John Hill

Writer; Editor; Designer / United States /

John Hill’s Notable Books of 2013

2 books
Text by Felix Burrichter

Since editor Felix Burrichter launched PIN-UP in 2006, a staple of the biannual “magazine for architectural entertainment” has been the interviews with architects, designers, artists, photographers, and other persons of interest. Often accompanied by candid photos of the subjects shot exclusively for the publication, the interviews adopt a “less serious approach” to reveal the “surprising depths” hiding below the “shallow surfaces,” as Burrichter puts it in the introduction to the 57 interviews collected in this first PIN-UP book. The same can be said of the magazine, which resembles a fashion rag more than an architectural journal—Issue 3, the first copy I purchased, features a portfolio of naked bodies in designer chairs and a perfume ad on the back cover with a topless woman cupping her breasts—but below the visual saturation is deep, insightful commentary on architectural culture.

Missing from the book is the imagery that originally accompanied the interviews—they are presented simply as words on a page, a fact to which the cover attests. But this omission does not diminish the content in any way; in fact it strengthens what is being said by focusing solely on just that. Images have a way of revealing things that words cannot describe, but they also have a way of distracting us, putting us in “skim mode” when we could be slowly absorbing more insightful information.

PIN-UP Interviews benefits from this concerted selection of words over images, but also from the choice of who converses with the likes of David Adjaye, Jeanne Gang, Rem Koolhaas, Richard Meier, ROLU, and James Wines. (I’m partial to the architects in the collection, though it should be noted they comprise about half to two-thirds of the interviews.) Burrichter and his fellow editors are frequent interviewers, but this is not like a collection of Hans Ulrich Obrist’s “infinite conversations” where one voice prevails; the diversity of voices on the question side sometimes brings PIN-UP Interviews closer to Interview magazine, where big names talk to each other. Examples in this vein are Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli’s conversation with Rem Koolhaas, where each seems to be interviewing the other; and landscape artist Fritz Haeg’s interview with Julius Shulman at the photographer’s studio, in which talk of his gardens is a major ingredient. These are two highlights among many worthwhile reads.

Michael Govan
Christine Y. Kim et al.

Artist James Turrell is being given the superstar treatment in 2013 with three major exhibitions on the coasts and in the middle of the United States: “James Turrell: A Retrospective” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), “James Turrell” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and “James Turrell: The Light Inside” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. To accompany the first, LACMA has created an impressive catalogue that charts the artist's five-decade-long career and beautifully documents his skyspaces” and other architectural constructions, most notably the ongoing Roden Crater project in Arizona.

Space is a loaded term for architects, since their designs define the extents, flow, and character of the spaces that people inhabit. For Turrell, space is as important, but in a different way. He admits to being involved with the architecture of space and the creation of form, but says, “When I prepare walls I make them so perfect that you actually don’t pay attention to them.” People in his installations and skyspaces are therefore drawn to the color of the light and the sky. For Turrell, light is his material and perception is his medium, so space is where the two converge.

Architects and other designers can learn a lot from Turrell’s poetic and quiet manipulations of light, color, and space. The former should also appreciate the occasional architectural drawings found in the book. Like a magician’s secrets, they reveal what is hidden and what enables the spaces to be perceived in certain ways, while also illustrating how they are physical constructions that rely on particularly complex details.

Not surprisingly, Turrell’s installations and skyspaces are best experienced firsthand. They can be discussed and documented, as they are in this book, but that is hardly a substitute for the tangible effects that happen when sensing one of his works, ideally for long durations. That said, kudos should go to Florian Holzherr, whose large color photos grace most pages of the book and help to make it such a remarkable document of an artist worth all the attention.

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