Each year at this time we publish a list of recommended books on architecture. I like to think of the list not only as inspiration for gift-giving but also as a look back at the people and ideas that mattered in architecture over the past few years. From career spanning monographs and books on architectural theory and history, to books about singular projects, there was no shortage of engaging architecture reads in 2014. As these books illustrate, architecture in 2014 was about many things; septua- and octogenarians showing no signs of stoppage and shortage of ideas, modest projects with big ambition, a call for the return of place-based architecture and the rise of the citizen-architect.
Renzo Piano: Complete Works 1966-2014
New to Taschen’s Complete Works series are two 600-plus page tomes; one devoted to the work of Renzo Piano, the other to Tadao Ando. These Pritzker Prize winning architects have each completed a number of critically acclaimed projects this year and each continues to put his stamp on geographies around the world. Bookended by the ground breaking Centre Pompidou and the soon to open Whitney Museum Renzo Piano Complete Works is a hefty single-source reference book for scholars and architecture fans amply illustrated with photographs, plans and sketches, and text by Philip Jodido. As the reader will discover sifting through this prodigious record of achievement, Piano’s work is distinguished by a commitment to a coherent set of ideas applied in extraordinary ways.
Tadao Ando: Complete Works 1975-2014
Taschen’s Ando monograph is equally comprehensive in its breadth and depth. Opening with a simple reductive concrete row house in Sumiyoshi and concluding with the Teatrino auditorium in Venice, Italy completed in 2013, Ando Complete Works is an impressive record of achievement. Not since Louis Kahn has there been an architect whose work evidences such a poetic mastery of concrete. Not included is Ando’s critically acclaimed expansion of the Clark Art Institute in Western Massachusetts, which opened in 2014. That project is itself the subject of a new book published this year, aptly titled Shadow and Light: Tadao Ando at The Clark. Located in one of the most evocative landscapes in the Northeast United States, The Clark is a special museum. Ando’s quiet addition there perfectly frames this prized landscape in a building that Mark Lamster, the architecture critic for the Dallas News, describes as ‘what Mies van der Rohe and Louis Kahn might have come up with had they been forced to collaborate’.
The Buildings and Designs of Andrea Palladio
Princeton Architectural Press
In terms of sheer influence no architect can hold a candle to Andrea Palladio. As this book rightly notes on its dustcover, Palladio is ‘unquestionably the most important architect in the Western world’. Gathered together in this exquisitely crafted single volume is the complete works of the Italian master, from the famous villas to the lesser known engineering structures such as bridges.
Another hefty tome weighing in at 6 1/2 pounds, Mies is the newest and according to its publisher ‘most definitive’ monograph on Mies van der Rohe. Like Palladio, Mies’ work has influenced generations of architects and has even won over steadfast critics like architect Robert Venturi, who in the book’s opening pages declares he got it wrong where Mies is concerned. “Of all the things I’ve written - and I’ve written and said a lot - there is nothing I want to take back except maybe ‘Less is a bore’,” said Venturi. “Mies was one of the great masters of the twentieth century and all architects should kiss his feet because of his accomplishment and what we can learn from him.” This is a book of serious scholarship and sadly author Mertins did not live to see the book published. Included are 22 chapters, each focused on an individual building, organized around six themes that permeate the architect’s work. The book is currently sold out but happily Phaidon plans to do a reprint. Consider yourself fortunate if you can get your hands on this one.
New York’s New Edge
David Halle and Elisabeth Tiso
The University of Chicago Press
You might call The High Line 'the little project that could'. 2014 saw the completion of the third and final leg of this immensely successful elevated park that is the envy of cities everywhere looking to spur regeneration through the creative repurposing of urban infrastructure. The success of the High Line, and its impact on the surrounding neighborhood, is examined in the book New York’s New Edge. The preservation of the High Line and the creation of the adjacent Gansevoort Market Historic District fueled extraordinary change in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York. This book is a current and fascinating examination of the ongoing transformation occurring on Manhattan’s Far West Side. In addition to The High Line, authors Halle and Tiso discuss how Chelsea came to be the most important art gallery district in the world and how the Far West Side came to be the location for urban megaprojects; Hudson Yards, the Javits expansion and the Penn/Moynihan Station.
Local Architecture: Building Place, Craft and Community
Brian MacKay-Lyons, edited by Robert McCarter
Princeton Architectural Press
In Local Architecture, Nova Scotia-born architect Brian MacKay-Lyons contends that architecture has strayed from its roots. Frustrated with architectural education, which McKay-Lyons says has isolated itself from the world around it, he gathered together a group of architecture friends to start Ghost, an architectural laboratory focused on the idea of making architecture out of local materials and local labor and making it affordable. Local Architecture examines the global shift that was presented at the thirteenth and final Ghost lab and showcases projects designed by architects committed to its values, including the rammed earth houses of Rick Joy, the Pacific northwest timber houses of Tom Kundig, Glenn Murcutt’s work in New South Wales, and Francis Kéré’s recent work in Berlin and Burkina Faso.
A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for Urban America
Similar to books calling for a return to critical regionalism, are books calling for an end to senseless development patterns. In December, the New York Times ran a feature about how 20,000 plus sq ft houses in Los Angeles were being torn down and replaced by ‘gigamansions’ approximating 90,000 sq ft. This kind of thinking and resultant development pattern is not only wasteful and destructive to communities and to the environment, it also needs to be called out as such by someone who clearly understands the issues. One book that makes an eloquent argument for the densification of cities is A Country of Cities by Vishaan Chakrabarti, Principal at SHoP Architects and Director of Columbia University’s Center of Urban Real Estate (CURE). Says Alex Bozikovic of the Toronto Globe: “There’s been a barrage of recent books on similar themes. But Chakrabarti has written maybe the most useful one, a polemic in favour of city living that makes the stakes clear.” In the book Chakrabarti compares his version of the American Dream (living in a city with access to well-designed mixed income housing, mass transit and an array of services) to what he calls the American Scheme (owning a big suburban house and driving a gas guzzling SUV on the highway to get home to it.