It’s the most wonderful time of year – when designers everywhere draw up wish lists of the things they’d like to give and, more importantly, get. This December, we’ve rounded up the 10 most coveted tomes – on topics as diverse as furniture design history, the evolution of web design and Canadian modern architecture – that are sure to please any design-buff on your list.
What’s in a house? According to Hilary Sample and Michael Meredith of MOS, and their first illustrated children’s book for the CCA, quite a lot. From Lina Bo Bardi’s Casa de Vidro to Toyo Ito’s White U and beyond, the authors trace a family’s search for the ideal home – from the depths of architecture history to the construction site in question – that culminates in the realization that, though the perfect house may not exist, it’s in the journey to find such a structure where the real joy of building lies. – Evan Pavka
In 1966, American architect Robert Venturi published the seminal work Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. As its title suggests, it called for a more nuanced, complex and often contradictory understanding of architectural symbolism and allusion. Today, over 50 years since its initial circulation, the postmodern tome continues to be an influential “gentle manifesto” for the way architecture communicates its function as well as broader socio-cultural meaning. As a compendium to the conference held at MoMA in 2016, this two-volume box set (from MoMA Publications) includes a facsimile of the original edition alongside a host of contributions from renowned historians Mary Macleod and Joan Ockman, among others, as well as leading practitioners Sam Jacob, Deborah Berke and Rem Koolhaas, to name a few. – Evan Pavka
Architecturally speaking, an artfully designed ceiling is like the cherry on a sundae: a delicious capper to the careful assemblage that constitutes a building. But as British author and curator Catherine McCormack makes clear in The Art of Looking Up (White Lion Publishing), it isn’t only aesthetics that determines how one turns out. Many of those saint-stuffed scenes adorning the ceilings of Renaissance churches, for instance, were intended to communicate Biblical stories to a largely illiterate audience. Other showstoppers have been crafted to convey power (as at the Taj Mahal), to make a political point (the dome of the U.S. Capitol serves notice of America’s arrival as a nation) and even to alleviate boredom (after Belgium’s queen tired of the previous interior, a royal palace ceiling was covered with the glistening wing cases of 1.6 million beetles).
If there’s a common denominator to all of the examples in McCormack’s comprehensive compendium, however, it’s a recognition among their creators of the elemental importance of ceilings. From childhood on, she writes, “we have looked up at the sky above to understand our places in the universe,” which explains why so many of history’s great ceilings, from the mosaics of Ravenna to Cy Twombly’s “ocean of azure” in the Louvre, are awash in the colour blue. – Danny Sinopoli
Forgive the cliché, but the French auteur Jacques Tati, who died in 1982, was truly ahead of his time. His beloved film Mon Oncle depicts one of the writer-director’s recurring characters, Monsieur Hulot (played by Tati himself), as he attempts to fit into a futuristic living scenario while visiting his sister’s family at their ultra-modern house in a new Paris suburb. A satirical take on post-war French society’s burgeoning consumerism, the movie is as much designed as it is directed, with fantastic sets for its geometric house and plastic hose factory.
For diehard film buffs, set designers and art-book lovers who want to immerse themselves more fully in Tati’s formidable imagination, this hefty box set by Taschen is a veritable collector’s edition (i.e., it costs a small fortune and is limited to 112 copies). It was designed by Paris studio M/M and made possible by Les Films de Mon Oncle, which was co-founded by Tati’s daughter Sophie Tatisheff to preserve his works and which provided the publisher with endless materials for an undeniably “definitive” overview. In five volumes, the tome is replete with film stills, set-design sketches and complete screenplays, as well as a survey of the director’s life and essays on the themes he mined. It also includes a previously unpublished memoir by the man himself. In other words, a visual and intellectual feast. – Elizabeth Pagliacolo
Houses, cars, fresh-cut lawns, and white people. It’s a vision of suburban life encoded deep into America’s cultural consciousness – but one that belies many of the realities of American life. In Radical Suburbs (Belt Publishing), Citylab’s Amanda Kolson Hurley offers a re-examination of suburbia, charting the “waves of idealists who established alternative suburbs outside of Eastern U.S. cities” and demonstrating that “bold social and architectural experimentation is not alien to suburbia.” Equally rich in both personal insight and analytic acuity, the book offers a vital revisionist history of the real and imagined places just beyond the urban horizon. – Stefan Novakovic
For the first time since Harold Kalman’s 1994 opus A History of Canadian Architecture, a new anthology surveys the country’s architectural landscape. While this fact alone makes Elsa Lam and Graham Livesey’s Canadian Modern Architecture, 1967 to the Present (Princeton Architectural Press) a practical must-read, the book does not disappoint. Comprehensive, incisive, and refreshingly free of architectural jargon, the anthology elegantly brings together contributions from 17 authors to tell the story of the half-century that sprang from the watershed of Canada’s centennial year and Expo 67 celebrations. This is one for the bookshelf – and the syllabus. – Stefan Novakovic
Vitra Design Museum’s Atlas of Furniture Design is a treat for furniture junkies and history buffs alike. Throughout its more than 1,000 pages, it highlights the most iconic and influential pieces of the last 230 years from upwards of 550 of the most significant industry protagonists – think Charles and Ray Eames’ Plastic armchair, Ettore Sottsass’s Carlton bookcase, Eileen Grey’s side table, Konstantin Grcic’s Chair_One, Joris Laarman’s Aluminum Gradient Chair and more.
Part visual journey, part encyclopedia (20 years in the making), this reference guide presents 1,740 objects via photographs, sketches, patent applications, brochures, portraits and interior settings along with descriptive texts outlining their lineage. Further reading includes essays that delve into subjects like industrialization, post-war consumerism and postmodernism in the digital age and designer biographies; infographics at the back provide timelines and countries of origin for both designers and their works. Interested in the nitty-gritty? You’re in luck: the evolutions of typologies and materials round things out. – Kendra Jackson
If there is one question that should be left in the last decade, it’s this: Where are all the women architects? The answer: they’re here. They’ve always been here. Eileen Gray, Charlotte Perriand, Denise Scott-Brown, Lu Wenyu, Elizabeth Diller, Kazuyo Sejima, Frida Escobedo, Zaha Hadid, Mariam Kamara and countless others are among the many who have broken literal and figurative ground, in addition to the industry’s glass ceiling. “As a woman in architecture, you’re always an outsider,” Hadid once said. Now, Assemble co-founder Jane Hall’s visual manifesto of over 200 richly illustrated structures by seminal figures and contemporary icons looks to collapse that periphery to the centre. So, where are all the women architects? According to Breaking Ground (Phaidon), they’re all far too busy on the construction site to answer. (Read our “30 Must-Know Women Architects” and “30 (More) Essential Women in Architecture.”) – Evan Pavka
For the first time, a colourful, visual collection coalesces the iconic posters, symbols and graphic designs that have defined 50 years of LGBTQ pride and activism. By decade, Andy Campbell’s Queer x Design (Black Dog & Leventhal) traces the lineage of LGBTQ artistry through pre-Stonewall to the present day.
From past to present, Campbell offers a powerful view into the political and historical foundations that inspired designs like Gilbert Baker’s Rainbow Flag to Keith Haring’s “Heritage of Pride” logo to early examples of PFLAG buttons and finally, the Pride Flag Emoji. Inside this empowering celebration, each page tells the story of “one of the aspects of LGBTQ histories that has yet to receive sustained attention – the profound importance of design in the social and political livelihoods of LGBTQ people.” – Daniella Viggiani
Before the Smart Home there was the personal computer. Before the iPhone there was Nokia. Before Minecraft there was Pong. It should come as no surprise, then, that all of these objects and their interfaces have been carefully considered. Now, with over 9 billion devices connected to the Internet, the digital sphere is inseparable from our daily lives. But, how exactly did we get here?
In this significant visual journey over three decades of progress, author Rob Ford and editor Julius Wiedeman trace the designs – big and small, material and immaterial – that have contributed to the infrastructure of our digital selves. Web Design: The Evolution of the Digital World 1990 – Present (Taschen) is perfect for any hard-to-buy-for UX, web or digital designer on your list. – Evan Pavka
A subscription to Azure magazine is the gift that keeps on giving!
It’s that time of year: holiday-gifting season! From a compendium on Jacques Tati to a reassessment of suburbia, we’ve got 10 new titles that the design and architecture buffs in your life will gobble up.