Adapted in 1972 from a TV series this book revolutionised visual criticism and remains in print today some fifty years after it was written. It challenged conventional art criticism in a startlingly bold way and changed art criticism forever. Although it deals mostly with painting and photography some of the cultural criticism is I believe relevant to Architecture. It’s key arguments seem ever more urgent in the image hunger age of the internet. I think anyone interested in Architecture or Design or even mass media should read this book. Below is a summary and set of book notes with short review.
Architecture: A Very Short Introduction by Andrew Ballantyne
A short Disclaimer
I studied at Newcastle University in the 90’s and Andrew Ballantyne was one of the lecturers there. He never took a project or taught a module I was in but I heard him talk and lecture many times. I remember him well, and would mark him as one of the better teachers I encountered in my education.
A Quick Overview and Introduction
What is Architecture and how can we start to build up a foundation of knowledge with which to understand Architecture better? Architecture: A Very Short Introduction by Andrew Ballantyne answers the first question. The second question requires a framework to be built up in order to apply an order to your understanding and this book will do that too in a clear and unfussy way.
Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan by Rem Koolhaas
Opening shot / A black limousine pulls up in front of a glass skyscraper in Manhattan. The camera is so close to the base of the tower that it appears to go up forever disappearing into the clouds. The light bouncing off the plain glass elevations as though all the glass was reflected back, the only articulation of the building are the reflections of the clouds in the sky. Out gets Edward Norton the famous Hollywood actor, director, writer, polymath he is shown limping into the building.
The book Delirious New York was written in 1978 and pushed OMA and Rem Koolhaas into the spotlight where they have never been out of since. This book helped OMA became the architectural office probably with the most influence in the Architecture scene from the 90’s into the 2000’s.
Delirious New York is a retroactive manifesto of the Skyscraper and for New York City. The birth of which occurred around 1910 and its death some thirty years later. The manifesto is an unconscious programme embarked on in the city during its massive growth which only now Delirious New York properly reveals.
In Prasie of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizak (translated by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker)
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.
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.
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.
The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage by Ryan Holiday
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.
Soft City by Jonathan Raban
Soft cities is like a city reader, a book about how cities work on our inner selves and how we live in them and Iain Sinclairs’ introduction hits all the right notes locating Rabans’ book within the London of the 70’s, and the literary traditions from which it springs.
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.
The Man in the Glass House: Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century by Mark Lamster
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