This book was one of those pleasurable of reading experiences where my brain felt like it was being subtly rewired as I was reading it. I loved this book and what follows isn’t really a review but a summary with an awful lot of quotes. A set of notes for myself. I’ll try to make a faithful outline of what Strategic design is and what it might mean to the Architect without the examples that Dan gives. Also Strelka press should be congratulated on a nice series of e-books.
I’m not going to write a long review but just a brief overview of this book with a few online references for following up by myself and anyone else interested.
Pompeii starts with the falling pumice stone on the city of Pompeii on the 25th August 79CE. What book on Pompeii could start in any other way than to take you via the people trapped, and forced to witness forever to us this human tragedy 2000 years ago? Their frozen bodies at once connect us to this city in a way the buried city buildings never will. But after the introduction Mary Beard leaves the statues of the dead respectfully behind to give anyone interested a run down on the city, and what it can and can’t tell us.
Miss Beard has a good way of writing, she can summarise complicated points well and make them easily digestible, and she tries not to get too carried away, but let the actual evidence contain her assumptions.
It’s wonderful to follow the speculation forinstance about the possible one way road system or try to imagine the stench of the street / open sewer system of the town. How many people could read? How many citizens and slaves? How did the local elections work? The architecture, paintings, everything is gone over in the search for information about Pompeii and the Roman world, and through it I found myself building up a much more detailed picture than I previously had before.
The sections on making a visit and further reading make this book more than a vivid capturing of the city into the first book you should read if you are going to visit the city.
Mary Beard since writing this has produced with the BBC quite a few films including one on Pompeii, it’s below with a few other links.
Kirjava Keskiaika is a beautiful finnish website which opens up for anyone the oldest and most precious books existing in Finland, download the text in pdf format. Also the books and other medieval treasures are mapped and a short written history of the object given.
The Arctic is one of man’s frontiers geopolitically, physically and psychologically. Recently the area has been the subject of renewed interest, as the icecaps melt it could be the place where new trade routes open up. Where oil and gas wealth are stored if only they could be exploited, where countries identify themselves and play the game of Risk in the real world. This book covers all these things and more.
It is a history of the Arctic covering its relationship to the Americas, Scandinavia and Russia Historically. It has a good section on global warming and what that means now and in the future for the region. It looks at the search and exploitation of oil and gas in the region, most interestingly by Norway and Russia. Most importantly for readers it links these strands together for the most part successfully.
The book started for me a little dryly but hit it’s bootstraps when Charles Emerson turned his attention to Russia and the old Soviet, and from there it didn’t look back. Recommended reading for anyone who might find these subjects interesting or who wants to explore an unknown frontier for themselves.
A friend loaned this book to me and before I hand 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 from cover to cover, then again coming back and dipping when the book happened to appear on my radar as it did from time to time.
Ways of Seeing by John Berger
The basic premise of the book is simple, that people see and understand things and themselves by sight. That as seeing establishes our place in the world then how we see is important. But from these basic assertions a fast and near complete deconstruction of culture is embarked upon. That it deals so devastatingly with its subject matter reminded me of reading a high paced thriller.
Originally a four part television series for the BBC aired in 1972 this was subsequently made into a short book of essays that follows closely the series. Its uploaded here on You Tube and really worth watching, even before you read the rest of this review. It’s considered a foundational text if you are studying Art History and I would immediately recommend it to any Architectural student or practitioner. Actually I would recommend it to anyone because it is a seminal piece on how we attribute value and meaning in human affairs, and everyone should know how the whole sorry system really works.
The book consists of seven essays three of which are visual only. The essays make bold assertions backed up by forceful and cogent argument.
- The first essay argues that reproduction of a work of art has altered its relationship with the viewer and of that of the original also.
- The Second and Third Essay look at the female Nude…..that’s different from being naked by the way.
- Fourth and Fifth and Sixth Essays look at what oil painting depicted, for whom and why.
- The last essay on advertising and how they are similar to, and different from fine art.
The book is so full of well written insights and arguments it’s difficult to know where to start. But fair I think to say that part of the reason it is so well lauded is it blows the pompous arrogance of traditional value judgements of art out of the water. Forever.
Has it dated? Maybe a little and yes it seems to be coming from that left-field of postwar Marxist criticism that now seems a little naive ? Well yes, but you’d be straw manning the book if you thought by bringing up the word ‘marxist’ you had undermined it’s arguments or conclusions in any way.
This book is one to read and enjoy and reweigh the arguments with for years to come. Read and enjoy.
This is an interesting book because it is by a British author but the novel is set in pre-revolution Finland. As such the author faces the challenge of making the characters and settings both believable and accurate without bogging down the story with too much detail. So the art of storytelling the signs of a good writer are abundant here. Infact from my perspective Dunmore has managed to bring realistic characters to life as well as bring out Finnish Archetypes without them overshadowing the story. The clash of Swedish Fins and Fins through the references to nature versus civilisation for example or of the struggle between political and social world views going on at that time. This is a book that perches historically on the edge of the abyss of civil war and even later the struggle for survival of the winter war.
The novel for me dissolves a little at the end with the characters drifting off into the crowd, also the central character of Eeva is never dealt with for me fairly in this novel. Mostly she is the subject against which others characters thoughts are reflected. So this book feels like it could and should have gone in a number of different directions at the end.
However I had an ulterior motive for reading this book in that it could be added to a list of books about Finland (about Finnishness) that allow you to understand the Finnish psyche a little better. Something Dan Hill in relation to designing for a Helsinki housing block called Method Designing. This book would slide into the required reading category in understanding Finnish politics even up to the present day as it highlights something of the route to independence that Finland took.
Provisional – Emerging modes of Architectural Practice US by Elite Kedan, Jon Dreyfous, Craig Mutter (Princeton Architectural Press 2009)
This book takes nine practices from the U.S.A which are by their nature different from a standard architectural practice and look at how they work.
Some things are about the practical building relationships during a project for example LTL have revised contractual relationships to retain quality control. SHoP retain a financial interest in some of the projects they design. Servo are a little similar to Ocean which has a strong connection to Helsinki.
Otherwise mostly these practises are in some way using computers, their methodological use of them and transformation of them to open up new possibilities, the work of Chris Hoxie with his various collaborators is a good example. But that’s more of a subtext to the wider enquiry of how Architects work and how that might change in the near future.
It’s not strictly a book about the buildings which these Architects make but about the processes that the Architects use in order to arrive at the buildings. This then is quite a rare book in that it looks at the process of Architecture and is not much focused on the end result.
This book could be seen then as a cross section in that it is organised by type, eg into essays, images, interviews, even construction documents. Its also a cross section by intent, meaning it gives you a deep insight into how these contemporary Architects work today, and by implication how we all might work tomorrow.The interviews succeed the best in shedding light these designers processes , the drawings and photos provide some background flavour but don’t go much beyond that.
This is an optimistic book one where it’s subjets are all in different way changing the process of architectural design itself some more and some less on the edge of traditional idea of an architectural practice. If you aren’t an Architect or Designer this book is of limited value and won’t sit well on a coffee table however if you are then this is a book that is worth diving deep into.
Nine up and coming Finnish Architecture practises have a book publication out called Newly Drawn – Emerging Finnish Architects (website).
Its always good to start a book with a bang and This Gaming Life does just that.
In May 2000 I was fired from my job as a reporter on a finance newsletter because of an obsession with a video game. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.
From here the stage is set for Rossignol to take you on a semi-autographical tour of the real life world of the games industry. The book is basically split into three. London, Seoul and Reykjavik with a conclusion ‘home’ added to the end. Splitting the book up into cities reflects not just in the geography of Rossignol’s travels but the subjects of the book. London is more autobiographical and is much more about the gaming industry about the transforming power of the game in peoples lives although I wasn’t entirely convinced about all of this. Anything that generates so much money must by definition mean that people can make a living in it, that it becomes an industry by default anyway. But it acts as a way into the world of gaming well enough.
That gaming is capable of Feeding back into the real world for example in Luis Von Ahn’s ESP game or Nina Ferrerman’s looking at mapping disease spreads within computer games illustrates one of Rossignols’ key insights that there is a two way street between gaming and reality. That they can alter each other that they may be diffferent in different parts of the globe in different situations. Seoul shows this effect really well the computer gaming bars of S.Korea perhaps setting a standard for East Asia which is quite different to Europe and the U.S.
That games can be a feedback process and this process may not be directly related to that of playing the game. Suddenly for me the book started to spark across different ideas and subjects and really came alive at that point. The third part Reykjavik deals mostly with Eve Online which for many reasons is quite different from most other online games and is capable of emergent behaviour, even in real life. It brings me onto a quote from Will Wright in the book which really helps to sum up the bridge I felt between Architecture and Gaming reading this book.
When we do these computer models, those aren’t the real models, the real models are in the gamer’s head. The computer game is just a compiler for that mental model in the player. We have this ability as humans to build these fairly elaborate models in our imaginations, and the process of play is the process of pushing against reality, building a model, refining a model by looking at he results of looking at interacting with things. – Will Wright 2006.
I’m tantalised and seduced by the beauty of the Architecture of video games, also not a little jealous of their freedom and power where in real life Architects seem constrained by conditions, culture and themselves too often.
There is something more in this book too, that the process of gaming might open up new avenues for architects themselves. That we find ourselves in an age where Simulation starts to replace representation not only as a narrative structure but in design and conceptual terms that may in turn effect Achitecture, cities, even cultures. This seems to be a powerful message in the book which Rossignol only begins to touch on. I look forward to the follow up to further investigate this new frontier.
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
Amazon.com | uk
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 inherrant 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 books 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. But to sum it up thus would be to rob this book of its layered approach and the way it branches out to touch on lots of other subjects.
White Death by Robert Edwards
As a British citizen I was brought up with the popular blockbuster WWII films and jingoistic historical notion ofÂ WWII being a kind of good versus evil battle. The idea is still somewhat preserved now with the Third Reich being the last word in totalitarian regimes, in the West at any rate. Added to this theÂ Eastern Front and the allies vital alliance with Russia is so little remembered in these notions of that war. Continue reading
The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century Architecture is out for Christmas (isn’t it about 92years early?). The Times does a nice little review of this coffee table bound volume. I particularly like the bit about the Nordics, although Sweden is conspicuously absent.
Norway, Finland and Denmark: for consistent quality, these three are always in the top ten: wealthy, design-literate nations, with quality buildings, though their architecture, heavy on sublime engagement with nature, can lack passion.
by Iain Borden
Iain Borden effectively tells the history of the rise of skateboarding, board and boardpark history and the evolution of skateboarding itself. Lefebvre‘s The Production of Space is the main jumping off point for this book but necessarily reinterpreted through the attitude of skateboarders to the city. Actually its better than that because it really well explains how space is a personal production by necessity in a city whether actively engaged in or not.
The effective telling of skateboarding subculture also gives this book the edge and authority to challenge the politics of city planning at the most basic level. I like it particularly because its theory rooted in practice, not just a post-modern abstract philosophical theory bootstrapped onto architectural thought like so many post-modern theories over the last 20 years. Its not often that this tightrope between theory and reality is so deftly navigated in Architectural discourses and the result is a book that has something to say to everyone.
Nightlands Nordic building by Christian Norberg-Schulz.
A tip off from a reader of this blog sent me to this book for which I will be eternally grateful. First I should start with a warning you that this is not a coffee table publication, the pictures are sparse and in black and white. However if you want to really get a feel for Scandinavian Architecture, indeed to really get under the skin of the differences between Scandinavian 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 Scandinavian Architecture but the differences within the Scandinavian countries too. It’s theory but unlike much Architectural theory it strives to be to the point and understandable. It’s well written too with some great, almost poetic texts. If you like theory but may not be immediately interested in Scandinavian Architecture get it anyway as it is often able to eloquently speak of the universalities of Architecture, for example;
Architecture, in other words, is a form of understanding of the given environment. As such, it consists in explanation of the unity of life and place, in order that we may understand where we are, how we are, what we are. When successful, architecture becomes the art of building and thereby representation of an inhabited landscape.
This books grand conceit is the construction of a narrative of the different Architectures of the Scandinavian countries, and that it basically succeeds in its aim to show the unifying and differing gestalts in Scandinavia is a credit to the author.
One question that arises, that the book doesn’t cover, is what about in this post-modern age where Architects roam a lot more freely across national boundaries and Architectural internships are often served abroad how are national architectures affected? Finland for example seems very much inward looking still, with almost all of the emerging Architects offices having served out their apprenticeships for better or for worse in Finland. But what about Denmark for example which seems so influenced at the moment by Dutch Architecture with people like Bjarke Ingels having worked for Rem Koolhaas in the Netherlands? The sort of national architectural historical arc that Architects are described as being within in this book may already be about to be a thing of the past.