"The Iconic Interior: Private Spaces of Leading Artists, Architects, and Designers" is a gorgeous indulgence for the holidays and a source of inspiration for architects and designers, for it includes nearly all the luminaries of the past century, from Adolph Loos and Jean-Michel Frank to John Pawson and David Mlinaric. That quarter indicates the range of the selection, which veers from minimalism to decorative excess and includes many that are one-of-a-kind, notably Michael Boyd’s fusion of art and design in the house that Oscar Niemeyer designed in Santa Monica. Author Dominic Bradbury has made a thoughtful choice and his descriptions are a pleasure to read. Richard Powers’ images capture the spirit and detail of these varied interiors, as he did for architecture in "The Iconic House", a previous collaboration. Each house and apartment is well documented, and a gazetteer provides contact details for the 18 properties that are open to the public. All credit to Thames & Hudson for commissioning this book and its predecessor, which Abrams are distributing in the U.S.. One could wish American publishers showed as much imagination in this field. The only problem is the title. One can call architectural masterworks iconic, but interiors are far more ephemeral and shaped by passing fashion or an owner’s whims.
Taschen and its house author have been constantly updating their monograph on Tadao Ando, and the latest edition, "Ando: Complete Works 1975-2012", is four times as long as the one that appeared in 1999. It features 42 buildings plus 16 projects that were not realized or are now under construction, mostly in the Middle East and East Asia. The title is misleading: this is a selection of Ando’s best designs—even the checklist at the end is far from complete—but it represents the body of work for which the architect wants to be known. One could wish that other prolific practitioners were equally self-critical. Page for page, it’s a terrific bargain. Philip Jodidio provides a helpful introduction, keyed to specific buildings, along with a biographical note and a selective bibliography, though one wishes the type had been set at a readable size. Like most contemporary monographs, it’s designed not for reading, but browsing; flipping the pages from one beguiling photo spread to the next. The plans, expressive sketches and details draw one into Ando’s structures. A self-taught master of concrete and wood, of mass and void, and, above all, of light, this architect—who once built only in Japan—is now at home in every part of the world and in every type of building.
Phaidon, a London-based publisher of sumptuous books on architecture and art, was recently sold and one can only hope that the new owner will preserve its integrity at a time when other publishers are dumbing down. Phaidon’s latest atlas of 20th Century World Architecture ($200) — a blockbuster in the same format as two previous surveys of contemporary work—chronicles 750 exemplary modern buildings of the 20th century. Classics are juxtaposed with unfamiliar projects, and the committees that produced this mammoth tome have striven for a geographical balance. Each project gets a full page of images, drawings and a succinct factual description, which facilitates comparisons. It’s a great work of reference, but you may prefer to wait a couple of years to buy the compact and inexpensive travel edition. Meanwhile, you can browse the entries, country by country, and plan future voyages of discovery. And, as further stimulus, the travel edition of The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture has just appeared.
The A+D Museum is flourishing as a hub of activity, raising public awareness of architecture and design. Its current exhibition, Eero Saarinen: a Reputation for Innovation, is on display through January 3rd, and it provides a good introduction to the varied work of this American master. Here are the classic achievements—the St Louis Arch, the TWA Terminal at JFK and Dulles Airport in Virginia—all completed after his premature death in 1961 at age 51. How many more masterpieces might there have been if he had lived as long as his father, the Finnish master Eliel Saarinen? Here, too, are examples of the furniture Eero created for Knoll: the Grasshopper and Womb chairs, and the Tulip chairs and tables that banished what he called “the slum of legs.” A revelation of the A+D show is the 1939 competition-winning design for the Smithsonian Gallery of Art, which was intended to complement, in its architecture and emphasis on contemporary work, John Russell Pope’s National Gallery of Art, then under construction on the north side of the Washington Mall. It’s an accomplished work for a 29-year-old, who was beginning to emerge from the long shadow of his father.
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.