Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The man who knew his space

This is one of those Taschen architectural books that is a trap for the unwary because of the reviews. It was originally published in 2000 as a jumbo edition (16 by 12.5 inches) and now reprinted with exactly the same content but a smaller edition (check out the Product Description above) to celebrate Taschen's twenty-fifth anniversary. There is also a ninety-six page paperback, a sort of vastly condensed edition of the book. Because the title is the same for each edition Amazon will probably use all the reviews for all editions.

To sum up all of Richard Neutra's built work in a single volume (and in three languages) is an editorial compromise which I think mostly comes off. To accommodate English, French and German means making lots of the excellent photos smaller than they would have been if it was in English only. The copy is set in seven point Gill Light (though with reasonable line spacing) so it takes up less room but it isn't easy to read after the sun has gone down.

The three hundred completed structures are in chronological order from the 1915 Officer's tea house in Bosnia-Herzegovina to the 1969 Uni of Pennsylvania student housing (Neutra died in 1970). All of them are named with a street address, date and depending on their importance either a brief description or several hundred words. I only found one that had no description or photos. Maybe three-quarters of the buildings have plans re-drawn from the originals (one inch to twenty feet or one inch to thirty feet).

Julius Shulman took probably more than half the thousand photos in the book, he was Neutra's favorite snapper and of course his photos make all the work look interesting so the reader can appreciate the clever use of space, some of the houses are actually quite compact. Most buildings get between two and four images with the world famous ones getting more: the Edgar Kaufmann house in Palm Springs gets twelve of the interior and exterior. The photos of California houses clearly show how Neutra (and others) took advantage of the pleasant climate by using floor to ceiling movable windows which opened to allow the interior floor coverings to blend into exterior patios and gardens.

Despite the editorial compromises I've mentioned I think the book is a wonderful survey of Neutra's work. He was, of course, one of the great architects of the twentieth century. 

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