Chalk Architecture's Paul Nicholson reviews the latest volume on small structures
If the quality of a book was measured by weight alone, SMALL ARCHITECTURE NOW! (by Philip Jodidio, published by Taschen) would be a shoe in for a prize. As is the tendency for coffee table books on architecture, it’s a bit of a tome with large edge to edge glossy photography of some interesting and some great pieces of architecture from across the globe.
Allegedly typified by their SMALL size, the works stretch the full realm of 3 dimensional design in which architects might be engaged. A lengthy introduction sets out to make the case of the nomenclature, which on occasion does tend to be a bit of a stretch to justify. Certainly some of the projects are no doubt small, but the budget that came with the brief must have been high, sometimes exceptionally high.
Indeed not all the projects conform to what purists would class as Architecture; personally I have no issue with that at all as the nature of place making in the built environment is geared by the little pieces of the urban fabric that are left over. It’s the clever little interventions that can set the scene for truly great day-to-day cultural identity. This book highlights many of these.
The introduction also sets the scene for a few of the author's favourite projects, describing the background behind the concepts and the history of its designer. That’s a nice touch and takes the book onto a level of justifiable reference than just mere coffee table styling. The book is translated into German and French, the sections of which follow on from the English in that order which has clearly added to volume of the book.
The author employs the system of reference images in the introduction that are miles away in the depth of the book, which is a little pet hate of mine. I’d prefer the text next the image, maybe that’s just me. The photography is genuinely good, and I can happily report that the human scale of habitation is regularly present, carefully considered and elegantly styled. The addition of meaningful drawings from each project really let you into the big idea that underpins the concept.
Particular favourites of mine are the Cave for Children in Norway by Haugen/Zohar Arkitekter: bouncy playground flooring is employed as a building material and stacked up to form a block which is then carved out to make spaces, doors, seats, and hand holds for climbing; the Menscience Flagship store in New York by HWKN: being a sucker for retail design this caught my eye straight away, a really inventive and simple use of flat plate steel to form a shelving grid, an appropriately masculine feel to a mens grooming store; House 77 in Portugal by dIONISO LAB: a project that clearly follows in the footsteps of the active facades that play with the perception of volume by Herzog and de Meurons, this is a witty and playful house; and finally Windows in Venice by Alvaro Siza & Eduardo Souto de Moura: Siza’s flawless modernism is second to none, this is a classic. Simple, but a classic.
Overall SMALL ARCHITECTURE NOW! is a nice piece, with interesting content and well executed. All I need now is a coffee table.
In 2011, Chalk Architecture was shortlisted in the WIN Retail Interiors Awards on account of their Small Batch Coffee Company scheme.
Later this year, we will be seeking exceptional small projects for the first ever WAN Small Spaces Award. Keep an eye on the WAN AWARDS website for more details.