Book List of the Week

Weird and Winning Stories: Jens Holm’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter February 26, 2013

Jens Holm

Architect Jens Holm: HAO/Holm Architecture Office (Copenhagen and New York)

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“After thousands of years and the recent rise of a multitude of storytelling platforms, books remain for me the single medium that manages to both inform and inspire without dictating a single visual truth or idea,” Danish architect Jens Holm tells Designers & Books.

Holm, who worked with the Rockwell Group and Rem Koolhaas/OMA before establishing his own firm, sent along a book list that covers a multiplicity of ideas. There are books about architects both well known and limelight shy, fiction about failed superheroes and also triumphant losers, and writings on the contradictions and chance occurrences that make up history.

Among his choices for Designers & Books are surveys of the work of two modernist architects: Brazil’s Lina Bo Bardi (featured on the book lists of Jeanne Gang and Nathalie de Vries) and Denmark’s Jørn Utzon, creator of the Sydney Opera House. Holm also cites Cleopatra’s Nose, Daniel Boorstin’s collection of essays on minor incidents and accidental discoveries that have changed the course of Western history, and makes the observation that “Great achievements come in small steps.”

For “those of us who for many years suffered ridicule for reading comic books,” he includes several titles. There is Frank Miller’s troubled take on Batman, The Dark Knight Returns (on Chip Kidd’s book list, too), and also the graphic novels Watchmen (“in the words of author Alan Moore, ‘a superhero Moby Dick’”) and The Incal (“If you have ever seen a science fiction movie, chances are that the worlds portrayed in it came from the mind of Moebius”).

Jens Holm (HAO), Rainbow Pavilion for Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City, NY, competition entry, 2013

Tim Burton’s gothic tales of misunderstood outcasts in The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories finds a place on Holm’s book list: “Weird stories about the underdog—always a winner,” comments Holm. Another spot on the book list goes to Erik Larsen’s fictionalized account The Devil in the White City, which interweaves the real-life stories of Daniel (D.H.) Burnham, architect of the 1883 Chicago World’s Fair, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who lured victims to his “World’s Fair Hotel.” Jens Holm sums up the book as, “Murder, architecture, and the invention of the Ferris wheel. What’s not to like?”

Along with his book selections, Holm recommends the themed book-length issues (over 200 pages each, focused on a single topic), of Lapham’s Quarterly. Founded by former Harper’s Magazine editor Lewis Lapham, it is, Holm notes, “a fascinating topical magazine with articles from an eclectic mix of authors, dead and alive.”

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