Book Review

10 Plus Pounds. The Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary Architecture.

Over the last few months I have been cleaning my office out at work, reducing the contents to the bare minimum. Yesterday I took home one of the largest items I had at work, which was the “The Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture”. I had forgotten just how wonderful this book actually is.

This monstrous book is so large it comes with its own special carrying case. A clear plastic box that looks like a small suit case complete with integrated handle. In typical fashion Phaidon delivered not only a stellar book, but a design masterpiece in its own right.

This Atlas is a record of all that is the most inventive inspiring, and humane in the world of architecture from the last five or so years. As you leaf through its pages and look at the stunning layouts, photography and drawings you filled with a heady reassurance that architecture, so essential and ubiquitous, and often so banal, is still at its best a transforming medium, giving meaning as it gives delight.

Over the course of its 810 pages, the atlas circles the globe from Australia  to Chile presenting 1,052 buildings along the way. Each is given at least half a page, and since the book is about 2 feet by 3 feet when open this is quite a bit. Most buildings are rewarded with a full-page spread, and some of the more important buildings like Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Hall in LA or Future Systems’ groovy Birmingham Selfridges, are awarded with a full two pages. Each building is given a write-up, which are at times a bit heavy on theory, while others are worded in a way that feels as thought the architect themselves are promoting their latest structure.

One thing that I had forgotten about the atlas was simply the act of opening it to a random page. With something so deep, it is easy to flip the book open to any page and be pleasantly surprised by what is found on that page. In that regard the atlas never feels old or stale.

From a design standpoint the book is visually stunning. From the plastic box that contains it, to the individual page layouts. The photography and drawings are masterfully represented, and even the Phaidon catalog that sits beneath the book is a well thought out guide to other books on architecture offered by the publisher.

One thing to think about. If you pick this book up for your library, be shure to have a heavy-duty coffee table to rest it on. The book weighs in at over 10 pounds.

Papercraft from Gestalten

Papercraft is the fourth book from Gestalten that documents the growing trend in hand crafted creations. Papercraft Follows on the heels of Gestalten’s Hidden Track, and Tactile and Tangible. The book Papercraft focuses exclusively on paper as a means of creation and the expression of ideas and creativity through this common medium.

This book Highlights the importance of paper historically, by discussing how paper once symbolized a means of democratizing and distributing information. Papercraft also shows how the advent of digital technology over the last 30 years has given birth to the copy & paste culture of infinite permutations, and how a framework was born to rebel against this. Papercraft presents works in the form of the DIY hand-crafted creations that in many ways feel more real because of their tangible qualities. The book is split into five sections that cover work from publications and posters to 3D objects such as paper toys and installations, fashion and costume design, as well as typography and environments showing the rich diversity of objects.

At first, I felt as though I’d seen a good portion of this work before. This isn’t surprising though considering the coverage many of these people have received for their work over the past 12 months. As I spent more time with the book, and despite the familiarity I was sucked in by the labor of love that is evident in all this work.

The book is well put together with the usual high quality design and production value expected from Gestalten. The book’s designer Birg Meyer has detailed the content sympathetically, using a flexible grid that offers a variety of images big enough to really illustrate the work displayed. Complemented by a simple layout this allows the intensely detailed work to speak for itself. The inclusion of DVD content is also a nice surprise. A collection of animation work featured in the book alongside printable nets of some paper toys help bring life to boring studio desks and are a cheerful addition.

My one  complaint about the book is an overall lack of organization. There are small sections populated through out the book that give brief descriptions of the artist and the production process, but all of them fall a bit short. In a book where the way you make something is as important as the end result, you would think that the publisher would have focused a bit more attention the process that goes into each piece.

Overall Papercraft does solid job of showcasing a diverse collection of work created using paper, and it is more concentrated than its predecessors allowing it to hold its own. If you have seen Tactile  and liked it, you’re probably going to like this fourth edition. The companion DVD makes the title stand out from many ordinary art books and helps to justify the price. This is a good reference book and one that I found quite inspiring. More over it is just really nice to look at. There is such great photography for each of the pieces, and it really helps you to get a sense of how they looked in real life.