Three Architects, Three Countries, Six Languages: The Book Lists of Mikko Heikkinen, Maya Lin, and Enrique Norten

By Steve Kroeter June 21, 2011
Mikko Heikkinen
Maya Lin
Enrique Norten

Architect Mikko Heikkinen: Heikkinen + Komonen (Helsinki)
book list

Architect Maya Lin: Maya Lin Studio (New York)
book list

Architect Enrique Norten: TEN Arquitectos (Mexico City and New York)
book list

The work of architects Mikko Heikkinen, Maya Lin, and Enrique Norten is acclaimed not only in their home countries—Finland for Heikkinen, the U.S. for Lin, Mexico for Norten—but also far beyond the cities and nations where their practices originated. And it is in this wider arena that, despite their different cultural backgrounds, some connections among the three emerge.

In addition to a shared modernist sense of aesthetics and attention to environmental and sustainability issues, each architect’s approach involves both a broad scope of interests and an interdisciplinary perspective. Heikkinen’s work (with his longtime partner, Markku Komonen) includes museums and airport terminals in European capitals, schools in Africa, and single-family prefabricated houses. Lin spans an art-architecture continuum, with museum and environmental installations at one end and architectural commissions for residences, institutional buildings, and memorials at the other. The work from Norten’s office, TEN Arquitectos, covers a similarly wide range—from residential projects, hotels, and museums to furniture, landscape architecture, and master planning.

All three, it turns out, have a presence in Washington, D.C. Lin’s very first work, which she won the commission for when she was 21, was the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial on the Mall. Finland’s modernist traditions are shown to great advantage in the country’s embassy building designed by Heikkinen (with Komonen), completed in 1994. And Norten has two mixed-use buildings currently in development in Washington’s West End.

The book lists these three architects submitted to Designers & Books travel over a vast linguistic terrain. Six languages are represented in the original editions of the books selected—English, Finnish, and Spanish, and also Italian, Russian, and Yiddish. Each architect includes only one “traditional” architecture book: Architecture Without Architects (by Bernard Rudofsky, on Heikkinen's list); Experiencing Architecture (by Steen Eiler Rasmussen, on Lin’s list); and As I Was Saying (by Colin Rowe, on Norten’s list). While the majority of the books the three submitted are nonfiction on non-design topics (memoirs, for example), their lists also include novels and collections of short stories and poetry. 

Apart from books that have been formative for them in the past, what books are next on these three architects’ “to read” lists? For Norten: The Women by T. C. Boyle, about Frank Lloyd Wright’s relationships with four women (“A recent gift from a good friend”). For Lin: Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril edited by Kathleen Dean Moore & Michael P. Nelson, which features an international array of writers discussing humanity’s collective moral responsibility for the planet. And for Heikkinen: Don DeLillo’s now-classic 1989 novel, Americana

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