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  1. Architecture Books for the Holidays

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Monday, December 20, 2004

Architecture Books for the Holidays
Francis Morrone writes: Dear Blowhards, The mega-gift-giving season is upon us, and we slow shoppers are in the home stretch. Many, many years ago, when I was a mere lad, I worked at Urban Center Books in New York. This was, and is, the bookstore operated by the august Municipal Art Society, and, as one might expect, the store specializes in architecture books. Back then, Jacqueline Kennedy was a board member of MAS, and she frequently shopped in the store. One purchase of hers that I rang up was that of a full set of Christopher Alexander's books. I never did find out what she thought of them. One evening a couple of days before Christmas, as I was alone in the store closing up, Caroline Kennedy came into the store in a panic. She'd not yet bought any Christmas presents for her architect husband. I locked up, and spent more than an hour helping her pick out expensive tomes that she purchased and that I hoped might inspire Ed Schlossberg's work. See any traces of Lutyens in his buildings? Me neither. But no matter. It was a grand experience for me. She was charming, I thought, and--I know this is neither here nor there--much better looking close-up than she ever seemed from photographs. My crush on Caroline aside, were she to ask me today what among the season's architecture books she should purchase, here's what I'd tell her. Let's start with some criticism. Nothing in recent years beats the latest from Nikos Salingaros, Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction (Solingen, Germany: Umbau-Verlag). (It can be ordered here.) I plan to post further on this remarkable book. For now, suffice it to say that Nikos--who has himself posted in this space and who is well known to Blowhards readers--writes architecture criticism of the highest order. I say ''criticism'' rather than ''theory'' because for me his genius lies in his ability to build from the specific to the general, which is the opposite of the tendency of academic theorists of architecture. A few critics in my experience have the ability to describe a building so as to explain how its parts add up to an emotional experience. Ian Nairn could do it. Gavin Stamp can do it, as for example in an amazing essay he wrote in the Spectator in praise of John Simpson's addition to the Queen's Gallery--an addition that is one of the great works of architecture of our time. (Here's a great book on Simpson and the gallery, not by Stamp but by the equally estimable Richard John and David Watkin.) Lewis Mumford could, from a viewpoint very different from my own, do it. Nikos does it. His commentary on Libeskind, on Tschumi, on Derrida, on Charles Jencks is definitive. (Interestingly, of these critics, only Stamp had or has professional training in architecture or architectural history. Salingaros is a mathematician, Nairn was trained as a mathematician, and Mumford possessed no academic degree at all.) A bonus of Nikos's book is that... posted by Francis at December 20, 2004 | perma-link | (10) comments