AFTER A ONE-ISSUE HIATUS, BREAKTHROUGH BOOKS IS BACK. THIS TIME, SINCE A BOOK IS THE SUM OF ITS USES AND ITS USERS ARE VARIED, WE ASKED SPECIALISTS OF ALL STRIPES--NOT JUST SCHOLARS--TO TELL US ABOUT THE MOST MEMORABLE BOOK PUBLISHED DURING THE PAST YEAR OR SO IN THEIR FIELD. HERE ARE SOME OF THEIR RESPONSES:
James Bradberry, architect, formerly with Venturi, Scott-Brown and Associates. Bradberry calls one of his favorite books of the past few years, Architecture and the American Country House by Mark Hewitt (Yale, 1990), "a cross between a luscious coffee table book and a decent social history of how the American country house developed." He also calls it "almost pathological. It goes into so much detail, not only in the relations between families and architects but the schools architects went to, who they worked for and what influenced them as well." All in all, he concludes, "a really fat, beautiful book."
Witold Rybczynski, architecture professor at McGill University and author of Home: A Short History of an Idea (1986, currently available from Penguin) and Waiting for the Weekend (1991, currently available from Penguin). Spiro Kostof, The City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meanings Through History (Bullfinch Press, 1991). What Rybczynski likes best about this book--"a marvelous scholarly look at how the shapes of cities have varied in different cultures and at different tirnes"--are the author's "lucid prose, his grasp of the sweep of the subject, and his broad knowledge of cities." Rybczynski also picks Edge City: Life on the New Frontier by Joel Garreau (1991, currently available from Anchor), a book by "a journalist, not an academic." Rybczynski explains: "His investigation... has the value of first-hand reporting. He travels across the United States and talks to developers, builders, and municipal officials in the rapidly growing urban areas, which all happen to be outside the traditional central cities and which therefore have tended to be ignored by both architects and planners."
Susan Szenasy, editor of Metropolis, the urban architecture and design magazine. Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space, Michael Sorkin, editor (Hill and Wang, 1992). Szenasy thinks the "most provocative" essay in this collection is Langdon Winner's "Sllicon Valley Mystery House," "an account of how the virtual reality of electronic communications may be giving a whole new meaning to our physical environment, including architecture," she says. But Szenasy's penchant for things futuristic also led her to Yesterday's Houses of Tomorrow: Innovative American Homes 1850-1950 by H. Ward Jandl, John A. Burns, and Michael J. Auer (Preservation Press, 1991), which documents what architects of the past--between 1850 and 1950--thought domestic settings would look like in the future. Says Szenasy: "At a time when the home computer is making the concept of the 'electronic cottage' a reality, it's instructive to look back at other historic markers that made the American home a distinctive architectural statement."
Kevin Lippert, publisher, Princeton Architectural Press. Edward R. Ford, Details of Modern Architecture (MIT, 1990). "Ford has done these remarkable drawings of details of famous architects' buildings that show, for example, how Frank Lloyd Wright would actually build one of his projects, or Le Corbusier, or Adolf Loos," Lippert says. The book treats "nuts-and-bolts mechanics... in a very intelligent way. [Fordl] talks about what the design intention was, the qualities of an architect's spatial interests. But then, unlike most architectural critics, he deals specifically with how that gets translated into physical form"
Michael Gray, book buyer for Rizzoli International Bookstores. Gray says the two fastest-moving architecture books in Rizzoli bookstores nationwide are Seaside: Making a Town in America, edited by David Mohney and Keller Easterling (Princeton Architectural Press, 1991), an account of how a developer and a star-studded cast of architects and planners fashioned a small town on the Florida Gulf Coast, and Louis I. Kahn: In the Realm of Architecture (Rizzoli, 1991), a book that accompanied the traveling Louis Kahn exhibition organized by Los Angeles's Museum of Contemporary Art last year. "It made the front page of The New York Times and it was nice to see that sales followed the reviews--which don't always translate into popularity or sales."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.