In the 19th century, “Go west, young man” was an invitation to settle the prairies or prospect for gold in Colorado and California. Now, architects fly to China to realize their dreams on a scale and at a speed that’s unimaginable in the West of today. Few have achieved more spectacular success than Steven Holl. When I was in Beijing in 2008, his Linked Hybrid was a construction site; now those towers have been matched by Sliced Porosity in Chengdu and Horizontal Skyscraper in Shenzen. To come are a pair of new museums near Tianjin, and a porous city within the fast-growing city of Dongguan, a neighbor of Shenzen. All five of these vast projects are explored in a masterpiece of miniaturization that is elegantly produced and fairly priced for a book of this quality.
Entries in Steven Holl (2)
Different as their content is, these two books belong together as exquisite miniatures; exemplars of quality over quantity, and the intimacy of a book you can hold in one hand as easily as a smart phone. Lars Müller is based in Zurich and upholds the Swiss tradition of crisp, unpretentious modernism in all his publications. Balcony Press, the publisher of Form, has fewer resources but puts them to good use—notably in this delectable paperback with its searing yellow cover and geometrical spreads that herald each essay. Designer Sarah Carr merits an award—for her artistry and for demonstrating anew that no digital screen will ever match the aesthetic pleasure of a well-printed book.
Color, Light, Time contains essays by Jordi Safont-Tria and Sanford Kwinter on the themes Steven Holl explores in his recent buildings, and a series of brief notes by the architect. As in other books by and about this cerebral architect, it covers a broad range of perceptual and philosophical issues, and the text is woven together with sketches and photographs that bring these varied projects to life. Poetic and haptic, they offer—at every scale—a rich source of inspiration for practitioners and unalloyed delight for connoisseurs of the art of architecture.
Steven Holl: Color, Light, Time
Lars Müller, $45
If Cars Could Talk is a collection of short essays by an architect and urban designer who has been deeply committed to the livability of cities since he worked in Boston and New York under the last generation of idealistic mayors, and has spent the past three decades trying to redeem Los Angeles. It’s an unenviable task, for this sprawling metropolis lacks effective leadership, and its players and the institutions they represent are, in the main, parsimonious, philistine, and parochial. Happily, his bow-tied cheeriness has preserved his sanity, his projects have been widely realized (most recently in China), and he wages the fight for humane design with gusto. In these stimulating essays, he challenges the dominance of cars and plop developments while offering an alternative vision of a mobile city with abundant green space and an intelligent use of technology. In a better world, he’d be an ideal candidate for mayor of LA—but one doubts he would succumb to that delusion, having witnessed the fate of New York Mayor John Lindsay.