Life Without Books – British Built

Focusing on emerging practices with professional, but not necessarily national, connections to the country, British Built is the sequel to the ubiquitous SuperDutch. – the book that was, at some point, on everyone’s desk when you were in college. Um… that is…if you were recently in college, I mean. British Built lives up to its popular predecessor.
The architects represented in the book are largely responsible for Britain’s multicultural identity – a microcosmic representation of the degradation of both physical and virtual borders in Europe. The young offices represented are multi-scalar, multi-tasking, and multi-national. In her introduction – one of a few excellent essays on the past, present, and future of British design – Lucy Bullivant recounts the shifts in social climate and government initiatives that have encouraged new development and nurtured what could be considered some of the most innovative architecture in the world.

‘non-style’ is so important to many of the featured architects and their peers: a style implies repetition, not a fresh, bespoke response to a situation or cultural context. In formal terms, these architects reject universal recipes in favor of ingenious custom-designed solutions that are no bombastic or self referential. For them, a building needs to work holistically as an urban space, contributing to the construction of the city and its sense of civitas, by offering a generosity of character.

Architecture has become as fluid as the social patterns it is entrusted to accommodate, wit its meanings easily appropriated or debased to make a fashion or marketing statement.

The predetermined, self’referential sculptural presence of building is no longer the primary means by which architecture is made to communicate; that approach has been transcended by the marriage of process, socio-spatial concerns and adaptation to new information and uses.

As you can tell from the excerpts, these architects aren’t afraid to break with (dying?) trend of iconic, signature, overly styled buildings. Two firms who really stand out from the talented crowd of British Built, are FAT (Fashion Architecture Taste) and the painterly/poetic David Adjaye (whose Houses is another gorgeous book).
FAT are true post- modernists (although not quite Postmodernists). Their aim has been to “bandish the self-referential abstractions of modernism and to counter their failure to engage in a cultre outside architecture.” They’re everything I think a young architecture firm should be today: diverse and risk-taking with a broad understanding of what Architecture can be, how it can be understood, and perhaps most important, they don’t take it too damn seriously! More architects need to have a sense of humor! It won’t take away from your work, I swear. Loosen up a little bit.

Go to FAT’s website, check out their work and while your at it, learn step-by-step how to become a famous architect: [ex. step: “Now its time to develop your mystique. This is all important, because it is what you are selling. Remember, you won’t have to design a building for at least ten years. And in this time you will live off your mystique, so make it good. Mystique is what you say, and the way that you say it. If you come from continental Europe, great. If you don’t, pretend that you do. Mystique should also suggest revolutionary politics and french philosophy.”]

The Commentary on some of the represented firms can sometimes be a bit of a tease; sometimes I wish there was more focus on the projects and less on the firm. Regardless though, there’s enough to get you excited about what these firms are doing; enough to encourage further reading and research. always a good quality in a book.

Life Without Books – The Green House

From the mountains of Stuttgart to the roofs of the Netherlands to the streets of Manhattan, critics Alanna Stang and Christopher Hawthorne present an incredible overview of contemporary sustainable housing in their new book The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture. In the forward, they declare their mission : to present houses that make “green” architecture utterlery unremarkable. That is to say, houses that have green systems integrated into their design without letting sustainability dominate their aesthetic.

An informative introduction provides a brief history of Green design, from its origins in historic vernacular to the current status of the movement, and gives enough background for the average reader to appreciate the complexity of the presented works. Inspired by the surprising variety of incredible designs they discovered, the curators thoughtfully divided the projects into categories based on their environments – City, Suburb, Mountainside, Waterside, Desert, Tropics, and the tragically under-represented, Anywhere. Full-page color photos and drawings show off the work while written descriptions explain their green features and how the architect balances environmental and aesthetic concerns. The photos and descriptions are well crafted and informative, but the drawings leave much to be desired. Details of the more technical sustainable elements are woefully absent, while the elevations and sections are mostly too small and basic to be informative.

The book opens with its most strikingly “green” work, P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. PROJECT, designed by Dutch architects Kortknie Stuhlmacher Architecten.

A chartreuse form attached to the roof of a Rotterdam warehouse, the Parasite project is a prototype for a new form of urban housing – urban infill designed to explore the relationship between sustainability and prefabrication. So just how is this project sustainable? The prefabricated panels, both load-bearing and insulating, are manufactured from waste wood and can be assembled in only four days. It is also designed to take advatage of the existing building’s water and heating systems. Many of the other works in the Green House include technologically advanced environmental systems, but with the P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. PROJECT we are presented with a green house that is both simple and thoughtfully constructed.

Including works by Steven Holl, Shigeru Ban, Rick Joy Cesar Pelli, and a host of lesser known yet equally talented architects, The Green Housetakes us on a tour of over thirty residences in fifteen countries. Part primer on sustainability, part reference book, and part sexy monograph, it is a gorgeous collection that shows just how easy and affordable it can be to think green.

The National Building Museum is currently organzing the accompanying exhibit,The Green House, scheduled to open in Spring of 2006