Architecture Matters. Aaron Betsky (Thames & Hudson, $16.95)
This is the most compelling—and affordable–book on architecture I have enjoyed in years, and it should be mandatory reading, in schools and city halls. The text is as declarative as the title, but this is not a polemic in the tradition of Le Corbusier. Rather, it recalls the essays of Steen Eiler Rasmussen and Ian Nairn: intensely personal responses to architecture and urban planning that open our eyes and arouse all our senses. Betsky heads the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin, having previously directed the Netherlands Institute of Architecture and the Cincinatti Museum of Art. Gerrit Rietveld’s Schroeder house in Utrecht introduced him to the potential of architecture, and he deepened his passion for the art and practice at Yale and in the office of Frank Gehry. Since then he has traveled widely, looked closely, taught and distilled his impressions in books, notably Dutch Flat, and this slim volume.
I share his passion for travel and exploring buildings old and new. His book extends my horizons and makes me want to revisit the Nebraska State Capitol, Dominus Winery, the Salk Institute and other sites that inspire him to rapture. More importantly, the tone is provocative, questioning the relevance of monuments to our daily lives, extolling re-use and bricolage, exposing the limits of paramentrics and blind faith in software. He compares the Jeffersonian grid—a tool for exploiting the American West—with the spatial planning of the Dutch, who have reclaimed two thirds of their land from the sea, ordering it with a grid of dykes and polders. He ends on an optimistic note: “If you can create architecture that makes you aware of where you are, and through that makes you wonder what you are, you will have created something great.” —Michael Webb