In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizak

In Prasie of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizak (translated by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker)

Review

A beautiful book about Japanese aesthetics and the love of perception in the shadows at the edge of darkness.

This book is short and sweet and at well under eighty pages it flits between more weighty subjects of Shadows, Color and Architecture with seemingly more trivial ones, Japanese toilets, paper, wiring Japanese homes among the many.

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The Thinking Hand Existential and Embodied Wisdom in Architecture by Juhani Pallasmaa

Introduction

This book reads as a follow on from the book The Eyes of The Skin by the same author. While The Eyes of the Skin is a beautiful text on the importance of the other senses, apart from touch, on design The Thinking Hand expands this observation and builds around the same themes to provide an overall theory of design practice and thinking emanating from the human body and all the senses.

Every chapter pretty much could stand on its own having their origins in separate essays. Each has its own closely argued references all given at the end of the chapter so although the writing is dense the argument is clear and it is fairly easy to go one chapter at a time.

I have enclosed the notes I took on each Chapter as I want to give a fairly detailed overview of the arguments presented. I hope this gives a good feeling for the style and substance of the arguments in the book. Then I will offer an overall conclusion. But in short I highly recommend this book and think it offers the design student much to ponder.

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101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick

101 Things I learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick

A friend loaned this book to me and before I handed it back, long overdue, I thought I’d write a few things about it. 

I read it through once at the beginning of my loan, then again many times just dipping in now and again when the book happened to appear on my radar as it did from time to time. This is how the book is really meant I feel as a small handbook of inspiration not as a read through.

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The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage by Ryan Holiday

Premise

The book is meant as an introduction to Stoicism and to an idea that stoicism in the West has been around throughout history behind the scenes as a tool for those who wanted to use it. The book comes formatted thus with some collected anecdotes about famous and successful people down the ages who have employed stoicism either consciously or unselfconsciously.

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The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

The Ghost Map : The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World

by Steven Johnson

Compare a bacteria with a human, with a city, with the planet. Weave in two personal stories and the clash of ideas and of the inherent messiness of progress, and you may get the outline of this book. The Ghost Map is at once a real map, but also a metaphor for progress, for navigation of the future using the past.

The scale at which this book is written jumps all the time and could have collapsed in on itself because it constantly pans and zooms through its subject matter, yet it always stays focused and gripping. The book’s main story are the events around an outbreak of Cholera in London in 1854 around Broad Street, Soho. Two very different people, John Snow and Henry Whitehead, became entangled in the outbreak and eventually through their efforts the battle against Cholera was won, mega cities became possible and the foundations for modern epidemiology were laid.

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The Man in the Glass House: Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century by Mark Lamster

The Man in the Glass House: Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century by Mark Lamster

Overview

A detailed biography of Philip Johnson in chronological order. The American Architect who became kingmaker during the rise of the modernist movement in the U.S.A. after WWII. A floored genius, a copyist, a playboy, politician and propagandist. This book sets the standard so far in my reading for an Architectural biography both in personal and professional detail.

I do not believe in principles, in case you haven’t noticed.

—Philip Johnson, 1982

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Nightlands Review

If you want to really get a feel for Nordic Architecture, indeed to really get under the skin of the differences between Nordic Architecture and the rest of the world then this is the book to start with. Not only does it give a convincing picture of ‘Northerness’ but it paints a credible narrative of not only the primordial origins of Nordic Architecture but the differences between the Nordic countries too. 

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The Eyes of The Skin Review

The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses by Juhani Pallasmaa

Introduction

This book is a short but beautifully crafted argument for an Architecture based less on the sense of sight and more on the other senses, and about how touch is the core sense from which the others flow. It argues we have gone too far in holding sight above those other senses, particularly in Architecture and that there is a better, deeper way to understand and shape the spaces we design.

Book History

Pallasmaa wrote the argument out as an essay and lecture, then turned it into a book first published in 1996 which quickly became a classic of Architectural Theory. Amazon has it at 130 pages long but my edition is only 80 pages! Either way it’s a short and fairly quick read provided you are familiar with the references Pallasmaa makes. If you don’t you might find it hard work to digest.

Basic Premise

The skin is the oldest and most sensitive of our organs, and touch is the sense that became differentiated into all the other senses. The understanding of our external environment is much more co-dependant on all the senses. But vision is the sense that is increasingly dominating in Architecture. Pallasmaa sets out the case for the tactile senses in the experience and understanding of the world and in the design of buildings and cities. That the pre-conscious perceptual realm, that of peripheral vision contains the quality of architectural reality much more than a focused image. The quote below joins up these associated ideas and expresses them beautifully.

‘I confront the city with my body; my legs measure the length of the arcade and the width of the square; my gaze unconsciously projects my body onto the facade of the cathedral, where it roams over the mouldings and contours, sensing the size of recesses and projections; my body weight meets the mass of the cathedral door, and my hand grasps the door pull as I enter the dark void behind. I experience myself in the city, and the city exists through my embodied experience. The city and my body supplement and define each other. I dwell in the city and the city dwells in me.’

– Juhani Pallasmaa

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Stuffocation by James Wallman

The subtitle of this book is Living More with Less and its an examination of a post materialistic future for our society today.

Taking the book title of Stuffocation James Wallman shows that in developed economies we have started drowning in too much stuff. Then he looks at different movements and how they address this problem. From Minimalism, The Simple Life, The Medium Chill to the Experientialists. The experience economy and a new view of whats important in our lives is what this book finally comes out in favour of.

The Minimalists who cut out more and more ruthlessly their material possessions can maybe be a little to ascetic for James’ taste. The Simple Life followers who follow Henry David Thoreau who tells in his book Walden of getting back to nature for two years also comes up short, it’s often too hard, Thoreau himself only lasted two years and then went back to the city.

The medium chill a sort of midway between following a completely aspirational life and chilling out is what many people might be doing already and anyway it’s not that aspirational is it?

Experientialism is James Wallmans’ answer to the materialist society and the economic never ending chase of raising GDP and I think I agree and see something to be taken from all these ideas.

One thing that kind of rubs me though is that as an Architect it is easy to see a sort of minimal style that just drips opulence. This shows itself in interior design, art, fashion and I think I detect it also in some of the minimal lifestyle guru set.  It’s rather easier to cut out the things you own if your socks count as one thing or you ripped all your cd’s and dvd’s to your laptop. If you only own three sets of 250 dollar jeans, and can buy another in a heartbeat,  how is that not fully partaking in materialistic Western society? This type of minimalism somehow doesn’t seem that much more than a different type of ostentation, one that leverages the feel good factor of youtube and facebook as you sit atop your influencer network while sipping your fruitshake on a Bali beach (Instagram moment!). The book to be fair does touch on this subject but only just in passing.

I do also see the point in a kind of empowering minimalism when it comes to personal finance. Mr. Money Moustache to take one example shows a way of looking at finances and savings, possessions and even experiences which I think can really empower people. Again this personal finance side of the coin is not touched on in the book.

So overall I really like Stuffocation and it does really make you think about your life and provide a jumping point for further reading and maybe action in your own life. You should definitely read it, but just don’t stop there!

Further Reading: