Book List of the Week

An Architecture Critic Commits: Julie Iovine’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter June 4, 2013

Julie Iovine

Architecture critic Julie Iovine: The Wall Street Journal (New York)

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“I look to books for everything imaginable, and unimaginable,” is how Wall Street Journal architecture critic Julie Iovine begins her book list for Designers & Books. “They shape my outlook, but also throw open spaces I could never have found on my own. The chance to consider an essential list is wonderfully engrossing, but also a bit of a nasty parlor trick. Must I commit?”

Iovine does commit, going on to say: “I am surprised at the uniform consensus regarding what books every architect should shelve. And I have tried here to suggest books from farther afield.. . . a few of the books that have made me think twice about space and place or that have created worlds palpable enough to tilt or even realign my axis of assumptions.”

Among Iovine’s book selections is Imagined Cities: Urban Experience and the Language of the Novel by Robert Alter, an investigation of the modern city through the modern novel in the hands of writers like Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, and Gustave Flaubert, and which Iovine considers along with Charles Dickens’s novel Dombey and Son. She comments, “it was through Imagined Cities that I came to consider Dickens anew. For once, in describing the wrenching toll of industrialization—specifically constructing the new railroad slashing through neighborhoods—Dickens’s melodramatic writing seems just the thing.”

Civic Action: A Vision for Long Island City, edited by Julie Iovine, 2012 (The Noguchi Museum)

The book list also includes The Edifice Complex: How the Rich and Powerful—and Their Architects—Shape the World by London’s Design Museum director, Deyan Sudjic. With subjects ranging from Rockefeller to Hitler, Iovine says the book is about “dictator moths drawn to lightbulb architects. The chapter on American presidential libraries is scathing and hilariously depressing.” Another book cited is Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby’s celebrated five-volume A History of Private Life. It “traces the cultural threads spun in pagan and ancient times leading to our contemporary obsession with private space,” observes Iovine.

Julie Iovine is the author and editor of several books on architecture and product design. Her most recent book is Civic Action: A Vision for Long Island City (2012), published by The Noguchi Museum. It explores a new art- and urban-planning initiative in which The Noguchi Museum and Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City (Queens, New York) jointly invited four artist-led teams to come up with new perspectives on development for the community in which they are located.

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