These beautiful and engaging architecture and design books – tackling subjects like tree-based infographics, the limits of digital architecture and the garden city movement – are perfect for leisure reading during the long winter nights.
1 The Book of Trees by Manuel Lima (Princeton Architectural Press)
Infographics have come into their own during the information age, but these diagrams’ roots go much deeper – in the case of the treemap, back at least 3,000 years, to ancient Assyria. That’s a rich history to mine for representations of data organized into branches, and nowhere will you find a more comprehensive overview of treemaps than The Book of Trees by Manuel Lima, professor of data visualization at Parsons. In 208 pages, Lima categorizes and illuminates 11 different types of branching diagrams, from those that look like actual trees (the 1568 genealogical tree of Charles Magius, for example) to more abstract examples like the radial trees used to divide and subdivide massive sets of taxonomic information. There’s a science to data visualization, to be sure, but The Book of Trees demonstrates that there’s an art to it as well.
2 The World Atlas of Street Photography by Jackie Higgins (Yale University Press)
In New York, flags drape the World Financial Center’s blown-out windows after 9/11. In London, a red horned devil looks on while a driver examines a parking ticket. In Beijing, shards of mirrored glass that rise from a building’s rubble reflect a distant sunset. In Lagos, a man walks a muzzled hyena down a dusty road. Living up to its name, The World Atlas of Street Photography includes a truly global selection of photos, with 49 cities represented. The potent images are linked not only by the urban fabric in the background, but also by the spontaneity that only a city’s vibrancy can spark, so that the book’s 400 pages are awash with a sometimes playful, sometimes jarring juxtaposition of imagery. Each photographer and city is presented with an introductory text, but it’s the visuals that do the talking here, throwing together a breathtaking clash of ideas and spaces.
3 The Architecture of Error by Francesca Hughes (MIT Press)
With modern software, architects can design buildings to the millimetre, but – as anyone who has ever been on a construction site can attest – the reality of our built environment is much less precise. With The Architecture of Error, professor and author Francesca Hughes examines the politics of architecture’s margin of error, and the anxiety that stems from its pathologization. For relief, she turns to other disciplines – art, for example, as exemplified by Gordon Matta-Clark’s house incisions and Barbara Hepworth’s bored-through sculptures – that can inform new ways to accommodate error in built space. As Hughes points out, synthetic materials and the cyberneticization of space may expand our precision, but as the region we can control gets bigger, its borders with what we can’t control only grow longer.
4 The Public Library by Robert Dawson (Princeton Architectural Press)
Be it Rem Koolhaas’s polygonal glass Central Library in Seattle, a one-room cabin in Allensworth, California, built by ex-slaves, or a turreted stone castle in Van Wert, Ohio, our libraries are as diverse as the cities and towns that built them – an inspiring reminder that architecture is the stuff communities are made of. With its photos and essays, this book demonstrates just how varied – and how integral to civic life – public libraries can be. Authors including Isaac Asimov, Amy Tan and E.B. White are excerpted in passages defending the library as a priceless addition to any public commons, or offering reminiscences of childhoods spent browsing the stacks, but these serve only to round out Robert Dawson’s photographs of libraries from across the United States.
5 Fairy Tales: When Architecture Tells a Story edited by Francesca Giuliani-Hoffman and Matthew Hoffman (Blank Space)
When Blank Space, an online forum for the discussion of architecture, launched a competition asking entrants to propose “visionary, narrative-based design proposals,” they were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the response. From over 300 entries, 24 were chosen for Fairy Tales, a selection of poetry, comics, short stories and memoirs – fairy tales in the loosest sense of the phrase. The illustrated entries, like Artur Dabrowski’s “A ‘Flying’ Fortress” (which explores the possibility of a structure that lets visitors take flight – metaphorically, at least), make Fairy Tales a uniquely unbridled way of exploring new concepts of architecture. A second installation is in the works, with submissions open now.
6 Paradise Planned by Robert A.M. Stern, David Fishman and Jacob Tilove (The Monacelli Press)
Clocking in at a whopping 5.6 kg and 1,072 pages, Paradise Planned: The Garden Suburb and the Modern City is, it’s fair to say, the most exhaustive book ever published on the topic of the “garden city” movement – a New Urbanism model of residential neighbourhoods characterized by freestanding but contiguous homes with front and back yards. The book draws on over 800 case studies, depicted in over 3,000 images, to trace the history of these neighbourhoods from tumultuous Georgian-era Britain to the suburbs that exploded across the United States during the automobile-powered growth of the 20th century. More encyclopedic than narrative, Paradise Planned stands as a veritable monument to the course of centuries’ worth of suburban planning.