Writing Architecture

Tropolism Books: The Infrastructural City

Title: The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies In Los Angeles

Editor: Kazys Varnelis

Publication Date: December 2008

Publisher: Actar

ISBN: 9788486854250


Review by John Southern.

During the last ten years of economic mirth a lot has changed in regards to the contemporary city, both in how it looks and how we inhabit it. Since the late 1990’s both cities and private capital have invested heavily in glamorous architecture and staggeringly beautiful landscape projects whose role it was to enhance a particular metropolises cultural cache in relationship to its global neighbors. Technological innovations in consumer electronics coupled with the increasing prevalence of the Internet have enhanced cosmopolitanism and network culture rather than creating isolation that early critics feared. And while the money poured in aesthetic beauty and civic narcissism reigned supreme.

Now, as capital flows across global markets evaporate and those markets begin to collapse, politicians and civic pundits alike are all whispering the same word: Infrastructure. While a new museum or concert hall will be a hard sell over the next decade they theorize, a new bridge or light rail project will not because of the construction jobs those projects generate. Even President-elect Barack Obama has stated that part of the U.S. economic recovery will hinge on heavy government spending and investment in infrastructure. As building commissions dry up it is only a matter of time before architects try to align themselves with these new State and Federal patrons, casting aside formal seduction in favor of survival.

They will no doubt find that infrastructure does not need them and in fact faces a crisis of its own. It only takes a book like The Infrastructural City to make this apparent.

Click here to continue reading the review...

Kengo Kuma Designs Houses For Muji


Muji: for those of us in the United States and Europe, it is a wonder for inside your home. In Japan, it is also possible for it to be the home itself. You wouldn't know it unless you are able to read Japanese: Muji keeps these pages untranslated, and furthermore their design simplicity does not extend to their website. Tropolism favorite Kengo Kuma has designed some prototype homes for them (our favorite it the Window House, as you can see in our article over there at Yanko Design). He wisely sticks to a super-configurable model and shies away from too much prefab repetition. They aren't quite as radical as his other houses, but they have their pleasures. Greg Allen gives us another take on these designs.

Greg goes one further and translates the awesome Muji Village concept. It appears to be little more than a far-away rendering and some floorplans (awesomely displayed as take-home art posters. Take that NYC real estate brokers!), but as a feel-good concept, they have rocked the party mic. We'll keep you posted when it takes shape.

Less Stuff Is Better Design


I know I've been harping about this since I first got the idea for the Two Dozen list in 2004: the Roaring Two-Thousands created a lot of drek by designers because they were "designers", not because the designs were actually great. A lot of my writing has been focused on pushing designers to do better. What better opportunity for designers to really push design when all this money is sloshing around? Why not make things more efficient, more accessible, more inventively designed, and more beautiful, even if it costs a bit more? When the cycle downturns, we'll be happy to get scraps from the woodpile to make our stuff. Since September, most of us have been looking for that scrap pile.

Michael Cannell over at The Design Vote wrote a great article in the New York Times encapsulating these sentiments, looking quickly (as in long-blog-post quickly) at where product designers and architects are going to go from here. He champions sustainability in the production of goods and a good project by Lorcan O'Herlihy architects in Los Angeles that champions density over size of lawn. Welcome to the end of the decade, folks. We couldn't be more thrilled.

The High Line Construction Progress, 2008


Friends Of The High Line has sent us a year-end summary email, chock full of construction images that we hadn't seen yet. Try as we might, we were unable to find these on their website, so we have included two more after the jump. If you don't get their newsletter, stop by their website to sign up. Better yet, make a donation.

More images this way...

Tropolism Takes A Holiday


Tropolism will be quiet for a week while we observe a holiday. We leave with books, all our glorious books. And, pictured, a library to read them in: Steven Holl's crazy yet unnervingly beautiful design for the Franz Kafka Society Center in Prague.

A Tour Of Miralles's Market


One of Enric Miralles's last projects, one he never saw realized, is the spectacular Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona. It is one of our favorite projects, looks great from the air, looks great from the street, and Eikonographia's walkthrough gives us many visual and verbal details. Our favorite: what looks like the 'back' of the market includes a typical Mirallesian indulgence of sculptural bricks, concrete, and metal, where clearly none was required, on a face that I've never seen photographed in the published materials.

Tropolism Books: The Favorites Of 2008


For those of you who didn't get Special Tropolism Newsletter #1.7, here it is. It is in honor of one of the features I am most passionate about on Tropolism: book reviews.

Architecture books inspire me to discover new ways of thinking, as well as new ways of representing the art of my profession in print (and, these days, PDF).

Tropolism Books, The Favorites Of 2008

1.The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century Architecture This huge book is solid for more than just its size: it exhaustively collects, presents, and cross references over 1,000 new buildings, only 4 years after a similar book catalogued 1,000 entirely different new buildings in the same way.

2.Bunker Archaeology Paul Virilio's original is back in print after over a decade of being missing. Nothing about the book has changed: the essays and photographs retain the raw power they had the day they were written.

3.Loot: The Battle Over Stolen Treasures Of The Ancient World Anyone who knows the big museums has been inspired by works from the Ancients collected in their walls.  This book blows open our understanding of those collections, and puts them on the forefront of cultural disagreements in today's headlines.

4.Transmaterial 2 Even though our review seemed to be truly the most fastidious thing I've ever done, I reiterate here that this is an important book. It maps a clear direction for the interest in the cutting edge of materials and is an invaluable reference.

5. Density Projects Like anything A+T Ediciones prints, this book contains an interesting selection of unbuilt work and analyzes them with diagrams and data for every project.

6.Marmol Radziner + Associates: Between Architecture and Construction This monograph about an architect-led design-build firm is the gold standard for monographs, in our view. It includes unique side bars from clients, craftsman, and other project stakeholders.

7.Minka: My Farmhouse In Japan At times rambling and not quite as detailed as I like, this book is still an irresistible love note to one of our favorite building types. A fascinating portrait of vernacular Japanese building, and a particular house, written by a non-architect.

Tropolism Newsletter 1.6


Tropolism Newsletter 1.6 comes out this weekend, and in it I'll be writing about my five favorite buildings of 2008. Each building isn't just about the building, but about the bigger memes that surrounded it. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter in the upper right hand field on this page so you get it!

Tropolism Books:New York City Landmarks


One book we haven't gotten a review copy of yet is New York City Landmarks, the 4th Edition of the book put out by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. It's so new, it's not even available on Amazon yet. It's fieldbook sized, so perfect for running around town, but I'm frankly more interested in how they cover the buildings involved in some of their more controversial decisions (if at all).

Tropolism's Top Posts, 2008


This is one of our favorite time of years: mine Google Analytics for good, hard data about what everyone liked last year. The results surprised even us. Click here to read the list of our top 10 posts, as decided by you, the dedicated reader.

Tropolism Books: The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture

Title: The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century Architecture

Author: The Editors of Phaidon Press

Publication Date: December 1, 2008

Publisher: Phaidon Press

ISBN: 9780714848747


Few architecture books dare to take on the mantle of Atlas, but The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century Architecture seems to comfortably wear it. The book is a sequel to 2004's The Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture--whose general outline and format the current book shares--and by looking at the measly amount of buildings that showed up in magazines between now and then, you would think that the new book would have lots of projects reprinted. Not so: almost all of the 1,037 buildings did not appear in the 2004 book. But when you consider the deluge of projects that have shown up online in that time, it's nothing short of astonishing that the book encapsulates such an encyclopedic spectrum. The project covers 6 world regions, and many of them, like China, seem remarkably well-covered.

Click this way to read the complete, large-format review...

Call For Work


Want to see your project on Tropolism? Send us a note through the Contact page. We are seeking new buildings, projects under construction, new projects, student work, competition entries, the most amazing plan or diagram ever, wicked fierce material assemblies, and any assorted related matter that just looks good.

Tropolism Books: Bunker Archeology

Title: Bunker Archeology

Author: Paul Virilio

Publication Date: January 12, 2009

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 9781568980157


Paul Virilio an architect of theory (which is the opposite of a theorist for architects). He organizes theory, making it useful. There is no better reminder of this than Bunker Archeology, his 1975 masterwork, which has been out of print since 1994. The book has been reprinted by Princeton Architectural Press.

Revisiting this volume was not the trip down memory lane I thought it would be. Instead, the writing and photographs, like the Second World War Nazi bunkers that are its subject, stand as raw reminders than most everything we discuss in architectural design theory is irrelevant to anything but the present. Death, war, infrastructure, and the eclipsing destruction made possible by 20th century technologies are all things Hitler and the Allies made perfect possible use of, and these are the complete context of our current times. The phones and bombs and radio programs have improved, but their highest best use were already conceived by the actors in that War. The most important actor of course is Albert Speer, architect, whose position in the Third Reich allowed him to conceive and execute total war. Virilio's telling of this leaves me feeling that we are living out someone else's future.

The essays have a raw power that matches those of the photographs, making them undateable except by the closest scrutiny. It is a useful scrutiny, one that needs revisiting by architects, if we are to write our own future.

This book is available for purchase from Amazon.

Miesian Delusions: Mystery Cabin From MoMA


Continuing our meme of Miesian Delusions (see Tropolism Newsletter 1.4 yo) we point you to Greg Allen's archeology of house by A. James Speyer, who was Mies van der Rohe's first graduate student. The house is a full on Mies country house from that era, except for a few powerful exceptions: the posts are made with tree logs. So clearly the architect has just dove off the deep end. To be fair, I proposed something like this a couple of years ago when friends bought an A-frame house that badly needed a big window wall in its giant A side. Let's just use trees!

Greg also points out that the house, mentioned in a MoMA catalogue from 1940, seems to have disappeared everywhere. It's nowhere online (no surprise there, I have a wall of books filled with projects from the 1980s that are invisible here) but it also seems to be a bit hidden from Greg's initial exploring on the subject. The guidebook includes detailed directions for visiting, so perhaps someone up in Warrensburg can help us out?