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For Azure’s editorial team, being passionate about design means being equally passionate (if not more so) about books on the subject. Though in the works long before the pandemic, this season, in particular, has seen a number of publications that explore the urgent ideas and issues central to the field and its future.

Whether it’s recalculating the social dimension of practice or cutting a swath through notions of what “architecture” is, these recently launched tomes, edited volumes, monographs and more push the boundaries of design. Here are 10 that we just can’t seem to put down:

Modern in the Middle: Chicago Houses 1929-1975 by Susan Benjamin and Michelangelo Sabatino

While Chicago has long been heralded as the birthplace of the modern skyscraper, little acknowledgement has been paid to the city’s other contribution to architectural advancements and the built environment. That is, until now. With Modern in the Middle: Chicago Houses 1929 – 1975, authors Susan S. Benjamin and Michelangelo Sabatino shine a deserved spotlight on the “unique strain of modern residential architecture” that has influenced how and where we live today. The robust portfolio features 53 private residences from Chicago proper and its surrounding suburbs and villages, each chosen for its “architectural, cultural and social significance.”

Accompanied by thorough and entertaining essays that have been informed, when possible, by the architects themselves, the commissioning clients and the current homeowners, the houses are presented chronologically by date and offer a detailed look at the diversity of the practitioners (many are lesser-known architects and designers including women and BIPOC). These highlighted dwellings also range from the conventional to the radically innovative in terms of material selections and building technologies. Often the first example of modern residential architecture in their neighbourhood, the stories of their development and how they have enriched the suburban landscape are inspiring today, and will surely warrant a second — and even third — read.

Atmosphere Anatomies: On Design, Weather, and Sensation by Silvia Benedito

Atmosphere is a seemingly straightforward yet strikingly complex term, particularly within the field of architecture. Simultaneously encompassing environmental factors (such as temperature) and affective ones (namely an intangible emotive response to space or its overall impression), architectural atmospheres have been fittingly described by German philosopher Gernot Böhme as the “paradigmatic in between phenomenon.” In other words, it’s a concept that, though compelling designers and scholars alike for decades, resists easy categorization and investigation. Silvia Benedito’s Atmosphere Anatomies: On Design, Weather, and Sensation, however, charts an entirely new path through this diffuse terrain.

The architect, urban designer and academic’s richly illustrated tome broaches its investigation into this phenomena in a five-part schema — immersive journey, thermal threshold, program, shared situation and thermal contrast — that succinctly organizes an eclectic mix of seminal projects — from Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh and Luis Barragan’s Ortega House and Garden to Lina Bo Bardi’s SESC Pompeia — into a cohesive narrative that situates “the body and its bioclimatic milieu at the core.” More radically, the book also questions how we might relate to, and exist within, a rapidly changing environment that is increasingly unnatural. With striking images by Iwan Baan complemented by thermal diagrams that manifest the complex choreographies of temperature unique to each project, Atmosphere Anatomies reminds us, as Benedito writes, that “we feel the weather even when we are unaware that we do.”

Architecture is a Social Act: Lorcan O’Herilhy by Sinead Finnerty-Pyne and Greg Goldin

“Today, architecture is no longer simply about designing a building as an isolated object, but instead about engaging with all the forces that are shaping our world — social, political and environmental,” writes Lorcan O’Herlihy in this Frame-published monograph of his Los Angeles firm. O’Herlihy’s portfolio, which includes urban master plans, transportation infrastructure and, perhaps most inspiring, multi-unit housing, bears out this truism.

His firm’s trajectory over the past 25 years has coincided with Los Angeles’s evolution from a sprawl-happy to a density-invested city. It’s part of a group of practices, along with Patrick Tighe and Brooks + Scarpa, that has engaged with the city’s urban fabric in the most progressive way possible, building some of the most impressive mid-rise affordable housing in the world. O’Herlihy’s projects in this domain are given prominence in the book as it charts his works alongside a timeline of Los Angeles’ recent history. Included is the vibrant, open-façade San Joaquin Student Housing at the University of California and more recent works like the MLK1101 Supportive Housing in South L.A., which gives as much back to its community as it does to its occupants. More firms should be as engaged.

The Architecture of Point William: A Laboratory for Living

One autumn day some 25 years, two couples sat down by the shore of Ontario’s Lake Muskoka. Prospective land buyers Gerald Sheff and Shanitha Kachan were joined by their friends Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe, and the four of them got to talking about the site’s possibilities. The rest was architectural history.

It started with a boathouse. Then came a guest cottage, a larger main cottage, and a garage, the whole of it deftly interwoven into the rocky Canadian Shield landscape over the course of 20 years.

In 200 sumptuous pages, The Architecture of Point William: A Laboratory for Living charts the evolution in exacting, artful detail. Combining texts by Kenneth Frampton and Michael Webb with photography by the likes of Edward Burtynsky, Scott Norsworthy and James Dow — as well as the architects’ own drawings — the visually-driven book is an exacting study of process and a reflection of Shim and Sutcliffe’s deep study of the lakeside locale. It’s also a gorgeous photographic showcase of wood and weathering steel, and a testament to how it came to shape architectural thinking across Canada and beyond.

Radical Architecture of the Future by Beatrice Galilee

“Never judge a book by its cover,” or so the old adage goes. Considering Phaidon’s new release by Beatrice Galilee (curator, writer and director of The World Around), the cover speaks volumes. Radical Architecture of the Future is densely populated with just that: radical architecture that often isn’t even architecture at all. Instead, Galilee focuses her survey on practices and practitioners (artists, filmmakers, writers, designers and more) that actively trace the very edges of the discipline, deconstructing and re-orienting the field and its many actors in the process.

Thus it’s no surprise that more traditional projects like Spanish studio SelgasCano’s veiled Plasencia Auditorium and Congress Centre and Frida Escobedo’s porous Serpentine Pavilion comfortably share space with experimental installations by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, artists Arthur Jafa and Theaster Gates and even more recent endeavours like Ivan Lopez Munuera and Andrés Jaque’s 14-minute film Transscalar Architectures of Covid-19, which traces the spatial ramifications of the pandemic from December 2019 to April 2020, in the book’s 240 pages.

Yet, these strange couplings lead to the enticing synchronicities and tensions so critical to the sprawling survey’s effectiveness. In challenging the role of design at a time of insurmountable threats (from environmental degradation to racial injustice), Radical Architecture of the Future lays bare that design is simply one in a range of media that can actively engage space to sketch out possible futures, all while illuminating the contemporary voices who offer a template for what comes after. Together, it’s engaging, challenging, captivating and (most importantly) radical. 

PLAT 9.0: Commit edited by Sebastián López Cardozo and Lauren Phillips

In Commit, the latest issue of Plat journal produced by architecture students at Rice University, editors Sebastián López Cardozo and Lauren Phillips delve into the idea of true commitment as it applies to architecture. They define commitment as “finding a balance between an internal sense of right and wrong, beautiful and not beautiful, and an external sense of social responsibility.” The scope of the topics explored within includes “the question of architecture as building or as art, authorship and intentionality, pragmatism and economy, and the aestheticization of austerity.” The result, then, is an absorbing collection of perspectives.

For instance, Sumayya Vally (architect, with her team at Counterspace, of the 2021 Serpentine Pavilion) expands on her lightning-rod statement “Dear Architecture, We Have Been Complicit” by discussing not only how the practice has been complicit in “climate crisis, environmental racism, exclusion and division, and erasure” but how it needs to do better today and “seed entirely different methods of thought.” Perhaps most interesting is the essay “How to Start Your Own Country,” which threads together the recent (Internet-only?) establishment of the Free Republic of Liberland with Steward Brand’s legendary, pre-World Wide Web compendium Whole Earth Catalog and the architect-led “Non-Plan: An Experiment in Freedom” approach to citizen-driven city-creation in Britain. It’s food for thought of the best kind.

Architecture and Labor by Peggy Deamer

Whether we think of architects as artists, craftspeople, errant engineers, prophets or problem-solvers, they are also workers. This is the fundamental rejoinder of architect and Architecture Lobby co-founder Peggy Deamer, whose new book, Architecture and Labor, considers the architectural profession in an era of precarious labour, student loans, unpaid overtime and low wages. 

Comprising a series of 13 essays written over the course of over a decade, Deamer’s sober perspective situates the work of architecture within the realities of capitalism. In a professional discourse still given to the abstractions of philosophy and form-making, the more fundamental socio-economic realities of working as an architect can come across as a dirty secret. But the thought-provoking essays are no polemic. Diverse in scope and focus — ranging from the work of architectural detailing to the history of American antitrust law in shaping contracts — the book offers a vital starting point for a different way to think about the field.

Bespoke Bodies: The Design & Craft of Prosthetics by Sam Aquillano and Amanda Hawkins

A companion publication for the Design Museum’s travelling exhibition with the same name, Bespoke Bodies: The Design & Craft of Prosthetics traces the history and technical advancements of prosthetic making in relation to the human body. Opening with a timeline that starts 500 years ago (a moulded wood and leather big toe dating back to circa 900 to 710 B.C. is believed to be the first known example of a prosthesis) and follows the evolution of materials, functionality and design through to today’s biomedical implants that bring sensations back to amputees, the book demonstrates that, in the words of co-author and curator Amanda Hawkins, “design works best if we understand, learn from and include those who are being designed for in the process.”

To that end, Bespoke Bodies includes 45 case studies and personal stories from professional athletes, veterans, children and others living with limb loss and limb difference, along with essays by designers, artists, doctors and advocates who are playing a pivotal role in humanizing the technology. Including everything from DIY inventions to mind-controlled bionic limbs, it’s an engaging read that shows how thoughtful design can empower wearers both physically and emotionally.

Voices of the Land: Indigenous Design and Planning from the Prairies edited by Naomi Ratte and Reanna Merasty

“We hope that this publication inspires the next generation of Indigenous designers to find their voice,” write editors Naomi Ratte and Reanna Merasty in their shared introduction to Voices of the Land: Indigenous Design and Planning from the Prairies. In just over 130 pages — spanning profiles, project features, interviews and more — it’s difficult to think of anyone who would close the inaugural publication of the Indigenous Design and Planning Students’ Association (IDPSA) without feeling inspired.

For the volume, Ratte and Merasty (two current Masters students at the University of Manitoba) tapped the minds and work of their peers as well as professionals across the country to provide a rich and timely insight into Indigenous design today. 16 current students (representing interior design, architecture and landscape architecture) share their perspectives on the intersection of Indigeneity and the built environment, each accompanied by a spotlight on a selected project that ranges from a graphic renovation to a sensitive intervention along the Red River. A four-part interview series on themes such as “Interiors, Textiles and Design” and “Community and Urban Development” round out the publication. (A digital version of which is also available.)

While a compelling survey of contemporary practices and a nuanced look at the very notion of Indigenous architecture, it’s is an equally important introduction to a new generation already making their mark.

Formgiving: An Architectural Future History by BIG

Even if begrudgingly, you can’t help but admire Bjarke Ingels. Recently named the Frank Lloyd Wright of the 21st century, the Danish architect is the embodiment of the adage “go big or go home.” Or maybe “go BIG or go home,” to be more precise. His firm’s ambitions, as illustrated in this Taschen tome, extend all the way to outer space. It’s divided into three themes — Past, Present and Future — with the Present section covering completed or almost-completed works in 10 sections with titles like “The Oxymoron,” “The X-Ray” and “Mindpool.” The first refers to new coinages like “hedonistic sustainability,” which Ingels invokes to describe projects like Copenhill that double as demonstrations for how clean technologies will allow urban centres to embrace new infrastructure and de-silo it from communities.

“The X-Ray,” meanwhile, explores buildings — including residential high-rises such as Canada’s Telus Sky and Vancouver House — that “expose what happens within” them through their innovative forms and facades. Things get far more conceptual in Future, printed on black-coated paper at the back of the book, which features visions for 3D printed lunar abodes (the moon being “The City of New Hope”). A personal favourite: the Lego models of BIG buildings that follow. They comprise a playful coda that makes this appropriately audacious book one that everyone — Ingels stan or not — can guiltlessly enjoy.

10 New Books Pushing the Boundaries of Design

From prosthetics to architectural atmospheres, these recent releases address the pressing issues and ideas central to our contemporary moment.

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