Book Briefs #24

"Book Briefs" are an ongoing series of posts with two- or three-sentence first-hand descriptions of some of the numerous books that make their way into my library. These briefs are not full-blown reviews, but they are a way to share more worthwhile books than I'm able to review.

From top to bottom in the photo above:

Air Structures by Will McLean and Pete Silver | Laurence King | 2015 | Amazon
Part of Laurence King's "Form & Technique" series (other titles include Deployable Structures and Generative Design), this little book's release was timely, coming just after Frei Otto's passing and him winning the Pritzker Architecture Prize last year. Although his projects are nowhere to be found in the book, his influence permeates throughout. Along with R. Buckminster Fuller, Otto pioneered doing less with more. And he looked to nature – soap bubbles, spider webs – to figure out how to do it. With air as their primary "building material," the projects in this book show that the desire to build lightweight – and fun – structures continues.

Spaces of Serenity: Small Projects for Meditation and Contemplation by Jeffrey S. Poss | ORO Editions | 2015 | Amazon
This appropriately small book collects six small projects architect Jeffrey S. Poss designed as responses "to the basic human desire to identify and seek creative ways to resolve the conflicts of living in the everyday world." He is also a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, so most of the projects are in the area, including a couple self-initiated projects for his family. They are poetic little construction that bring to mind Mike Cadwell's small buildings documented in Pamphlet Architecture 17, though Poss's buildings are less folly-like and more practical as places for relaxation and meditation (three of them are called Meditation Huts). They are well documented with photos, drawings and the occasional rendering, though I wish there were more hand drawings like those that accompany the short introduction. Those images reveal the source of the calm behind the designs.

Scaling Infrastructure by the MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism | Princeton Architectural Press | 2016 | Amazon
A pet peeve of mine (one of many) is when great minds assemble – be it for conferences, educational programs, or other events – but then don't share the information to a wider audience through books, videos, or some other means. I can't say for sure if the hoarding of information is more prevalent than the sharing of information these days, but I'm glad to see a couple books published by the Center for Advanced Urbanism at MIT. The program started in 2013 with a commitment "to fostering a rigorous design culture for the large scale" and a motivation "by the radical changes in our environment, and the role that design and research can play in addressing these." These two books take their commendable approach beyond the university's walls. "Scaling Infrastructure" was the program's second conference (following "Infrastructural Monument," below), and it is documented through thirteen contributions: lectures, projects, interviews, all geared to infrastructural investments at all scales.

Infrastructural Monument by MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism | Princeton Architectural Press | 2016 | Amazon
MIT CAU's first conference, "Infrastructural Monument," explored "how infrastructure can transcend the merely practical and fulfill a role that is profoundly cultural – one that moves beyond the transportation of goods and labor and into the realm of architecture, public space, and landscape form." This theme is considered in eighteen contributions across six sections. Befitting an academic conference, it's a varied lot, with architects, planners, engineers and urban designers alongside people from real estate, transportation and the US government. Amongst all of these voices, architects hold their own, though it seems that ecology is the consideration that comes to the fore above the rest. Numerous other trends are evident such as resiliency and crowdsourcing, which makes some sense, since infrastructure has been its own trend since Barack Obama spoke about it four years ago.

Note: The third Center for Advanced Urbanism conference, "Future of Suburbia," takes place March 31 and April 1, 2016.

Essays On Thermodynamics, Architecture and Beauty by Iñaki Ábalos and Renata Sentkiewicz | Actar | 2015 | Amazon
Architecture, beauty, thermodynamics. One of these terms appears to be out of place, not typically lumped in with the other two. Of course I'm referring to thermodynamics, which would seem to relate to architecture through sustainability; it deals with heat transfer after all and is therefore an important part of designing enclosures. But for Ábalos + Sentkiewicz it is really one of four terms that are used to organize this book into "issues that a projective definition of architecture must necessarily address:" Somatisms, Verticalism, Thermodynamic Materialism, and the Assemblage of Monsters. While I was intrigued by the inclusion of thermodynamics in the title, the term "projective" turned me off. I've tried to understand the use of the term relative to architectural practice (Constructing a New Agenda and Oxymoron and Pleonasm are loaded with it), but to me it is too much of a meta-term than something grasped even with some effort. My lack of understanding aside, this book is basically a monograph on Ábalos + Sentkiewicz that is accompanied by a number of essays. Do people have to understand the essays to appreciate the work? Obviously not. But as architects and academics, the essays have been tools for them to explore ideas and attitudes about architecture, and therefore they have influenced the projects. The essays are then a valuable part of the book and should be rewarding for those so inclined to read them.

The City That Never Was: Reconsidering the Speculative Nature of Contemporary Urbanization by Christopher Marcinkoski | Princeton Architectural Press | 2016 | Amazon
I am a sucker for books with aerial photography – I have enough of them that aerials is a tag on my "Unpacking My Library" blog. One architect/author who has exploited the use of aerials is James Corner. So it comes as no surprise that Christopher Marcinkoski used to work at James Corner Field Operations. Now the head of PLOT Urbanism and a professor at PennDesign, Marcinkoski sets his aim on the housing bubble of 2008, looking at areas of the Madrid metropolitan region from above through five case studies. Much more than other places, the boom and bust in the region was pronounced, the latter visible in the marks of infrastructure, unfinished cultural venues and other failed projects. More than eye candy from above, The City That Never Was is a thoroughly researched and well illustrated (with charts, not just photos) book on the adverse effects of large-scale speculative urbanization.