The top 10 most expected books of 2017 in English about architecture and cities

Journalist and writer Stanislav Lvovskiy recommends forthcoming books written by leading experts and scholars concerning urban problems and architecture.

Photo: Istockphoto.com

End-of-year reviews remain the most popular genre this time of year, somehow rightfully: they are fun to read and often even more fun to write (well, they are kind of easy anyway); a person of prescience never renounces the pleasures (and, yes, perils) of forecasting, especially the realistic kind, and even more so after all the bad news of the past year, which is now blessedly over by bell, book and candle. Without a doubt, the year to come has its own surprises on tap. Since the less pleasant ones tend to find their own ways to inform us of their existence, let’s now have a preview of the pleasures we can expect from the university presses for those who still relish reading or, at the very least, find it useful.

Forensic Architecture

Weizman E. Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability. MIT Press. 368 p. 
Forthcoming in April, 2017.

Eyal Weizman is professor of Spatial and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College (University of London), Director of the Centre for Research Architecture and Global Scholar at Princeton University, as well as the founder of the ERC-funded «Forensic Architecture» project, the book resulting from which, « Before and after», written in co-authorship with Ines Weizman, was published by Strelka Press in 2014. His new book presents an in-depth description of the novel research methods developed by the Forensic Architecture collective to investigate human rights abuses, military conflicts and destruction through the unique lens of architecture. The book features insights into the history of Forensic Architecture’s methods, peculiarities of their practice, their underlying assumptions and perils, as well as a representative collection of relevant documents, maps and images. The subjects of «Forensic architecture» vary from the architectural reconstruction of a secret detention centre in Syria to the detailed investigation of environmental violence in the Guatemalan highlands. For those more inclined to a synthetic rather than analytic approach, Jenny Donovan’s remarkable «Designing to Heal: Planning and Urban Design Response to Disaster and Conflict» might prove to be a useful complementary reading. 

Walking in Berlin

Hessel F. Walking in Berlin: A Flaneur in the Capital. MIT Press, 248 pp.
Forthcoming in March, 2017.
Pre-order:  here.

It’s hard to image a new book having something to add to our understanding of the flâneur, a figure (and concept) thoroughly studied by scholars coming from both urban studies and architecture, urban and cultural history. However, here it is: the first English translation of Franz Hessel’s «Walking in Berlin», capturing the images, sounds and rhythms of the German capital through the years of the Weimar republic, catching onto the tectonic transfigurations of German and European culture and politics. Hessel, known mostly for his connection to Walter Benjamin, with whom he produced the German translation of Marcel Proust’s «In Search of Lost Time», is a thoughtful and sensitive observer of the city in his own right. Focusing on the theatres, clubs, cinemas and public spaces of the city, he contextualizes the Berlin of the 1920s, sharing with the reader tales of the past as well as his analysis of the links between the parts of the city, from the Alexanderplatz to Kreuzberg, so meticulously that the 1929 book, after everything that has happened to Berlin since it was written and published, can still be sort of a guide for the present-day flaneur. Aside from the complete translation, this edition includes Walter Benjamin’s essay on Hessel’s book, which was written as a review of the original edition.

Digital architecture

Burry M. (ed.) Digital Architecture. Routledge, 1600 p..
Forthcoming in June, 2017.
Pre-order:  here.

Mark Burry, Professor of Innovation and Director of the Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory (SIAL) of the RMIT University (Melbourne), who is well known for his expertise on the work of Antoni Gaudi, takes on the editing duties for the unprecedented summae of digital architecture scholarship. Of course, it’s not the first time he has turned to this subject (see for example his « Scripting Cultures: Architectural Design and Programming»). This collection, one of the opening titles for the new Routledge series «Critical Concepts in Architecture», which is intended «to meet today’s research, reference, and teaching needs» by bringing together «canonical and cutting-edge scholarship to provide users with historical context as well as a thorough, broad overview of current issues and debates», seems to be truly unique. The four volumes, amounting to 1600 pages, summarise the whole of contemporary scholarship on all aspects of architecture engaged with computation. «Digital architecture» proves that its subject has developed into a full-fledged field in its own right and has invaded all other architectural subdisciplines, as well. These two volumes feature all the relevant key texts on a wide variety of issues, including but not limited to info and data management, digital representation, computer science philosophy and trans-disciplinary approaches. Such a collection, focusing on the period starting from 1980s but also embracing earlier scholarship, will undoubtedly be a very useful addition to the library of any academic, practitioner or, for that matter, student interested in this subject, as well as for those who would like to have a glimpse into the future of architecture, near and distant alike.

The Icon Project

Sklair L. The Icon Project. Architecture, Cities, and Capitalist Globalization. Oxford University Press, 336 p.
Forthcoming in April, 2017.
Pre-order: here or here.

Leslie Sklair, Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, is the author of numerous works on the role that iconic architecture plays in a globalised economy (and the globalised world as such). Here he offers his perspectives on a new form of architecture that has appeared in the course of the last decades in the world’s major cities: designed by several architectural stars or architectural firms, it is owned by them as well, and inevitably serves private interests by externalizing power in the form of buildings, renovation projects or even whole cities. This in turn, according to Sklair, helps to promote consumerist values, be it by the «buildings recognised as works of art in their own right» or by what he calls «typical icons», which copy the unique ones. Though the ideological component of Sklair’s project may seem predominant in this work, «The Icon Project» proves to be more of a case of sober critical analysis of vanity-fueled global architectural practices.

Across Space and Time

Haughey P. Across Space and Time: Architecture and the Politics of Modernity. Transaction Publishers. 382 p.
Forthcoming in January, 2017.
Order:  here

The concept of modernity is at one and the same time one of the most widely used concepts in various contexts and one of the most problematic. We tend to think of this concept as recent and applicable mostly to the West, or in other words to the Anglo-Saxon and several other Western European countries. The architectural history of modernity is in turn, according to  Patrick Haughey, the editor of this volume, «unstable», since we always have to rethink «how humanity and its interventions transform space over time. We inhabit the buildings, but our beliefs, languages, politics, social structures, and environmental influences are subject to permanent change». What makes it possible for architectural history to exist as an optical device that can be used to explore the world are the remnants and physical traces we leave in the environment. «Across Space and Time» brings together scholars of art and architectural history to in a collective effort to see architecture through the lens of modernity as defined in different parts of the world. The resulting book provides strong architectural and cultural evidence for the claim of modernity being a far more powerful concept in terms of geography and time, in no way limited to the «Wext» of just a few (albeit politically, economically, and culturally influential) countries. Undergoing various transformations in the course of its expansion across the globe, modernity «has been negotiated through architecture, urban planning, design pedagogies, preservation, and art history in diverse locations around the world». Each chapter focuses on a particular case of such negotiation, from Robert Cowherd’s «Identity Tectonics», which explores the story of two Dutch architects who met in 1923 in the Dutch metropole of Bandung, Java (contemporary Indonesia) to Jeremy Bentham’s Russian journey, during which the idea of his famous «Panopticon» was arguably conceived, and further to the study of competing discourses on urban modernity in 1960s Slovenia, Yugoslavia by Veronica E. Alpenc. «Across space and time» is a contribution to the contemporary social critique of architecture as well as to the process of rethinking the theoretical frames and methodologies of architectural history.

What happened to my buildings

de Haan H., Keesom J. What Happened to My Buildings: Learning from 30 Years of Architecture with Marlies Rohm. NAi010 Publishers. 304 p.
Forthcoming in January, 2017.
Order:  here

Architecture and time are condemned to a relationship that is at the very least complicated. However, this complicity is generally seen as somehow theoretical: it is something discussed by John Dewey, Yuri Lotman or other scholars. The one who is going to dedicate his or her life to architecture has to address these issues — usually once, usually during the early career stages — simply because one has to address them. Once we’ve elaborated our stance on architecture and time, we rarely rethink it, precisely because of its philosophical, theoretical nature.

But what do you do when you realise your craft has changed so dramatically that you are not sure anymore if your buildings are good or bad? When Dutch architect Marlies Rohmer found himself in this very situation, he bought a van and went for a trip, — well, let’s say along memory lane — to re-examine 25 buildings he had created as an architect. Re-examination is probably an understatement here since Rohmer did a great deal of work talking with commissioners, residents and users, systematising and analysing information and making sense of the resulting insights. Hilde de Haan and Jolanda Keesom then wrote a book, a «sometimes moving, often hilarious and always informative exploration of what really counts in architecture». In short, they put the lessons learned by Marlies Rohmer into the broad contexts of urban life and city planning. Rohmer’s study cases provoke «questions of cause and effect, of control and contingency»: do an architect’s individual design choices matter and to what extent? Do the building’s users continue to construct it after the architect leaves, and if yes, then how? What about the significance of rules and regulations? And last but not least, what is the nature of the relationship between architecture and time at the relatively small scale of a human life, especially if this human happens to be an architect?

Architecture and Waste

Kara H., et al. (ed.). Architecture and Waste: A (Re)planned Obsolescence. Madrid: Actar Inc, 400 p.
Forthcoming in February, 2017.

This book also pursues, in particular, the same theme: that is to say the perishable nature of the mortal plane and architects’ issues with this fact. When it comes to industrial buildings, the role of designer generally and, in particular, s kind of ambiguous due to the complexity and technical purposes of such buildings. Architects are rarely involved in addressing the economic, logistic and ecological issues that emerge in the process of industrial construction, and the case of waste-to-energy facilities is no exception. However, this type of industrial buildings is still in high demand even within the de-industrialized developed economies. This collection’s primary editor, Hanif Kara, is well-known for his expertise in design structural engineering: he is, among other things, design director and co-founder of London-based structural engineering practice AKT II and professor of the Practice of Architectural Technology at Harvard Graduate School of Design. Consequently, this book presents a «refreshed, design-led approach to waste-to-energy (WTE) plants», reflecting work done at Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD). The volume compares the well-established waste-to-energy industries in Sweden with less established cases in the northeast of the United States. According to the results of the study, architects should definitely have a role to play in «integrating waste-to-energy plants physically and programmatically within their urban or suburban contexts, as well as potentially lessening the generally negative perception of energy recovery plants». While industrial architecture is much less trendy nowadays than, say, in the 1920s and 1930s, the re-industrialization trend emerging across the developed economies as well as the constantly growing demand for the relevant specialists in the Third World, along with the noticeable disappointment in «iconic architecture» (see Leslie Sklair’s book above), can make industrial architecture once again an attractive career choice. There’s no harm in giving it a thought anyway, right?

Post-Metropolitan Territories

Balducci A., Fedeli V., Curci F. (eds.). Post-Metropolitan Territories: Looking for a New Urbanity. Routledge, 320 p.
Forthcoming in February, 2017
Pre-order:  here.

Some of us have just managed to get used to the idea of the metropolitan areas as the future main centers of power, finance, innovation and culture. But that’s because some of us are still a bit slow for the brave new world of globalization, or one may even say that according to the latest electoral trends in the West many of us are too slow for it. But there are others who are fast enough to think several moves ahead. Among these are, of course, the editors of this collection, Alessandro Balducci, Valeria Fedeli and Francesco Curci, all urban studies scholars from the Politecnico di Milano. What we have historically thought of cities, how we have imagined and built them was always in a state of constant reconfiguration. The worldwide process we call today «multi-scalar regional urbanization» is different from the similar processes of the previous two hundred years: neither city, nor metropolis (or our ideas of those) are the same now as they were in the 19th and 20th centuries. «Post-Metropolitan Territories» features a thorough, albeit broad overview of Italy, one of the most complex and diverse European countries, which makes it a perfect subject for scholarship focused on regional development and performance. This collection, a result of a research project funded by the Italian Ministry for Education, Universities and Research (MIUR), studies several «Italian cities and their hinterlands and looks at new forms of urbanization, exploring themes of sustainability, industrialization, de-industrialization, governance, city planning and quality of life». The ultimate goal of «Post-Metropolitan Territories» is to find the right, if still preliminary words to describe the contemporary turn in the very ideas of «cityness» and «urban». As the editors write in the introductory chapter in relation to Rome: «[it] is today a metropolitan region which, connected and interacting [...] with the surrounding areas, arrives to include confining regions. It is an ‘urban region’ with specific characteristics, where the territories and the way the city is lived are experiencing a reorganization which is following unusual routes and is creating new urban realities which requires new political solutions». Since «not only living conditions have changed, but also the way the urban reality is conceptualized, perceived, represented and imagined», we face the necessity to distinguish «new forms of appropriation and re-appropriation of the living space, new way of giving sense to abandoned spaces, new forms of ‘territorialization’ as well as the explosion of alternative economic strategies and, in order to respond to diverse urban challenges, to promote new networking systems and new organizational forms». This book seems to be essential reading for those who plan on entering the terrain of urban and spatial planning in the years to come, since chances are that it will be already referred to as «the pioneering study».

Urban Animals

Holmberg T. Urban Animals: Crowding in zoocities. Routledge, 164 p.
Forthcoming in April, 2017.

«Urban animals» is not just another expression from Urban Dictionary, akin to, say, « party animal». Neither is it an ancient but now commonplace metaphor like «political animal». Urban animals are very real living creatures roaming our cities, whether by four paws on Earth’s surface or by a couple of wings high above. Tora Holmberg, Associate Professor in Sociology and Senior Lecturer at the Institute for Housing and Urban Research in Uppsala University (Sweden) argues that cities provide various opportunities to animals (and, of course, impose various constraints on them) as well as to humans. Our attitudes to urban animals are ambivalent: notwithstanding the fact that until the early 20th century human-animal encounters even in the largest European capitals were merely a matter of everyday life and that such encounters involved a much larger variety of species than cats, dogs and pigeons, nowadays we often complain about urban animals and perceive them as dangerous or at least unwanted. Animals generally «transgress geographical, legal, and cultural ordering systems», which is why we tend to see them as uncontrollable, and anything uncontrollable within the limits of contemporary cities becomes a source of anxiety, sometimes unconscious. At the same time, we care about urban animals; they are involved in conservation practices and are subject to bio-political actions (see sterilization of stray dogs). So how can we «consider spatial formations and urban politics from the perspective of human/animal relations» and why do we need to?

Holmberg offers a number of case studies exploring the controversial nature of human/animal relations in the city. These cases include, but are not limited to: companion animals, free-ranging dogs, homeless and feral cats, and urban animal hoarding (consider «crazy cat ladies»). The theoretical framework of «zoocities» is suggested, embracing two very diffferent fields of scholarship: animal studies and urban studies. This results in a reframing of urban relations and space. On the one hand, Holmberg expands the theoretical instruments of urban studies beyond the human, and on the other, she brings to life familiar sociological theories using the animal studies apparatus. Ultimately, her book seeks to describe the phenomenon that she calls «humanimal crowding»; numerous «urban controversies and crowding technologies are analyzed, finally pointing at alternative modes of trans-species urban politics through the promises of humanimal crowding—of proximity and collective agency». While urban ideology, intended to enforce the social order, requires the exclusion of animals, a look at reality reveals a multitude of practices that add up to a picture of diverse, disordered, and sometimes even disturbing experiences.

Making places for people

Coffin C.J., Young J. Making Places for People: Twelve Questions Every Designer Should Ask. Routledge, 226 p.
Forthcoming in January, 2017

This last title of our book forecast for 2017 is of a more practical nature, but at the same time, it is in no way a mere manual. «Making Places for People», written by  Christie Johnson Coffin from the «Design Partnership» architectural firm, and Jenny Young, Professor at the University of Oregon, combines the best of two worlds, offering new questions as well as answers to old ones. Their book is focused on the twelve social questions of environmental design. Using their unique combination of theoretical and practical expertise, the authors challenge common assumptions about how places meet human needs and offer a much more complex view, which is far from being self-evident. Coffin and Young ask themselves (and us), whether answers for the usual, «by-the-book» questions of urban and environmental design, e.g. «What is the story of this place? What logic orders it? How big is it? How sustainable is it?» can be easy and if there are easy ways to find answers. While the underlying assumption of the authors looks quite familiar («critical understanding of the relationships between people and their built environments can inspire designs that better contribute to health, human performance, and social equity»), the book is thought-provoking and is recommended for those who are not strangers to the particular kind of excitement we use to call «curiosity».

Text: Stanislav L'vovskiy

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