Notable Design Books: Reviews

63 Notable Design Books of 2011

By Steve Kroeter November 30, 2011

Steve Kroeter

To help celebrate the year in design book publishing, Designers & Books invited a group of esteemed design community members to select titles published in 2011 that they think are particularly worth noting.

Among those who have participated so far in selecting titles were Justin Davidson, Wendy Goodman, Julie Lasky, Paul Makovsky, Daijiro Mizuno, Phil Patton, Maria Popova, Rick Poynor, and Alissa Walker. Below you will find the results of their deliberations: our list (to date and growing) of Notable Design Books of 2011.

The titles also appear on our site in our signature grid format. This allows you to filter, sort, and view the books by recommender, title, author, design discipline, and price. And you can view the books either by cover image or in a list. In addition, both on the grid and in the listing of books below, you can click through each of the titles to get to a detailed bibliographic profile.

Over the coming days new titles recommended by new contributors will be added to the list. We hope you will find our book grid to be an effective and enjoyable way to expand your awareness and appreciation of the many notable design books published this year.


100 Artists' Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists
Alex Danchev

This collection is a great idea. Instead of treating artists’ manifestos only as documents of the movements they supported, it invites us to read them as works of literature, and even as classics. The “heroic” years of manifesto-making, c. 1910–30, are as bombastic as you would expect (Futurism, Dada, Surrealism), but there are many compelling later examples, including the priceless Stuckists, and architectural manifestos from Rem Koolhaas, Lebbeus Woods, and Charles Jencks. —Rick Poynor


344 Questions: The Creative Person’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival, and Artistic Fulfillment
Stefan G. Bucher

If designers did self-help, this is how they'd do it. This delightful pocket-sized compendium of flowcharts and lists illustrated in designer Stefan G. Bucher’s unmistakable style vows to help you figure out life’s big answers, from bringing project ideas to life to creating the perfect conditions for personal growth to defining and attaining happiness. It's thoughtfully conceived and charmingly executed, wonderfully playful yet infinitely useful. Besides Bucher’s own questions, the tiny but potent handbook features contributions from 36 beloved cross-disciplinary creators, including Christoph Niemann, Stefan Sagmeister, Marian Bantjes, Doyald Young, and Jakob Trollbäck. —Maria Popova


African Metropolitan Architecture
David Adjaye

A collection of Adjaye’s snapshots from his travels around metropolitan areas of Africa. Provides a unique sense of how cities developed on that continent. One of the most appealing aspects of the book is the way it shows the connection between ugliness and beauty in these urban settings. —Justin Davidson


The Agile City
James Russell

—Recommended by Justin Davidson


Alexander Girard
Todd Oldham and Kiera Coffee

This is probably the most important design book to come out this year. It pulls together all of Alexander Girard’s work in one volume. And every single page is a revelation. It’s a bouquet of riches. A masterpiece. —Wendy Goodman


Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

Andrew Bolton et al.

Like a relic from a saint, this book companion to the astonishing 2011 Metropolitan Museum exhibition is a fragment of a much greater entity. It’s worth having anyway. McQueen’s jagged silhouettes and maniacal feather- or crustacean-encrusted pieces are inexhaustible in their visual interest, and the catalogue lets you study them at leisure, focusing on details like locks of hair sewn into dresses inspired by Jack the Ripper’s victims. Most important, you can read about the doomed enfant terrible who produced them without crowds of gawping museum-goers pressing you to hurry up. —Julie Lasky


Architecture in Uniform: Designing and Building for the Second World War

Jean-Louis Cohen

Jean-Louis Cohen is my kind of architectural historian. He does a deep dive into a neglected subject—this time modern architecture during World War II—and comes up with original perspectives on the subject. He discovers many projects that are not well known—like Dan Kiley’s courtroom for the Nuremberg trials or Salvador Dali’s take on camouflage (he was all for it). And did you know that Le Corbusier spent much of the war unsuccessfully lobbying the Vichy government for work, only to erase that period in his biographical notes written in 1945? Cohen documents some of the period’s more successful examples, like Richard Neutra’s affordable housing in San Pedro, California; and Gropius and Breuer’s low-cost Aluminum City Housing—examples that we could all learn from today. War is never pretty, and Cohen shows that World War II was a key moment (both good and bad) in the modernization of architectural theory and practice. —Paul Makovsky


Balenciaga and Spain

Hamish Bowles

Hamish is a genius! —Cynthia Rowley



Nicolas Foulkes

This book takes you inside beautiful houses and sumptuous palaces to show how they were used in the 20th century as settings for extravagant, decadent entertaining. It’s a delicious cocktail of people, personalities, costume, and drama. A magnificent book that provides a window into a world that is finished and absolutely gone. —Wendy Goodman


Beauty Is in the Street: A Visual Record of the May '68 Paris Uprising

Johan Kugelberg and Philippe Vermès

As the “Occupy” protests spread around the world, this high-impact record of the May 1968 uprising against the French government in the streets of Paris couldn’t be timelier. The simple one-color poster designs, many shown full-page, jump with raw energy. The book also gathers translations from contemporary documents, a timeline of events, pictures of the Atelier Populaire workshop by participant and co-author Philippe Vermès, and photos of slogans scrawled on the walls. —Rick Poynor


Believing Is Seeing

Errol Morris

This collection of Morris’s Opinionator columns for the New York Times website is fascinating on multiple levels. Read it for the fresh perspective it offers on the timeless debate over photography’s value as a tool of revelation versus distortion, of consciousness-raising versus manipulation. Or read it to get into the mind of a truth seeker who has no tolerance for intellectual flabbiness or emotion-driven responses. (But don’t hang around there too long. It’s kind of scary.) If nothing else, read this book for Morris’s relentless quest to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding two Roger Fenton photos of a cannonball-littered landscape in the Crimea. You may never again make another easy assumption. —Julie Lasky


Bertrand Goldberg: Architecture of Invention

Zoë Ryan

If you’ve ever been to Chicago, you’ve probably marveled at Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City towers—nicknamed the Corncobs. The architect worked on everything from a 1939 plywood chair to a futuristic hospital complete with four-concrete towers (and now threatened with demolition). You’ll find some gems in this book, like the Ralph Helstein house of 1950–52, an early experiment with concrete, and the John Snyder house on Shelter Island--an aquarium on steroids. Goldberg was less successful with his furniture design, but certainly inspirational even today with his large-scale urban planning. —Paul Makovsky


California Design 1930-1965: Living in the Modern Way

Wendy Kaplan

Feeling depressed about design these days? Then the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s catalogue accompanying an exhibition of the same name, “California Design 1930–1965: ‘Living in a Modern Way’”(on view through June 3, 2012), will certainly cheer you up. Sure, the seeds of midcentury California modernism were sown in the years immediately preceding World War II—just think of the furniture of Kem Weber or the architecture of Rudolf Schindler—but it was really only after the war with the booming postwar economy that the new aesthetic really blossomed, a period that produced talents as Julius Shulman, the Eameses, Alvin Lustig, and Pierre Koenig. The book also digs up obscure designers like Arlene Fisch, a jewelry designer who combined silver with colorful enamels; Doyle Lane, an Los Angeles-based African American craftsman who worked mainly in ceramics; and Olga Lee, a textile designer who was married to Milo Baughman, a furniture designer who also figures prominently in the show. You’ll come away thinking, what happened to American design in the decades since? —Paul Makovsky


Cecil Beaton: The New York Years

Donald Albrecht

Beaton was a schoolmate of Evelyn Waugh and hung out with Greta Garbo. He moved from the world of the 1920s Bright Young People to 1960s Carnaby Street.

Six degrees of Cecil Beaton would connect just about everyone in fashion, film, and art of the 20th century. This fresh view, published to accompany an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, looks at Beaton’s time in New York, which was halfway between London and Hollywood. The show, featuring drawings and costumes, is an important reminder that Beaton was not only a photographer of royalty, fashion, Hollywood, and the stage—he was himself a designer, creating stage sets, lighting, and costumes, notably for My Fair Lady and the film Gigi. —Phil Patton


Cultural Connectives

Rana Abou Rjeily

Author Rana Abou Rjeily builds an ingenious cross-cultural bridge by way of a typeface family that brings the Arabic and Latin alphabets together and, in the process, fosters a new understanding of Arab culture. Both minimalist and illuminating, the book’s stunning pages map the rules of Arabic writing, grammar, and pronunciation to English, using this typographic harmony as the vehicle for better understanding this ancient culture from a Western standpoint. The book jacket unfolds into a beautiful poster of a timeless quote by Gibran Khalil Gibran, rendered in Arabic: “We shall never understand one another until we reduce the language to seven words.” —Maria Popova


The Death and Life of Great American Cities: 50th Anniversary Edition

Jane Jacobs; introduction by Jason Epstein

The timing could not be more perfect for the reissue of what might be the best book about changing the way we live with one another. I know, you've read it. So have I. But let me make the case for reading it again. Something happened this year, a shift in our thinking about cities. As Americans seem to rediscover their sidewalks, and bike lanes begin to lace through our metropolises, it feels like we’re finally ready to listen to what Jacobs has to say. Jason Epstein was Jacobs’s editor at Random House and in his introduction, he provides the background for the book’s debut (including a funny response by Robert Moses, who returned the book to the publisher). I dare you to find another 50-year-old book that is as unequivocally relevant today. —Alissa Walker


Design with the Other 90%: Cities

Cynthia Smith

In 2007, the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum organized a pioneering exhibition devoted to objects and systems designed for people with limited means; that is, most of the world. Recently, it opened a sequel show in New York exploring objects and systems for urbanites—another (recently accomplished) majority and one projected to grow ever larger as people flock to cities for work and social opportunities. Design with the Other 90%: Cities is particularly concerned with innovations that ameliorate the harsh conditions of slums in the “Global South”—designs for housing, sanitation, transportation, education, and commerce. As social design grows as a discipline and is subjected to greater scrutiny to distinguish effective from merely well meaning approaches, the examples making up this catalog should in many cases offer inspiration and hope. —Julie Lasky

The catalogue for the second part of an exhibition organized by the Cooper-Hewitt to help show that design is not just about beautiful things but also about improving the lives of people who have very little. Highlights interesting, clever, inspired, and unconventional applications of design to difficult, thorny urban problems. —Justin Davidson


Designing for Emotion

Aarron Walter

Most tech books are so impersonal they might as well be written in code. A Book Apart, a new publishing company founded by the triumvirate of Jeffrey Zeldman, Jason Santa Maria, and Mandy Brown, has produced a series of slim, delightful guides on designing for interactivity that will make you want to learn CSS, just so you'd have to read them. In this book, Walter constructs a compelling case for creating a website that will make your audience fall in love. With tips on adding elements of surprise, tools for manufacturing delight, and instructions how to make a human connection (yes, on the Internet!), presented in rich, full color, Walter’s advice is essential for anyone who makes websites. But since your website is the first and sometimes only way that people interact with your brand, I’d say it should be read by anyone who has an online presence, period. —Alissa Walker


Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

Lisa Immordino Vreeland

This is a fantastic book that brings together all of Diana Vreeland’s work for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. It gives you a great sense of the woman. It also describes how she invented her life—and for me that’s particularly fascinating. —Wendy Goodman


Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible

Sophie Lovell

Only Dieter Rams can claim to have inspired so many of today’s star designers, including Naoto Fukasawa, Jasper Morrison, Sam Hecht, and Jonathan Ive. This excellent book cover’s the designer’s entire career and philosophy and explains why his work has come to influence anyone whose design embodies a functional simplicity. You’ll find a great visual essay that document’s the designer’s house in Stuttgart, and another one on the Braun archive that verges on design porn. Apple’s own Jonathan Ive even weighs in, and describes how he came to be a fan of the designer’s work—it all started with a Braun MPZ 2 Citromatic. —Paul Makovsky


Edward Durell Stone: A Son's Untold Story of a Legendary Architect

Hicks Stone

During their lifetimes, both Ed Stone and Eero Saarinen graced the covers of Time magazine. History has treated Eero Saarinen well, with a number of traveling exhibitions and books appearing in recent years; Ed Stone less so. This monograph, written by Stone’s son, offers a personal and authoritative biography of this misunderstood architect who was celebrated in the mainstream press but often ridiculed in the architectural community. Hicks Stone details not only his father’s achievements but also writes honestly about the architect’s career, relationships, and struggles with alcohol. Stone had an unorthodox view of modern architecture, experimenting with decorative patterned screening and integrating the natural landscape with architecture, and was critical of the effects of automobile culture—all very topical today. Let’s hope he finally gets his due. —Paul Makovsky


Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward F. Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer

Peter F. Neumeyer

Between September 1968 and October 1969, iconic midcentury illustrator Edward Gorey set out to collaborate on three children’s books with author and editor Peter F. Neumeyer. Over the course of this 13-month period, the two exchanged a series of letters on topics that soon expanded well beyond the three books and into everything from metaphysics to pancake recipes. This year, Neumeyer released this fascinating, never-before-published correspondence in a magnificent collection of 75 typewriter-transcribed letters, 38 stunningly illustrated envelopes, and more than 60 postcards and illustrations exchanged between two collaborators-turned-close-friends, featuring Gorey’s witty, wise meditations on such eclectic topics as insect life, the writings of Jorge Luis Borges, and Japanese art. —Maria Popova


Groundwork: Between Landscape and Architecture

Diana Balmori and Joel Sanders

The architect Joel Sanders hopes to “usher in a new model of integrated practice…that reunites two fields of inquiry that should never have been divided.” With Groundwork, he and the landscape architect Diana Balmori accomplish on paper what they’d like other designers to attempt in the world: a demonstration of the seamless unity of nature and culture that is demanded in an age of increasing environmental threat. The authors believe that green materials and technologies provide a common medium for interdisciplinary design approaches, just as glass and steel defined the inside/outside continuity of modernism. Much of the book is made up of their examples: from a Parisian house buried among 1,200 hydroponic ferns to a sculpture park built on a former brownfield along Seattle’s waterfront to the authors’ own design for an equestrian facility that morphs into a public park, which they proposed for New York’s 2012 Olympics bid. —Julie Lasky


Guide to Contemporary New York City Architecture

John Hill

The author, John Hill, runs a blog called Daily Dose of Architecture. For this book he canvassed the city, including every borough, to find and profile new architecture—from the least glamorous social housing to new super-tall office buildings. Beautifully illustrated; great graphics. Covers over 200 projects. Provides an impressive sense of how much has been built in New York in recent years. —Justin Davidson


High Line: The Inside Story of New York City's Park in the Sky

Joshua David and Robert Hammond

I love this book. With incredible photographs, it traces the history of the Highline from when it was built to the miracle of its magical transformation to a perfect park in the sky. This is a very beautiful and important book about preserving something and bringing it back to life. —Wendy Goodman


A House for an Art Collector

David Adjaye

An investigation of one of the more advanced and extreme house designs in New York since Paul Rudolph was tinkering with his own apartment in the 1970s. Incredible photography by Robert Polidori. —Justin Davidson


How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Novel

Christopher Boucher

A novel that takes off from the classic 1969 counterculture do-it-yourself manual “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive.” A mash-up of a document and a narrative: the hero’s child is a Volkswagen Beetle. “If you think raising a kid in today’s world is hard,” the jacket copy reads, “imagine how tough it would be if your child also happened to be a Volkswagen Beetle.” Picking up on Geoff Nicholson’s Still Life With Volkswagen, the story is also about the mix of spiritual and mechanical that characterizes our relationships with technology and objects. Echoing Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Shop Class as Soulcraft, the theme is one designers are concerned with: how to bring life to things. —Phil Patton


Hussein Chalayan

Judith Clark et al.

Although there have have been books on Hussein Chalayan published in recent years to accompany exhibitions of the clothing designer’s that have been held worldwide, this unique and beautiful book contains Chalayan’s drawings reflecting the process of his explorations of “conceptual” design. —Daijiro Mizuno


Julius Shulman, Los Angeles: The Birth of a Modern Metropolis

Sam Lubell and Douglas Woods

Shulman photographs wonderfully document Southern California as it urbanized and formed a modern aesthetic. A wonderful chronicle of the height of the California dream. The quality of the photograph is uniformly magnificent. —Justin Davidson


Jürgen Mayer H: Wirrwarr

Jürgen Mayer H. and Philip Ursprung

For over a decade, the Berlin architect Jürgen Mayer H. has collected computer-generated security patterns, numbers, envelope linings, and so on. He has published a limited-edition book of them under the title Wirrwarr, a German word meaning chaos and confusion, with onomatopoetic overtones of buzz.

These would have been an appropriate submission for our Typologies class at the School of Visual Arts Design Criticism program. They are the sort of omni-present and overlooked form of design we are interested in.

The patterns serve as inspiration to his architecture, as, for example, in the facade of the Hasselt Court of Justice, completed this year in Hasselt, Belgium. Some of the images will be on display at the Art Institute of Chicago through January 22, 2012. —Phil Patton


KieranTimberlake: Inquiry

Stephen Kieran, James Timberlake, and Karl Wallick

While other books have looked at the firm’s work in general and at specific buildings such as the Loblolly house, this volume explores in detail KieranTimberlake’s novel use of materials and ideas—the firm’s strength. The firm is known for such projects as the Cellophane House shown in the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum garden and its entry in MoMA’s exhibition “Home Delivery,” but also for academic and embassy buildings. Focusing on technological innovation, such as the use of OLED, but with a realistic understanding of economics, unlike many ostensibly green practitioners, KieranTimberlake offers practical and innovative solutions, applied with sensitivity and intelligence. —Phil Patton


Living in the Endless City

Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic, eds.

—Recommended by Justin Davidson


Maharam Agenda

Michael Maharam

Company monographs usually make for a very dull read. Not so with Maharam’s monograph. As one of the premier textile companies today, Maharam leads the way in all aspects of design production and branding, and is an ideal case study in how its risk-taking design agenda has translated into a successful business. Michael Maharam, the company’s principal, provides a personal take on many of the company’s collaborators—Paul Smith (“very hands on”), Hella Jongerius (“With her, we discovered an incredible place where craft and manufacturing intersect”), and Maira Kalman (“a true wit”), just to name a few. He shares everything from his Maharam’s house font and the ads it’s created to the minimalist exhibitions it’s mounted and the functionally cool spaces it inhabits, reflecting the company’s extraordinarily high standards, which are carefully considered down to the smallest detail. Even the book cover, complete with embroidered design by Hella Jongerius, is something special, and comes in four variations. —Paul Makovsky



Paula Scher

Since the 1990s, in what I imagine to be her 15 minutes per day of free time, Pentagram partner Paula Scher has been painting massive maps of her own imagination. The colorful tapestries with type rendered in all-caps look like imaginative wayfinding but they function more like infographics, their visual hierarchies layered with not only place names but details like trade routes, zip codes, transit lines. The book takes a cue from Google Maps, giving one image of the full-sized painting and one that zooms in to a detail, where you can almost see Scher’s hand meticulously cramming in the name of every city in Uruguay, eventually spilling out into the Atlantic Ocean in waves. As the book progresses, Scher gets more topical (and more political) painting not only places but events like the 2000 Florida election results, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, or mapping out the history of the term “weapons of mass destruction.” As art, it’s gorgeous; as a process, it’s a lesson in obsession; and as a narrative, it’s storytelling at its best. —Alissa Walker


Missed Connections

Sophie Blackall

Since 2009, artist and designer Sophie Blackall, best known for her children's illustrations, has been capturing Craigslist missed connections in her signature style of Chinese ink and watercolor, brimming with charm, romanticism, and soft whimsy. This tome collects the best of her poetic visual what-if love stories, each told in a shorthand “missed connection,” ranging from the lyrical (I Gave You My Umbrella but the Wrong Directions) to the warm-and-fuzzy (We Shared a Bear Suit) to the shared love of the tragicomic (Ice Skating in Central Park We Collided). Both playful and profound, Blackall’s delicate drawings immortalize the ephemeral with a wink and a wand, breathing into these mundane encounters a kind of magic that transforms them into open-ended modern-day fairy tales. —Maria Popova


New York Bikes

Michele Castagnetti

I came across this self-published volume of images of bicycles in the window of Mxyplyzyk, the New York design shop. The book wonderfully summarizes the grit of city bikes, personalized by tape and paint, wearing an urban patina of dings and scratches. —Phil Patton


New York: The Story of a Great City

Sarah Henry, ed.

This book gives you a wonderful sense of New York’s history—how it evolved and all the special places in the city that aren’t here any more. Helps you realize that there was a time when New York was one of the most beautiful cities in the world. —Wendy Goodman


OLIVE (A Handbook to Protect Your Life)


This book derives from information exchanged on Twitter immediately after the March 11, 2011, Great East Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan. At the time, social networking via mobile phone was an incredibly important—the only—tool for learning about the needs of those who were affected by disaster. Those who lived far from the devasted area exchanged information and relayed offers of help, but there was no effective platform to facilitate and archive them.

Nosigner then came up with a Wiki project called OLIVE (Open Ideas and Designs for Earthquake Survivors) to enable mass collaboration for aiding the striken area and victims. He invited designers to submit ideas for designs that would be useful for disaster relief, archiving these design entries, which could be assembled at an evacuation center. Nosigner later edited the uploaded entries and created this book. It is full of tips and tools for survival in extreme conditions, and I would like everyone to read it as a reminder of disasters of any kind around the globe. —Dairjio Mizuno


Ootje Oxenaar: Designer + Commissioner

Els Kuijpers

For admirers of Dutch graphic design, the new monograph about R.D.E. (“Ootje”) Oxenaar is a treat. Already successful as a designer, at 40 he joined the Dutch Postal and Telecommunications Service where he became a national champion of excellent design. Els Kuijpers’s text is exhaustively researched and intellectually satisfying. Jan van Toorn and Mart Rozenbeek’s design packs in a huge portfolio of visual material with no sense of strain. Graphic design history needs more studies like this. —Rick Poynor




French illustrator Blexbolex is a master of poetic visual meditation. Each of this book's charmingly matte and papery double-page spread features a full-bleed illustrated vignette that captures the human condition in its diversity, richness, and paradoxes. From mothers and fathers to dancers and warriors to hypnotists and genies, Blexbolex’s signature softly textured, pastel-colored, minimalist illustrations are paired in a way that gives you pause and, over the course of the book, reveals his subtle yet thought-provoking visual moral commentary on the relationships between the characters depicted in each pairing. —Maria Popova


Project Japan: Metabolism Talks

Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrich Obrist

Another exhaustively documented tome by Rem Koolhaas—this one profiling the Metabolism movement of Japanese architects in the 1960s, said by Koolhaas to be the first non-Western avant-garde. Through a series of interviews with the architect practitioners and their clients, the book shows how the movement melded modernist aesthetics with the mission of modernizing postwar Japan. —Justin Davidson


Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie—A Tale of Love and Fallout

Lauren Redniss

One hundred years ago this year, Marie Curie won her second Nobel prize, forever changing the paradigm for women in science. In this absolutely astounding book, artist Lauren Redniss tells the story of Curie through the two invisible but immensely powerful forces that guided her life: radioactivity and romance. It’s a turbulent story — a passionate romance with Pierre Curie (honeymoon on bicycles!), the epic discovery of radium and polonium, Pierre’s sudden death in a freak accident in 1906, Marie’s affair with physicist Paul Langevin, her coveted second Noble Prize—under which lie poignant reflections on the implications of Curie’s work more than a century later as we face ethically polarized issues like nuclear energy, radiation therapy in medicine, nuclear weapons, and more.

It's also a remarkable feat of thoughtful design and creative vision. To honor Curie’s spirit and legacy, Redniss rendered her poetic artwork in cyanotype, an early-20th-century image printing process called critical to the discovery of both X-rays and radioactivity itself—a cameraless photographic technique in which paper is coated with light-sensitive chemicals. Once exposed to the sun’s UV rays, this chemically-treated paper turns a deep shade of blue. The text in the book is a unique typeface Redniss designed using the title pages of 18th- and 19th-century manuscripts from the New York Public Library archive. She named it Eusapia LR, for the croquet-playing, sexually ravenous Italian Spiritualist medium whose séances the Curies used to attend. The book’s cover is printed in glow-in-the-dark ink. —Maria Popova


Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s

Hunter Drohojowska-Philp

Finish Fetish, Assemblage, Feminist Art, Light and Space: all these movements originated in a nascent Los Angeles art world, as a tiny band of artists began to twist the rules on materials, form, and (perhaps most importantly) self-promotion. But this book is also about how these Southern California artists figured into the larger world of pop culture: how they intertwined with the Sunset Strip music scene, affected young Hollywood filmmakers like Dennis Hopper, and figured into the Civil Rights movement. We watch as Ed Ruscha creates a new visual narrative by playing with words in his paintings, see how a young Frank Gehry built cheap houses with unfinished edges inspired by the art of his friends Ed Moses and Larry Bell, and look on in horror as John Baldessari burns his paintings in favor of a more conceptual approach. It’s messy, scandalous, and racy, but so was L.A. in the ‘60s. And visual culture was never the same. —Alissa Walker


Rethinking Design and Interiors: Human Beings in the Built Environment

Shashi Caan

We lead the vast majority of our lives in the hollows of buildings, and yet most writing about interior design fails to address the customs, emotions, inventions and social connections shaped by these spaces. Shashi Caan, an architect, educator, and current president of the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers (IDI), digs into anthropology, psychology, and philosophy to elucidate principles governing the successful design of interiors from Paleolithic times to the present. Underpinning this thoughtful volume is her belief that “the interior is not, as widely thought, the simple outfitting of a room, but, rather, the manifestation of all qualities concerning the human occupation of space.” —Julie Lasky



Jeanne Gang

—Recommended by Justin Davidson


Richard Prince: American Prayer

Richard Rubin

Beautiful as an object and impossible to put down as a read. And while I love my library, it made me wish I also could spend a few days in Richard Prince’s library from time to time. —Deborah Berke


Rising Currents

Barry Bergdoll

The just-published catalogue of a MoMA show from 2010 that deals with the impact of rising sea levels in New York due to climate change. Examines a full range of extreme, modest, and radical proposals for dealing with this environmental circumstance. Documents elegant design approaches involving the interaction of architecture, planning, engineering, and climate science. —Justin Davidson


Roberto Burle Marx: The Modernity of Landscape

Fares El-Dahdah, Laura Cavalcanti, and Francis Rambert

Burle Marx was one of the great modernist landscape architects of the last century though perhaps better is the term he preferred, “painter-botanist.” He designed his landscapes like paintings—abstract with biomorphic forms, a confident use of bright colors, and a delightful musical rhythm that moves you through space. The book has great photos of his well-known projects like Copacabana Beach promenade in Rio de Janeiro but also of his lesser-known residential ones (which are even better) like the Garden of the Cavanellas Residence. Contemporary landscape designers like Gilles Clément and Patrick Blanc weigh in on his work, and his 1983 essay on landscape architecture in the city will have you thinking about designing your own tropical oasis in no time. —Paul Makovsky


The Ruins of Detroit

Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre

I was staggered the first time I saw whole neighborhoods in a state of disintegration on a visit to Detroit. How could a city in such a wealthy nation resemble a war zone? Car plants, hotels, theaters, apartment buildings, school classrooms, police stations, dentists’ surgeries, bank vaults—in brilliant pictures, taken over a five-year period, we confront a vision of economic disaster and a city fabric gripped by entropy. A deeply alarming survey and, we have to hope, not as prescient as it feels. —Rick Poynor


Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design

Pat Kirkham and Jennifer Bass

We have waited far too long for a monograph about Saul Bass, one of the greatest designers of film titles and a master of corporate identity. This monster volume treads a careful line between warm celebration—Bass’s daughter Jennifer designs it respectfully—and properly thorough design history. Pat Kirkham’s profuse endnotes are almost a book in their own right. A highly readable work of reference that is likely to remain the key study of Bass for years to come. —Rick Poynor


Seven Books Grey

Tacita Dean

A box-set monograph on the work of artist Tacita Dean, published by Steidl—a publisher world-famous for the beauty of its books. This is an updated version of Dean’s Seven Books (2003), published as a similarly designed white box set from Steidl. This box set is designed using seven beautiful gray tones to illustrate Dean’s serene narrative. —Daijiro Mizuno


Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo

Nicholas de Monchaux

Who knew that the company that made Playtex bras and girdles was also responsible for one of the most famous outfits in history—the Apollo spacesuit that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin wore on the moon in 1969. Nicholas de Monchaux recounts the history and analyzes the suit, peeling back its layers—not only revealing what the astronauts wore but also providing a new interpretation of the history of space flight and the Space Race. It’s a model of design history, exploring a designed object—the spacesuit—through many different strata. —Paul Makovsky


Star Wars: The Blueprints

J. W. Rinzler

Okay, maybe George Lucas has screwed up a few times (Han shooting first, computer-generated Yoda, Jar Jar), but all is forgiven here in this double-whammy treasure trove of design and sci-fi nerdery: hundreds of original blueprints from Star Wars sets, unearthed from the Lucasfilm archives. From the dim booths of the Mos Eisley Cantina, to the sterile Imperial corridors of the Death Star, to the swinging wooden bridges of the Ewok Village, the true artistry of the film is revealed here in architect-accurate renderings—most of which were indeed built, which is even more impressive, considering that half of them were created in the age of computer-generated imagery. Yes, it's a $500 book, but with only 5,000 produced, it’s a must for the true fan. The depth and detail of Lucas’s vision was never more apparent: He really did design an entire universe. —Alissa Walker


Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson

What hasn't already been said about Steve Jobs? As it turns out, quite a lot. By now most of the spoilers in Walter Isaacson’s sprawling biography have found their way onto the blogs—Steve did acid! Steve threw tantrums!—but there’s still much to be gleaned from this truly captivating tale. Although Steve Jobs may be maddening to some who will wish Isaacson's voice aimed higher on the design-savvy spectrum, the book is at its best when the sometimes unbelievable story speaks for itself. It’s impossible not to be entranced as we witness the birth of the Mac's graphical user interface or watch Jobs rehearse endlessly for his iconic presentations. There’s plenty to mine when it comes to innovation and branding and product development, yes. But it’s more than that. Jobs spent a lifetime building technology for artists. And designers, as those who have benefited from this process the most, should know the fascinating story behind their tools. —Alissa Walker


A Taxonomy of Office Chairs

Jonathan Olivares

Olivares took a boring topic—office chairs—and after four years of research produced a monograph that will have you wanting to redesign the chair you’re sitting in. With an almost scientific rigor, he includes over 400 illustrations of details of chairs, some by famous designers like Marcel Breuer and the Eameses, to one-hit wonders like Fred Scott’s Supporto chair for Hille, and a short but insightful essay on the evolution of the chair. A model for anyone looking for an approach to the history and taxonomy of a product. —Paul Makovsky


To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s America

Alexander Nemerov

Written to accompany an inspired exhibition first mounted at the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C.; currently at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri; and due at the Georgia Museum of Art next year, the book reveals a powerful overlooked artist, George Ault. The book and the exhibition focus on five paintings made between 1943 and 1948 depicting the crossroads community of Russell’s Corners near Woodstock, New York. Ault was a sort of darker, deeper cousin of Charles Sheeler or Charles Demuth or even Edward Hopper. Poor, critically neglected, isolated, he committed suicide in 1948.

Ault’s paintings, like those of Sheeler, Demuth, and Hopper, also have a lot to teach us about architecture and space and the emotions associated with both. The space Ault painted is also cinematic, or theatrical—it could be a set for a darker, never-performed Thornton Wilder play. Nemerov sees Ault in the context of Precisionism or Neue Sachlichkeit and ambitiously uses him as a lens to look at visual thinking in America in the 1940s. The wide-ranging text is perhaps overreaching but also intriguing with its references to film noir and documentary photography. —Phil Patton


The Toaster Project: Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch

Thomas Thwaites

While a graduate student at the Royal College of Art, Thwaites undertook to build an electric toaster from raw materials. His account of extracting iron from rock, hand-carving a wooden mold for forming molten plastic, precipitating copper out of pools of acidic mine waste, and melting Canadian coins for their nickel manages to be both hilarious and sober. In the end, Thwaites’s toaster was a spectacular failure—a gloppy aesthetic and functional mess that cost £1187.54, or 300 times more than the £3.94 commercial model that inspired him—but it taught stinging lessons about environmental responsibility. —Julie Lasky


Tomorrow’s Houses: New England Modernism

Alexander Gorlin

A classic house book about the way the modern aesthetic has interacted with the landscape and the light in New England. Includes photography not only of pristine interiors but also showing how people actually live in the houses.—Justin Davidson


Toward a New Interior: An Anthology of Interior Design Theory

Lois Weinthal

If you are looking for good books on interior design theory, the pickings are quite slim. Lois Weinthal’s massive 648-page reader redresses this with a carefully curated collection of 48 essays, with texts by Wim Wenders, Le Corbusier, Beatriz Colomina, and (my favorite) Juhani Pallasmaa. While there is an almost too heavy reliance on essays from the field of architecture (and you can’t really blame Weinthal for that), she divides the book into eight chapters, pulling from many fields: fashion, philosophy, film, and art. —Paul Makovsky


Triumph of the City

Edward Glaeser

Addresses the centrality of the city as a key evolving world trend. Describes cities as areas of concentration of creativity, energy, communication, that is exponential. The kind of book that makes you want to talk back to it—to sit down with the author and have a discussion—which to me makes it the best kind of book. A real antidote to the heavy sights that people tend to have in response to the rapid growth rate of megacities. —Justin Davidson


Usefulness in Small Things

Sam Hecht, Kim Colin, et al.

The origin of this book was a personal fascination of Sam Hecht’s. For his project “Under a Fiver,” he purchased products that cost under 5 British pounds as he traveled around the globe. His collections of quirky products are both particular to the area where he purchased them and at the same time universal to the human behavior. This book is full of inspiration not only in the context of design but also as a work of cultural anthropology. —Daijiro Mizuno


Visual Storytelling: Inspiring a New Visual Language

Robert Klanten, Sven Ehmann, and Floyd Schulze

As information continues to proliferate, our quest to extract meaning from it is taking us more and more toward visual synthesis. This large and beautiful volume from Gestalten gathers the most compelling work by a new generation of designers, illustrators, graphic editors, and data journalists tackling the grand sense-making challenge of our time by pushing forward the evolving visual vocabulary of storytelling. It's part high-concept dictionary for a language of increasingly critical importance, part priceless time-capsule of bleeding-edge creativity from the Golden Age of information overload, the era we call home. —Maria Popova


Voiture Minimum: Le Corbusier and the Automobile

Antonio Amado Lorenzo

All students of architecture know that Le Corbusier’s vision of the city was shaped by the automobile. Many know that he devoted time to designing a basic automobile, the “voiture minimum.” But few are aware just how obsessed the architect was with automobiles. He drove his own, and worked out a good price with a Paris dealer, explains Antonio Amado, an architect who has packed his book full of every bit of information on Le Corbusier and the car and supplied a miniature history of auto design in Europe in the twenties and thirties as well. Le Corbusier was also a car buff, posing his favorites, Voisins, in front of houses when they were photographed for architectural journals. (Developed by an aviation pioneer, an example of the Voisin this year won the top prize for collector cars at the Pebble Beach concours.) As shrewd reviewers have noted, when he spoke of a machine for living, Amado argues, it was usually an automobile Le Corbusier was thinking of. —Phil Patton

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