Notable Design Books: Reviews

10 Notable Design Books of 2013: June Reviews

By Steve Kroeter June 6, 2013


June brings to Designers & Books ten new reviews of Notable Design Books of 2013, selected by members of our Book Board. You can also view the complete list of Notable Design Books of 2013, in our signature grid format.

Book Board members who have participated in selecting titles for our June post are John HillEllen Lupton, Stephanie Murg, Phil Patton, and Norman Weinstein. Highlights include two volumes from a series profiling remarkable women in design, a reissue (and reconsideration) of a title on the work of Nazi architect Albert Speer, three books on California’s design scene from the 1930s to the present, and a new look at sustainable fashion.

The ten books featured this month are listed below, followed by review comments from our Book Board members. Clicking on a book title or cover image will take you to a full bibliographic profile of the book.


Léon Krier

Albert Speer: Architecture 1932–1942

by Léon Krier
The Monacelli Press (March 2013)

Buy the book

Reviewer: Book Board member Witold Rybczynski (emeritus, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania)

The design legacy of the Nazi regime is considerable. The Kraft durch Freude-Wagen (Strength through Joy Car), named by Hitler himself and better known as the Beetle, for example, became the favorite transport of the psychedelic generation in the 1960s, and its designer, Ferdinand Porsche, the darling of boy racers everywhere. The V-2 rocket—and its designer, Werner von Braun—was eagerly taken up by the American space program. But while Nazi cars and rockets are admired, not so Nazi architecture. Yet, as Léon Krier convincingly demonstrates in this lavishly illustrated book (originally published in 1985, but here with a new preface and an introduction by Robert A. M. Stern), there is much to admire. The New Chancellery of the Reich, for example, as well as the Zeppelinfield, stand comparison with the best work of Edwin Lutyens and Paul Philippe Cret. Speer’s intended makeover of central Berlin recalls L’Enfant. “Can a war criminal be a great artist?” asks Krier. Evidently, yes.

Albert Speer: Architecture 1932–1942 by Léon Krier, 2013 (The Monacelli Press)
Model of the Süd-Banhof, Berlin, designed by Albert Speer, 1939. From Albert Speer: Architecture 1932–1942, courtesy of The Monacelli Press
Photograph of Die Neue Reichskanzlei (The New Reichs-Chancellery), 1938, designed by Albert Speer. From Albert Speer: Architecture 1932–1942, courtesy of The Monacelli Press

Ralph Hammann

Creative Engineering, Architecture, and Technology

by Ralph Hammann
DOM Publishers (February 2013)

Buy the book

Reviewer: Book Board member Norman Weinstein (

This collection of both built and unrealized architectural projects associated with Munich-based technology expert Klaus Daniels offers a provocative survey of the rapidly dissolving boundaries between design and engineering. Although the book opens with an overblown hallelujah chorus of praise in the form of eight prefaces crowning Daniels by eight like-minded colleagues, Daniels is part of a new breed of aesthetically oriented engineers exemplified by Cecil Balmond and Werner Sobek. Talented and worthy of this extensive monograph? Absolutely. As original as these prefaces claim? That is another matter.

The deep worth of this book stems from an intriguing and far from self-serving history of Daniels’s firm, HL Technik, as its engineering focus expanded to accommodate supporting architects in an age of dwindling resources and climate change. Daniels expresses his feelings about the rapidity of change at his engineering firm in his opening essay, “Engineering Design Competence in a Changing World”: “It is astonishing that many professional tasks of our work as an engineering firm today were entirely unknown to use when we established our consultancy in the 1960s.” These include double-skin facade solutions for skyscrapers and natural ventilation systems.

Creative Engineering, Architecture, and Technology by Ralph Hammann, 2013 (DOM Publishers)
Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg, Russia, detail of design for skin structure by Dominique Perrault, DPA, Paris, 2003. From Creative Engineering, Architecture, and Technology, courtesy of DOM Publishers

In addition to energy savings over the long haul, Daniels constantly works with architects to develop energy-conservation designs that are beautiful as well as problem-solving. Ten projects are extensively documented in these pages. Especially inspiring was his collaboration with architect Dominique Perrault on the Marinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, which melds Daniels’s concern for an economical natural ventilation system with Perrault’s plan for a diamond-shaped building facade marked by a metallic textile material looking like gargantuan snowflakes in fractal profusion. Alas, disputes with the building’s client and budget cuts left the building an unfulfilled vision, but the plans in this book reveal just how fertile a richly nuanced engineer-architect meeting of minds this was.

House on the campus of Technical University Darmstadt, Lichtwiese, after return from Washington, D.C., 2008. 1st Place U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Decathlon Competition, 2007. Designed by Team Deutschland 2007 From Creative Engineering, Architecture, and Technology. Photo: Ralph Hammann.

Hope for the future of an aesthetically inspiring integrative fusing of engineering and architecture is supported by the book’s final section honoring innovative educational experiments that mesh the two disciplines. Daniels worked as a technology advisor to a student-led German team from the Technical University at Darmstadt that won first place in the U. S. Department of Energy’s “Solar Decathlon” competition. Far more modest than the Perrault collaboration, graphics reveal a structure just as creative in exemplifying what one planner aptly called “beautility.”


Samira Bouabana and Angela Tillman Sperandio

Hall of Femmes: Lella Vignelli

Hall of Femmes: Tomoko Miho

by Samira Bouabana and Angela Tillman Sperandio
Hall of Femmes/Oyster Press (March 2013)

Buy the books

Reviewer: Book Board member Ellen Lupton (Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum; Maryland Institute College of Art)

Hall of Femmes is a series of smartly edited monographs celebrating the life and work of female designers. Created by Samira Bouabana and Angela Tillman Sperandio in Sweden, the books unfold a canon of inspiring female role models for women in the profession.

Hall of Femmes: Tomoko Miho and Hall of Femmes: Lella Vignelli by Samira Bouabana and Angela Tillman Sperandio, 2013 (Hall of Femmes/Oyster Press)

The latest volumes explore the work of Lella Vignelli and Tomoko Miho, two women who helped shape the American design landscape at mid-century and beyond. Consisting of 64 and 72 (respectively) tall, narrow pages, each brisk and invigorating book will instantly expand your sense of design’s horizon. Replete with illustrations and vintage photographs, the volumes emphasize the human dimension of design practice, presenting moving portraits of women who have excelled in a field where even today, few of us make it to the very top. Generous in purpose and method, each Hall of Femmes book transmits the designer's voice through compelling interviews, thoughtful critical essays, lovingly selected vintage photographs, and dozens of reproductions. From Tomoko Miho we learn about the designer’s unique way of viewing the world and her interactions with George Nelson, Irving Harper, and John Massey. From Lella Vignelli we glimpse the energy of one of modern design’s great partnerships. More than just a publication series, the Hall of Femmes project includes lectures, exhibitions, and events, all conceived in a joyful spirit by the founders and authors.

San Lorenzo necklace, designed by Lella Vignelli, 1995. Pieces are connected by small pivoting joints and can be transformed and varied in different shapes and combinations. From Hall of Femmes: Lella Vignelli, courtesy of Hall of Femmes
Great Architecture in Chicago, City Of Chicago,Center for Advanced Research in Design. Poster designed by Tomoko Miho, 1966. From Hall of Femmes: Tomoko Miho, courtesy of Hall of Femmes 

Bobbye Tigerman (Photo: Shira Fischer)

Handbook of California Design, 1930-1965

by Bobbye Tigerman, editor
The MIT Press (February 2013)

Buy the book

Reviewer: Book Board member Phil Patton (New York Times)

The encyclopedic Handbook of California Design, 1930-1965: Craftspeople, Designers, Manufacturers gives lasting form to the research and analysis that went into the Pacific Standard Time shows. The reference volume was published jointly by LACMA and MIT Press. It serves as a companion to the 2011 MIT Press/LACMA publication California Design, 1930-1965: “Living in a Modern Way,” but also offers an invaluable backdrop for both A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California and Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990.

Included are more than 100 biographies of architects, designers, and craftsman and in a chart or infographic sketches out the social links among them, routed through universities and firms. The publisher promises that “the book will become an indispensable reference for scholars, students, collectors, and all those interested in modern design. . . it emerged from the realization that years of research could not be contained the in the show catalog.” Entries include a biography and image as well as references. Edited by Bobbye Tigerman, Associate Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the book has a mid-century period design by Irma Boom. Individual biographies were written by Jennifer Munro Miller, Lacy Simkowitz, Staci Steinberger, and Bobbye Tigerman. There is also a map of influences and connections and collaborations among the architects and designers, along with an extensive bibliography.

Handbook of California Design, 1930-1965: Craftspeople, Designers, Manufacturers, by Bobbye Tigerman, editor, 2013 (The MIT Press)
Charles and Ray Eames with prototypes for the Low Cost Furniture Competition, 1948. Photo: ©Eames Office, LLC. From Handbook of California Design, 1930-1965, courtesy of The MIT Press
Rudi Gernreich, photographed by William Claxton/Courtesy Demont Photo Management. From Handbook of California Design, 1930-1965, courtesy of The MIT Press
La Gardo Tackett in his studio, early 1960s Photo: © Bob Lopez Estate, courtesy of the Museum of California Design, Gift of Alan Jaffe and Alvin Lee From Handbook of California Design, 1930-1965, courtesy of The MIT Press

Christopher Mount

A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California

by Christopher Mount, editor
Skira/Rizzoli (April 2013)

Buy the book

Reviewer: Book Board member Phil Patton (New York Times)

A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California was created to accompany an exhibition curated by Christopher Mount and set—after some controversy—to run June 10, 2013 to September 2, 2013, at the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Some context: the Pacific Standard Times “suite” of shows has largely done its job, earning South California more respect as a hotbed of arts innovation in the 1950s through 1970s. Beginning two years ago, in dozens of exhibitions, more than 60 cultural organizations across Southern California celebrated the emergence of the Los Angeles art scene during 1945–1980. Now the focus has moved on in time and subject—to architecture in the 1980s. A New Sculpturalism is one example. It is billed as “the first extensive, scholarly examination of the radical forms in Southern California architecture during the past twenty-five years” and one of its focal points is work from the mid-1980s by Frank Gehry, Franklin D. Israel, Thom Mayne, Michael Rotondi, and Eric Owen Moss. In this era, Los Angeles underwent one of those periods that cultural historians love, where things visibly changed in the cultures, high and low, and you can talk convincingly about zeitgeist.

A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern Californiaedited by Christopher Mount, 2013 (Skira/Rizzoli)
Eric Owen Moss Architects, Samitaur Tower, Culver City, California, 2010. From A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California, courtesy of Rizzoli
Franklin D. Israel Design Associates, Drager House, Berkeley, California, 1994. From A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California, courtesy of Rizzoli

Several key points can be noted as symbols in the history of this period: the 1984 Olympics, the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)—the Temporary Contemporary—and the completion of MOCA by Irata Isozaki in 1986, which established the opening to the west, and a sense of Los Angeles as a genuine world city. The list might be extended to the 1992 civil disturbances and the Northridge Earthquake of 1994—even the O.J. Simpson live television chase, a pop monument to new omniscient and omnipresent media. The city’s mood may have been summed up in Mike Davis’s influential book City of Quartz, which depicted L.A. on the edge of disaster, from earthquake, drought or fire or their social equivalents.

The sculpture of the title is visible in the twisting and fracturing of the pure geometries of modernism. Modernism had come to California as an immigrant, and like so many immigrants at first thought it had found paradise. But the challenges to the economic dream were matched by those to the purity of the modernist dream. By the 1980s, the “techtonic” twists to modernist geometries made the mood visible: they were the tensions of failed modernism, or at least of modernism under stress.

Greg Lynn FORM, in collaboration with Lookinglass Architecture & Design, interior of Bloom House, Southern California, 2012. From A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California, courtesy of Rizzoli

What is refreshing about the book is a sense of architects who are open to new approaches—even, in the clichéd view of the Golden State, to crazy new things. There is a sense of California as a place where architects become more daring and perhaps more show-offy. The examples in the book appear to have been chosen in part to show that however much it draws from the state’s “terroir,” its dynamics are also exportable. Two cases are Frank Gehry’s downtown Manhattan Beekman Place residential tower and Thom Mayne’s Cooper Union building. The book comes with a series of complex charts of the relationship of study and work among the architects. In addition to the curator’s introduction, there are essays by U.C. Berkeley professor Margaret Crawford, the Los Angeles journalist Sam Lubell, the architectural historian Nicholas Olsberg, and the exhibition’s curatorial research assistant Johanna Vandemoortele.


Maria Gabriela Brito (Photo: Ellen Warfield)

Out There: Design, Art, Travel, Shopping

by Maria Gabriela Brito
Pointed Leaf Press (May 2013)

Buy the book

Reviewer: Book Board member Stephanie Murg (Unbeige)

Maria Gabriela Brito transforms living spaces with carefully selected works of contemporary art, but she doesn’t stop there. “Who says that an entire room can’t be inspired by Frida Kahlo’s life, Marc Jacobs’ runway collection, or Sophia Loren’s movies?” asks the Venezuelan-born, New York-based interior designer in a new book that is as colorful and exuberant as its author. Out There begins with a memoir-cum-mood board introduction to Brito and some of her favorite artists before showcasing apartments that have benefited from her vibrant makeovers and ends with a “go-to guide” sourcebook for design newbies and veterans alike.

Out There: Design, Art, Travel, Shopping by Maria Gabriela Brito, 2013 (Pointed Leaf Press). Cover photo: Ellen Warfield
The antique table is paired with a tall, contemporary acrylic column by Chris Cook, an Indiana-based artist. The vases, found in New York’s Chinatown, complement the piece in a really interesting way, bringing a series of curved shapes to a vignette with primarily straight lines. From Out There: Design, Art, Travel, Shopping, courtesy of Pointed Leaf Press. Photo: Ellen Warfield
The wallpaper in the kitchen was inspired by the geometric works of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. The red pendant lamps and the bar-stools tie the scheme together. I found the blue-and-white Greek china at ABC Carpet & Home in New York. From Out There: Design, Art, Travel, Shopping, courtesy of Pointed Leaf Press. Photo: Ellen Warfield

Wim de Wit                              Christopher James Alexander

Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future 1940–1990

by Wim de Wit and Christopher James Alexander, editors
Getty Publications (April 2013)

Buy the book

Reviewer: Book Board member Phil Patton (New York Times)

Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990 dovetails nicely with A New Sculpturalism. It offers a series of essays on “experiments” in architecture and urban design. The book, edited by Wim de Wit, head of the Department of Architecture and Contemporary Art at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, and Christopher James Alexander, assistant curator of architecture and design there, accompanies an exhibition at the Getty Center that opened on April 9 and runs through July 21.

Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future 1940–1990 by Wim de Wit and Christopher James Alexander, editors, 2013 (Getty Publications)
Dave Packwood, photograph, Santa Monica Freeway (Interstate 10) and Harbor Freeway (Interstate 110) Interchange, May 1962. Photograph, 25.4 x 20.3 cm (10 x 8 in.). Automobile Club of Southern California Archives. From Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990 

The theme is an apt fit for a region given to utopian dreams (if not otherworldly cults) where the movie back lot produces surreal juxtapositions like a mad scientist of urbanism. The lab theme also works well to unify chapters that are as disparate as Southern California’s many towns and neighborhoods. Essays on freeways and the barrio, surveys of the downtown arts center, and radical approaches from the Eames house to Case Study houses are boats of different size and shape, made to sail in the same fleet.

Case Study House No. 22 by Pierre Koenig. Photograph by Julius Shulman, 1960. Gelatin silver print, 25.2 x 20.1 cm (9 15/16 x 7 15/16 in.). © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute. From Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990

Both this book and A New Sculpturalism are free from the dominant tone of much past discussion of Southern California architecture, which was shaped by the finger-wagging, clucking criticism of visiting Easterners who complained how much people drive in Los Angeles and lamented the failure of the city’s neighborhoods to resemble Greenwich Village. The two might be profitably interposed with a watching of Thom Andersen’s 2003 film Los Angeles Plays Itself, in which the city’s pride in its architecture shines through an assemblage of feature film clips that also turn out to be an architectural tour and guidebook.

Eastland Shopping Center by A. C. Martin and Associates, about 1957, photographed by David M. Mills, 14 x 8.9 cm (5 1/2 x 3 1/2 in.). Chris Nichols Collection. From Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990

Sandy Black

The Sustainable Fashion Handbook

by Sandy Black
Thames & Hudson (April 2013)

Buy the book

Reviewer: Book Board member Norman Weinstein (

Few books with “sustainability” in the title possess the ambitiousness and cross-disciplinary depth of this colossal handbook on sustainable fashion. With hundreds of illustrations and scores of incisive interviews with designers, eco-activists, and entrepreneurs, there is an overwhelming amount in this hefty coffee-table book that really is a provocative sourcebook for sustainable designers in any field.

Sandy Black has sharply organized a burgeoning mass of sustainable fashion in a form that addresses key philosophical as well as practical questions, beginning with the fundamental (uncomfortable) question as to whether in a field as fad-driven as fashion if and how “sustainability” can be realistically achieved. That question takes on urgency when we realize that textiles and clothing life cycles use more energy and water than any other industry except for construction and agriculture. In search of sustainability in fashion—which perhaps would be a more accurate title than the one Black gave—we’re treated in these pages to wide divergences in perspectives from designers. Hussein Chalayan welcomes the challenges sustainability issues present—but straightforwardly justifies designing with materials that are not from recycled sources. The fabric printing and design company Ely Kishimoto regretfully acknowledges that it hasn’t yet figured out a process to remove dangerous chemicals from its wastewater.

The Sustainable Fashion Handbook by Sandy Black, 2013 (Thames & Hudson)
Christopher Raeburn, upcycled military parachute dress, “Digital Rainbow” collection, Spring–Summer 2010. From The Sustainable Fashion Handbook. Photo: courtesy Christopher Raeburn

Interspersed with these moderately cautionary accounts are remarkably uplifting accounts by fashion designers defying the conventional marketplace wisdom of supporting quickly and cheaply produced “throwaway” clothing with polluting consequences. Most crucially, one comes away from this swirl of new fashions, imaginary and ready-to-wear alike, with a sense of integrative vision. Perhaps designer Shelley Fox’s notion that all well-designed clothing is ipso facto sustainable is a tad simplistic, but the cross-cultural evidence in Black’s sourcebook reinforces the notion that fashion, rather than being the most ephemeral and toxic of necessary and everyday design arts, can also be made manifest in clothing that is passed down through appreciative generations.

Black’s book’s sole flaw might be its overwhelming U.K.-focus—but that seems unsurprising given the current British dominance in designing sustainable fashion, realizing that prolonging and re-purposing textile life contributes to our global commonwealth.

Dries Van Noten, Autumn/Winter 2008–09. Rich layered prints revived a forgotten technique, also replicated digitally. From The Sustainable Fashion Handbook. Photo: courtesy of Dries Van Noten

Vivienne Westwood with her models in the finale of her Spring–Summer 2011 Gold Label show, Paris. From The Sustainable Fashion Handbook. Photo: courtesy Vivienne Westwood Ltd.


Hugh Hardy

Theater of Architecture

by Hugh Hardy
Princeton Architectural Press (May 2013)

Buy the book

Reviewer: Book Board member John Hill (Archidose)

Even though architect Hugh Hardy is known for designing and restoring buildings for the performing arts (and half of the 20 projects in this book are of such building type), the title “Theater of Architecture” is more a philosophical position than an encapsulation of one strand of projects in his five decades of practicing architecture. Hardy emphasizes the experience of architecture and sees it as “setting the stage” for life. His buildings are more than just scenography, and this comes across particularly in the sidebar comments from his myriad clients as well as in Hardy’s thorough descriptions. This book is further proof that the architectural monograph is far from dead; it is just evolving into something more than simply rote presentations of projects.

Theater of Architecture by Hugh Hardy, 2013 (Princeton Architectural Press)
New Amsterdam Theater, New York, NY, renovated by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, 1995–97. Photo: Sara Cedar Miller. From Theater of Architecture, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press 
New York Botanical Garden, Leon Levy Visitor Center, Bronx, NY, designed by H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, and opened 2004. Photo: Robert Benson, courtesy of H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture. From Theater of Architecture, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press

All images are taken from the books reviewed and are reproduced by permission of their respective publishers.


View all Notable Design Books of 2013

Related posts: 10 Notable Design Books of 2013: April Reviews

10 Notable Design Books of 2013: May Reviews


comments powered by Disqus