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  • An unauthorised biography
    Rosa Ainsley, Zero Books

    Rosa Ainsley's biography of a house is part memoir, part architectural history and part detective story as the author seeks to uncover the past lives of her family members who lived at this 1930s semi in Colindale, North London. It's an unusual but fascinating book, the language of domestic architecture and suburban town planning framing a family narrative full of memories, secrets, and emotions. I came for the celebration of suburbia but ultimately it is the intertwining with the uncovering of author's family history that makes this book so special.

  • Modern Architecture between the wars
    Paul Overy, Thames & Hudson

    Artificial Light

    A fascinating dash through what has become known as the Modern Movement in Architecture, focussing on it's preoccupations with sunshine, air and hygiene, how the whitewall aesthetic embodied principles of cleanliness and lightness. The late Paul Overy chases this theme across Europe from the Zonnestraal in Hilversum, to the Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam, via some of the seminal private and public buildings across Europe, including England.

    Such as well structured and elegant book shows Overy's mastery of representing the history of modernism in his own terms, and creating a compelling thematic analysis of one of the most exciting periods of architectural experimentation. Overy shows that not only did functionalist architecture mean that a building's form was to be guided by its intended function, but also that its form could impart functions of wellbeing and vitality in its inhabitants.

  • Keith Mitnick, Princeton Architectural Press.

    Artificial Light

    This astonishing book by an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Michigan collides two popular forms of narrative: memoir and essay. Intense personal recollections from Mitnick's childhood lead into explorations on themes of authenticity in architecture, interspersed with beautiful photographs of old wooden rollercoasters. Imagine The Wonder Years as written by Lebbeus Woods.

    The relationships between these three parts - memoir, theory and image - are kept fluid and indirect. The adolescent stories do not illuminate the theory, nor the theory rationalise the recollections, and the images illustrate neither - nevertheless a powerful connection is made between the selectivity of human memory and recurrent themes of architectural thought such as immateriality and abstraction.

    A slim volume, beautifully presented, this is a unique and profound book that might start a new genre of architectural narrative.

  • Owen Hatherley

    Militant Modernism

    In this primer, densely-written and idea-rich, Owen Hatherley attempts to rescue the 'project' of modernism from those would deny or denigrate it, those that seek to appropriate a sterile facsimile of it, and those would subsume it as a historical style. Primarily through the lens of the urban environment, and especially the brutalist buildings of 1960s Britain, Hatherley views modernist architecture as the embodiment of a socialist vision that has subsequently been decried as a failed experiment, corrupted into the superficialities of the contemporary architectural landscape - Ikea Moderne, the 'spectacular' designer yuppie flat, the Barratt housing estate - or turned into the quasi-historical theme park otherwise known as the heritage industry

    All over the place, but in the best possible way, this polemic is constructed over a number of essays that read like extended blog posts, most of which could easily be worth a book on themselves. Hatherley lurches from Brutalism to Soviet Constructivism to film, sexual politics and finally Berthold Brecht in his search for tactics of engagement with the spirit of modernism. It shouldn't work but somehow it does, a thesis constructed from a myriad of viewpoints.

  • Parametric/algorithmic architecture

    Edited by Tomoko Sakamoto

    From Control to Design

    This Verb monograph, published by Actar, presents the work of six practices, each working with parametric modelling techniques or using generative processes to inform design decisions and strucures.

    Inevitably, given the sudden explosion of architects and designers using parametric modelling techniques, this book can offer little more than a glance of current work and offers no historical context. Things are moving so fast that some of the projects featured already seem crude or dated, such as the Serpentine Pavilion by Alvaro Siza, featuring the work of the Avanced Geometry Unit at Arup. The other featured architects/ practices are Michael Meredith, Mutsuro Sasaki, P.ART (a research team as part of AKT architects), Designtoproduction and Aranda/Lasch.

    To cap it all off there's an interview/discussion between Sanford Kwinter which does little to put any perspective on what constitutes parametric or algorithmic architecture, and why it's currently such a hot topic. Is it a movement, a style (as Patrik Schumacher would have it), or a process?.

    So while you won't find any answers, context or analysis in this book, it is a fascinating study into the way that six practices are working with parametric design processes.

  • CM Lee and Sam Jacoby

    Typological Formations

    This book from AA Publications looks at a number of student projects from the AA Diploma 6 unit, each exploring a different approach to typology as a design strategy.

    I'm fascinated by the used of typology as a means of generating form in a programmatic way, corresponding to fields, vectors and forces as generators. Here types are used as a way of engaging critically with building types and urban programmes such as the stadium, the Olympic Park in East London, or the Zarrozaure masterplan, and look at ways of creating new design strategies through the application of generative typologies, subverting traditional notions of public/private and other implicit spatial generators.

    Highly theoretical, and sometimes hard going, this is a book that rewards patience and continued engagement.

  • Felicity Scott

    Ant Farm

    Subtitled Allegorical Time Warp: The Media Fallout of July 21,1969, this is a fascinating retrospective of the "super-radical activist environmentalist" art collective. An amalgam of Archigram aesthetic invention and a McLuhanistic understanding of the transformatic effects of electronic transmission, Ant Farm produced a range of art works and assorted manifestos and happenings, perhaps most famously the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. Also featured here are architectural speculations such as Dolphin Embassy, Surplus City, and Truckstop Network.

    Prescient stuff, the influence of which can be seen everywhere today, from the work of KLF to architectural proposals by Future Systems etc.

  • OM Ungers

    Ungers

    The late Oswald Mathais Ungers is much missed, but this book from 1997, published by Skira, is a fascinating document of a truly original architectural thinker.

    The book is divided into 2 parts. The first part of the book is the essay The Dialectic City, a meditation on the nature of the modern city that shows Ungers influence on Koolhaas and others.

    The second half of the book, is a series of 8 competition projects created by Ungers and 1991-1995, under 2 themes: The City as Layer and Complementary Places, exploring and expanding concepts from the initial essay.

  • Smout Allen

    Augmented Landscapes

    The latest in Princeton Architectural Press' Pamphlet Architecture series, this booklet by British duo Mark Smout and Laura Allen is, like most of the PA series, a jewel of a book.

    Through five projects, Smout Allen explore territories at the margins of cities, limnal areas, man-made landscapes such as the marshes of Essex, the dunes of north Norfolk, or the fens of Cambridgeshire.

    There's a playful approach to landscape and architecture in the work of Smout Allen, perfectly fitting the Pamphlet Architecture format, but there are also serious issues, looking anew at interzones and hinterlands that have been neglected by mainstream architectural thought, and barely considered by a landscape profession that is still dominated by the picturesque.

  • Arjen Van Susteren (designed by Joost Grootens)

    Metrpolitan Atals

    Now in it's second edition, this book from 010 Publishers in Rotterdam is great to dip in and out of. Beautifully designed by Joost Grootens, it sits at the intersection of cities, graphic design and typography, and offers an abstract graphical, visual and analytical comparison between the various cities and conurbations of the world.

    While there are some inconsistencies, especially in English place names versus local place names, this is a great reference book on density, population and other urban indicators such as data, travel, expenditure etc. The maps demarcate a hard urban edge for each cities, and defining their urban form as abstract shapes.

  • Stephen Holl

    Edge of a city

    I've been carrying this book around with me for a while now, and it's been infecting my dreams. I've dreamt of flooding Potters Bar and Enfield Chase, creating a lake, a hard edge onto which a shimmering new London skyline could be built.

    This book, number 13 in the Pamphlet Architecture series, explores a number of strategies for restraining growth and countering sprawl on a city edges. The theoretical projects proposed by Holl over megalithic structures defining hard edges between urban and rural. In Pheonix, for instance, Spatial Retaining Bars are series of housing blocks (looking like mini CCTV towers) which define the desert's edge.

    Great stuff, and like the rest of the Pamphlet Architecture series, food for thought.

  • Metis

    This book by Metis (Mark Dorrian & Adrian Hawker) documents 4 theoretical projects undertaken by Metis exploring different urban conditions in 4 different cities, plus an installation at a gallery in Edinburgh. The proposals combine rigorous analysis with acts of supreme wilfulness, bringing that spark of imagination, the moment of inspiration, that adds a lyrical narrative edge to the creative process.

    Perhaps the most intriguing proposal featured is set in Ottawa, Canada. Called Micro urbanism, the project for the edge of Parliament Hill, explores the notion that the city might be folded within the confines of the site, creating a dense multiplicty of functions and relations. Metis then take 18 sections from the grid of Ottawa as the basis for a set of narrative elements, which are then compressed into the site via a series of topological transformations. Great stuff.

  • MVRDV

    After FARMAX - Excursions on Densities, comes another blockbuster from Dutch architectural practice MVRDV: KM3 - Excursions on Capacities. It's another info-dense roller coaster into a world of improbably solutions to all-to-real problems. "KM3 is a city that is constantly under construction, with space for limitless populations and possibilities. Yet KM3 is a hypothesis, a theoretical city, and a possible urban theory."

    This is the best kind of architectural science fiction.

  • Mike Davis


    Mike Davis turns his sights away from Los Angeles and towards the phenomenon of global slums, and starts shooting away with his trademark machine gun prose style, a rat-a-tat-tat staccato of globalized urban poverty, misery, and exploitation, backed up with plenty of reading and research, but no first hand experience.

    Davis' doomsaying Marxist critique of Structural Adjustment Programs, government housing reforms and micro-economic self-help is relentless, but ultimately nihilistic - nothing works, the population of an urban poor underclass is growing, and things are getting worse.

    There are no solutions offered in the book, not even glimpses into possibilities, small scale case studies or broad brush strokes to start a debate. It's powerful stuff, but it must be hard being Mike Davis.

  • Sophia Vyzoviti


    The follow-up to Folding Architecture, these exploration by Vyzoviti and her students, an intuitive, hands-on process of paper-folding is used as the starting point for architectonic investigations, a perfect antidote to much computer modelling and form-making.