf States were another lucrative area. Pages 752--753 has a graphic with a map and timeline detailing seventy-four projects from 1948 to 1986. Riyadh, Kuwait City and Jubail are dotted with American designed structures. From the mid-nineties Asia and especially China, provided plenty of work not only the usual standout office buildings but museums, universities and schools, airports, stadiums, shopping plazas (the Jerde Partnership designed six) and the usual embassies and consulates.

I thought the book packs in a huge amount of detail, especially the essays, on a spread at the start of each chapter, the book's four editors clearly know their subject. There is though one annoyance I found with the book, frequently the spreads from the architectural magazines have the columns either side of their middle unreadable because of the thickness of this book. The title was designed by the international design company Pentagram and they really should have known better. The easy solution would be to slightly separate the reproduced magazine spreads so that they don't go into the books spine.

'Office-US Atlas' is a huge compendium of American architectural creativity.

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