Thursday, 20 September 2018

Designed space

Originally published in 2009 this new reprint has twenty-three more pages and three more houses. The format is based on years from Bailie Scott's 1900 Blackwell house in Bowness-on-Windermere, UK to Tom Kundig's 2012 Studhorse house in Winthrop, Washington. The author wisely avoids a building for each of the 112 years, that would mean deliberately adding some mediocre structures. The introduction describes the changes in architecture over the decades and uses sidebars with twenty photos and deep captions to illustrate the points.

The first few iconic houses reflect the arts and craft movement in Europe and America with the heavy use of wood in their interiors but turn over page sixty-three to see Le Corbusier's remarkable 1931 Villa Savoye in Poissy, France  followed by Arne Jacobsen's Rothenborg House in Klampenborg, Sweden, also from 1931 and the moderne style had truly arrived, though in the introduction there is  a photo of Rietveld's 1924 Schroder House in Utrecht, Holland, painted white with its precise right-angles and box-like shape.

Readers will probably be aware of many of the houses in the book that are rightly regarded as iconic and designed by architects like Lubetkin, Chermayeff, Gropius, Aalto, Neutra, Mies van der Rohe, Saarinen or Lloyd Wright (what book could not include the stunning Fallingwater) but I found the houses from the early eighties onwards quite fascinating. Perhaps not all them could be called truly iconic because some are not that old but they all reveal a creative use of space and materials, for example, Antti Lovag's 1989 Palais Bulles in Cannes with its sensuous curving walls, circular and oval windows or Ken Shuttleworth's 1997 Crescent House in Winterbrook, Wiltshire, UK, this amazing building takes advantage of creative engineering and CAD design. It has no straight walls and the inside edge of the crescent is a complete curving wall of glass.

This is a lovely book to hold and look at, almost square with all the photos in color and it's worth saying that because Richard Powers took most of them there is uniform feel to the pictures throughout the pages. I thought it refreshing also to see so many floor plans for these houses. The back pages have a biography of each architect (and nicely their key buildings are noted) bibliography, a gazetteer of houses open to the public. a listing of houses by type and finally an index.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Gritty cities

Photographer Kallianiotis captures the run down areas of Pennsylvania, his home state, in this interesting collection of eighty-five color photos. They are all exterior shots taken in small cities and towns that could be called part of America's rust belt, coal in the eastern part of the state and steel in the western.  

These are working class areas as revealed by the power cables that occupy the top part of most of the photos, their appearance almost seems like a Kallianiotis trademark because of their frequency but I think they add something to the photos, other photographers would probably try and avoid the black lines in the sky which would be a mistake because they are such an integral part of American commonplace.

Not every photo works, the few close-up ones don't seem to deliver the visual interest which is apparent in so many of the street scenes full of texture from decaying walls and wood. There are several superb corner photos with utility poles, road signs, broken pavements, graffiti, apartments and houses in various colors and not forgetting those power cables again.
The photos are all the same size on the page which gives the book a visual uniformity (and printed with a two hundred screen) but I would have liked to have seen a location caption below each photo. I think they were all taken in the last three or four years.




Le Corbusier taped

If you have the two volume set of Le Corbusier's Modulor books the handy rule will make the perfect addition. This latest facsimile (the earlier one was issued in 2000) of the architect's tape that he always carried, has metric and imperial on one side and his red/blue measuring system on the other, it's four centimetres wide and printed on plastic. Somehow it seems waste to actually use it as a measuring devise far better to just leave it loosely rolled on your desk or maybe use it as a frieze on a wall. The round metal container it comes in has a three page essay by Kevin Lippert, the publisher of the Princeton Architectural Press, with some background material about the Rule.

I think this is a simple, wonderful reminder of one of the world's greatest architects

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

The first city to reach for the sky

A welcome third edition of this standard reference book to buildings in Chicago and suburbs. The first edition in 1993 had 256 pages, the second in 2005 had 296, this new edition has 328 with structures completed up to 2017 so it couldn't be more up to date. Just looking at the photos will confirm that the city is one of a handful around the world that has a remarkable tradition of modern buildings over the last hundred and fifty years or so. The two authors expand on this tradition from around 1860 with the arrival of buildings with several floors, the 1895 Reliance Building had fifteen and the race was on to get higher and higher, essentially in the centre of the city.

Chapter three about Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School is one reason why the city excelled in good looking buildings, he was responsible for at least nineteen in the city and several houses in the suburbs. I thought chapter six about the rise of modernism particularly interesting and backed up with a good selection of photos including Keck and Keck's Cahn House in Lake Forest, the client wanted "...the house of the day after tomorrow". This chapter also includes Mies Van Der Rohe's wonderful Lake Shore Drive apartments and his 1951 Farnsworth House in Plano, maybe the finest example of his concept of universal space. Unfortunately Doctor Farnsworth fired him before the house was completed because of excessive fees (though the text also refers to a possible failed romantic relationship between her and Van Der Rohe). The last chapter brings the story up to date with some remarkable buildings like Renzo Piano's Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago or Goettsch Partners stunning 2017 skyscraper at 150 North Riverside Plaza, a building very much like a tuning fork because it had a very narrow base which flares out on the ninth floor and then goes straight up.

There are three hundred photos in the book, probably more color than mono and they all have detailed captions including the usual architect, date, location. A thing I enjoyed about the book is the way it is written, a pleasant conversational style rather than a dry academic one which makes it a pleasure to read and backed up with an excellent selection of exterior and interior photos. In another ten years or so I'll expect to read the fourth edition.