Norman Weinstein

Critic; Writer / United States /

Norman Weinstein’s Notable Books of 2013

19 books
Philip Jodidio

The monumental heft and dimensions (12-by-15-inch format) of this six-decade retrospective of the great Portuguese modernist architect Álvaro Siza offers a surprisingly charming window into Siza’s talent. A wealth of drawings, a major component of this designer’s creative process, appears in playful profusion in all their outrageous glory.

Siza’s drawings maintain a singularity transcending their pragmatic utility in bringing his concepts into sharp architectural forms. Human figures—or perhaps fanciful mythic spirits, his architectural muses?—peek out of his architectural sketches. Often proportionally larger than his drawn buildings, they seem to comprise a “Greek chorus” capable of commenting on Siza’s first creative impulses.

While the uniformly high-quality color photographs of Siza’s buildings are welcome and expected in this volume summarizing a remarkably fertile career, the architect’s sketches offer a complex counterpoint. Siza’s buildings embody stark white rectilinear forms seemingly springing out of the rocky ground of his native soil, but in his sketches Siza discloses a different sensibility than that of his obvious precursors, Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn. Not involved with Le Corbusier’s utopian reveries or Kahn’s classically inflected, archetypal, spiritually driven architecture, Siza operates by mingling inspiration from the sensual textures of Nature with the conceptual rigors of geometry. Arguably his masterwork, the Ibere Camargo Foundation Museum combines an undulating facade, perhaps evoking the Atlantic constantly reshaping Portugal’s coast, with an interior full of dramatic light and shadow play, the spectacle of high-tech and natural lighting strategies creating brilliant corners inviting museumgoers’ contemplation of art.

Siza tends to speak of his designs by offering concise Zen-like quips that puzzle as much as clarify. Philip Jodidio does well in offering very brief descriptive paragraphs linked to large-scale photographs, apparently in consultation with Siza. Packaged in a cardboard suitcase, this is a massive tome inviting the mind to travel through an architectural opus that defines simple description, yet affirms the constant appeal of clean minimalist design that draws meaning from the jagged ground it rests upon.

Samit Das

Rabindranath Tagore is best known as India’s first Nobel Prize–winning poet and hardly known at all as an architect. But if self-taught architects with a lyrically philosophical bent interest you—Heidegger and Wittgenstein were fellow travelers in this rare realm—then this groundbreaking book by Indian artist and Tagore scholar Samit Das will be a highly satisfying read.

Tagore’s sole architectural achievement was Santiniketan, a West Bengal ashram-university incorporating a religiously focused arts curriculum completed in 1921. Through Das’s finely grained black-and-white photography and carefully crafted descriptions, we obtain a vision of a singular architecture compound, all buildings and landscaping intended as objects of meditation on the place of humans in the natural world. What Santiniketan looks like in these pages suggests a blend of Indian vernacular architecture synthesized with Corbusian modernism. Anyone interested in where modernism and Asian vernacular styles intersect will find Das’s book consistently insightful.

Marino Barovier

The author’s name and family authority should resonate with lovers of Venetian glass because the Baroviers have been in the Murano glass business since 1295 C.E., making it arguably the oldest company of family artisans ever. Marino Barovier has written with charm and impressive erudition about Venetian glass art in general, and Carlo Scarpa as glass designer in particular in his previously published, and sadly out-of-print Carlo Scarpa: Glass of an Architect. Scarpa’s glass-designing career centered on work at two Venetian companies, M.V.M. Cappelin and Venini. The newly published Carlo Scarpa: Venini 1932–1947 drops mention of Scarpa’s Cappelin oeuvre previously illuminated in Glass of an Architect, in favor of his more technically accomplished, more wildly colorful and dramatically patterned Venini glass works. The result? A keenly written and photographically masterful catalogue raisonné of nearly 300 of Scarpa’s most daring glass designs (the contents of the 2012 exhibition in Venice “Venetian Glass: Carlo Scarpa,” coming to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in abbreviated form in November 2013).

The book categorizes glass pieces by production techniques. Within every production technique category are examples of decorative glass (vases and plates) and non-decorative glass (candlesticks). This banquet of thumbnail and full-size photos of the pieces accompanied by exhibition-terse captions is prefaced by six interpretative essays by various historians and critics, and a poignant memoir by Carlo Scarpa’s son Tobias (who has had a long and successful glass-designing career since his father’s death.). If you suspect that the 2013 Met Scarpa exhibition hints at a richer story, this grand summary of how Scarpa brought the fiery spirit of freshly minted modernism to the ancient art of Venetian glass offers a passionately panoramic overview.

Ralph Hammann

This collection of both built and unrealized architectural projects associated with Munich-based technology expert Klaus Daniels offers a provocative survey of the rapidly dissolving boundaries between design and engineering. Although the book opens with an overblown hallelujah chorus of praise in the form of eight prefaces crowning Daniels by eight like-minded colleagues, Daniels is part of a new breed of aesthetically oriented engineers exemplified by Cecil Balmond and Werner Sobek. Talented and worthy of this extensive monograph? Absolutely. As original as these prefaces claim? That is another matter.

The deep worth of this book stems from an intriguing and far from self-serving history of Daniels’s firm, HL Technik, as its engineering focus expanded to accommodate supporting architects in an age of dwindling resources and climate change. Daniels expresses his feelings about the rapidity of change at his engineering firm in his opening essay, “Engineering Design Competence in a Changing World”: “It is astonishing that many professional tasks of our work as an engineering firm today were entirely unknown to use when we established our consultancy in the 1960s.” These include double-skin facade solutions for skyscrapers and natural ventilation systems.

In addition to energy savings over the long haul, Daniels constantly works with architects to develop energy-conservation designs that are beautiful as well as problem-solving. Ten projects are extensively documented in these pages. Especially inspiring was his collaboration with architect Dominique Perrault on the Marinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, which melds Daniels’s concern for an economical natural ventilation system with Perrault’s plan for a diamond-shaped building facade marked by a metallic textile material looking like gargantuan snowflakes in fractal profusion. Alas, disputes with the building’s client and budget cuts left the building an unfulfilled vision, but the plans in this book reveal just how fertile a richly nuanced engineer-architect meeting of minds this was.

Hope for the future of an aesthetically inspiring integrative fusing of engineering and architecture is supported by the book’s final section honoring innovative educational experiments that mesh the two disciplines. Daniels worked as a technology advisor to a student-led German team from the Technical University at Darmstadt that won first place in the U. S. Department of Energy’s “Solar Decathlon” competition. Far more modest than the Perrault collaboration, graphics reveal a structure just as creative in exemplifying what one planner aptly called “beautility.”

Ron Stanley Editor

This sprawling and carnivalesque catalogue of award-winning UK advertising design coheres through anecdotal commentaries by past presidents and sundry luminaries associated with the D&AD, a British educational charity formed to catalyze creativity and chutzpah among design professionals. Most D&AD members find their home in advertising for print, television, and the Internet. Their annual awards for design culled from the organization’s half-century history take up the bulk of this gorgeously produced catalogue. Punctuating these award-winning photographs and illustrations—every image eminently worthy of serious study—is palaver from D&AD bigwigs. Many of their cogent remarks center on the boundary-breaking advertising designs of the 1960s. “In line with the liberated times, graphic design was becoming much sexier and more risqué, pushing boundaries that our parents’ generation would have found beyond the realms of good taste, “ nostalgically notes former D&AD president and designer Terence Conran. That nostalgic air regarding the ’60s extends into commentaries about subsequent decades. Comments shift tonally as excitement and foreboding accompany the growth of digital design tools in the 1990s and beyond.

Not every D&AD head honcho in his free-form espousing (good old boys club self-congratulatory solidarity prevails here) is particularly profound. So it would be no sin to treat this book chiefly as a wildly stimulating and nervy eye-candy collection displaying a dazzling high artistic order of advertising creativity. Think of this as a tonic for old-timers in graphic design needing a fresh jolt of inspiration, or for students starting their careers.

Introduction by Carmen Espegel
Sandra Dachs Editor

This compact and well-illustrated introduction to objects and furniture designed by Eileen Gray was published at a propitious time. The largest exhibition ever presented of Gray’s designs was presented by the Centre Pompidou, attracting widespread popular and critical attention at the beginning of 2013. If the catalogue associated with that extensive exhibition were more widely available outside of France, there might be no rationale for this well-informed, devout, but slim introductory survey. But despite that catalogue, and the half-dozen previously penned books on this elusive designer, there is always room for another text to shed light.

Consider Gray the Emily Dickinson of design: reclusive, simultaneously ancient, modern, and timeless, a relentless questioner of conventional aesthetic wisdom, and a loner beyond simple categorization. Even the title of this text can arouse controversy. Other books about Gray label her as “architect/designer,” although she lacked any formal architectural training, and only three of her architectural projects were completed during her lifetime. Yet arguably her best known work is E-1027 Villa, an influential modernist house Gray designed with the architectural critic Jean Badovici, soon to be re-opened on the southern French coast after a laborious restoration process. She was protean: initially creating original lacquered screens mingling Art Deco and Orientalism, inventing carpet designs suggesting cubist geometry, and designing scores of memorably off-beat lamps, mirrors, chairs and tables. One of her chairs invited two different manners of sitting. She aptly named it “Non-Conformist Chair.” Of the Transat Chair, unfortunately currently in storage at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the architect and furniture Amanda Levete spoke with great clarity when she noted that Gray’s chair is “like architecture in miniature. Because every piece of it is doing exactly what it should be doing.” The authors of this survey don’t wax as eloquently about Gray’s furniture as Levete, but their emphasis on Gray as a restless explorer of “every possible use that a piece of furniture could be put to” makes for a mesmerizing read.

Alessandra Arezzi Boza Contributing Author
Armando Chitolina Editor

Italian fashion designer Emilio Pucci always resisted the title of “artist” and accepted solely the title of “dressmaker.” This lovingly compiled and monumentally scaled catalogue of his signature designs should settle the issue. Pucci was a major artist whose creativity consistently transcended the ready-to-wear sportswear lines that made his name internationally acclaimed.

The authors compile a thorough listing of Pucci’s influences: the art and architecture of his beloved city of Florence, his lifelong romance with tropical colors patterned in exuberantly rhythmic prints inspired by his travels in Africa and Indonesia, and his love of cinema. And fitting for a 20th-century Renaissance man was Pucci’s adoration of the painters of Italy’s first renaissance, Fra Angelico and Botticelli, mingled with his highly selective borrowing of ecstatically kinetic color motifs from the psychedelic ‘60s and the Pop art ‘80s.

Yet missing from this otherwise flawless narrative carefully woven by Friedman and Boza is the obvious impact of Italian carnivals, ancient and modern, on Pucci’s designs. The swirling electrifying colors that dance seemingly beyond the seams of silk dresses and scarves, the riotously sensual geometric forms that herald feminine curvaceousness, the spirit of athletic grace his Technicolor leggings proclaimed—these were carnivalesque artifacts in motion. The hundreds of color illustrations that fill this reasonably priced reprint of the original high-priced limited edition comprise the book’s essential core. A more joyous experience for lovers of the colors of carnival realized in fashion could not be imagined.

Francisco González de Canales

That much abused term “radical” assumes fresh life in this sensitively written account of five experiments in domestic architecture created against a societal background of war (actual or threatened) and exile. The spotlight is turned largely to the designs of well-known iconoclasts: Charles and Ray Eames, Juan O’Gorman, and Allison and Peter Smithson. But rather than write conventional case studies of their designs for houses, de Canales takes a daring interpretative leap that interfaces the crafting of the formal aesthetic of their domestic designs with the designers’ psychological imperatives to survive threatening times through radical design. The illuminating chapter on O’Gorman’s Mexican cave house masterfully brings together the designer’s desire for a womb-like safe haven with O’Gorman’s deep affection for pre-Hispanic ornamentation.

Particularly penetrating is de Canales’s study of the jousting working relationship between the poet Pablo Neruda and architect German Rodriguez Arias. Neruda’s mastery in unpredictably destabilizing many of the fixed facets of Arias’s designs for his three houses wryly reminds us of the extreme challenges an architect can face when his client is a poet as well as unschooled designer.

Alicia Kennedy
Emily Banis Stoehrer
With Jay Calderin

No general book on fashion design in recent years has so successfully reorganized how to think about the field as Fashion Design, Referenced. It has accomplished this goal through reformulating lively features of website design and infusing electrifying graphics with erudite cross-disciplinary commentary. As Alicia Kennedy writes in her astute foreword, “Our book approaches fashion design from the perspective of connectivity. It unfolds how fashion is imagined, produced, and disseminated within larger social, economic, and cultural systems.”

Through over a 1,000 well-reproduced photographs and drawings, and through scores of judiciously and passionately written brief articles—Wiki or blog length—readers are encouraged through the book’s mandala-like organization to imaginatively follow rich trails of cross-disciplinary association in a non-linear fashion. That said, it is just as pleasurable to read the book conventionally from opening page to last, enjoying a sprawling multi-dimensional text on fashion design, moving from an overview of the profession, to a primer on how bare-bone ideas materialize into finished products, to avenues through which fashion reaches its audience, and finally as a critical examination of innovative practices of the major movers and shakers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Particularly striking are the many parallels established between architectural and fashion design, as well as the ties between pop music and fashion trends. This is that rare fashion overview that even designers outside of fashion can find constantly inspirational.

Lauren Whitley

Perhaps the most discerning and fair-minded reviewer of this exhibition catalogue for the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston’s wildly popular textiles and fashion exhibition “Hippie Chic” would be someone who didn’t actually experience that decade wearing some of the clothing represented in this show. On the other hand, this reviewer, having been there and done that, is quite enthusiastically willing to deal with the multiple virtues and vices of this catalogue, facets that might be overlooked by those who have simply studied the era with a degree of scholarly detachment and generational distance.

As curator of the MFA Boston’s impressive collection of 45,000 textiles and costumes, Lauren Whitley brings a generous awareness of the forerunners of sixties garb, particularly the sinewy Art Nouveau roots of the wildly patterned, shockingly colorful, psychedelic dresses, blouses, suits, and robes of the time. She is equally sensitive to the DIY trends in which those without fashion design training reconfigured indigenous people’s clothing designs that soon became appropriated by mainstream fashion houses and publications. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and The Beatles, familiar musical icons of the hippie era spanning the mid-1960s to early ’70s, appear in their rainbow-hued and dazzling splendor, along with many obscure and forgotten figures. Swirls of radiantly layered leathers, beads, and fringe, often on shirts and jackets androgynously contoured, emphasize the era’s spirit of surrealistically exotic hedonism.

Where Whitley trips (sorry about that!) herself up occurs through her questionable categories of “Trippy Hippie,” “Fantasy Hippie,” “Retro Hippie,” “Ethic Hippie,” and “Craft Hippie.” In actuality, the designs inspired by drugs, music, and indigenous peoples, and neo-Art Nouveau accents constantly intertwined, and were juxtaposed as well as even superimposed on one another in both individual and group wardrobes. Although Philippe Garner in Sixties Design (TASCHEN) puts sundry varieties of hippie fashion under one sprawling chapter heading of “Pop Culture – Pop Style,” an arguable category, I think it does less harm to the anarchistic spirit of hippie chic than Whitley’s hair-splitting that fragments a complexly knotted zeitgeist into sentimental moments of fad fashion.

Hippie clothes were about shout-out abstract color masses with Pop Art sinewy typography in motion. This was clothing intended to dance in when going to a Joplin or Hendrix concert—not clothing worn to emulate the look of musical stars. To dance in hippie clothing was to become a human kaleidoscope. Seeing it on pale white mannequins enervates instead of stimulates.

But I’m holding on to my copy of Hippie Chic nevertheless. It makes me wish I had never given away my purple velvet cowboy shirt or my Peruvian poncho that seconded as a dandy’s cape.

Irene De Guttry
Maria Paola Maino

Of books focused on Art Nouveau decorative arts there is no dearth, a fact perhaps connected to the burgeoning interest in biomorphic forms and patterns in our time. But Italian Liberty Style is the only book in English that critically reflects upon the peculiar Italian version of Art Nouveau, and that fact alone makes this well-illustrated but brief overview essential.

Arguably, Art Nouveau was a first foreshadowing of stylized decorative patterns emphasizing the sinuous and undulating lines and interlocking luxuriant flora and fauna displays now digitally reproduced from detailed nature photography. Putting this decorative design orientation within a specifically Italian context means that the forms and colors of decorative items (think furniture, pottery, and glass) were derived from Italy’s rural landscapes and urban food markets. Additionally—and this is a key point the authors pass over a bit breezily—Italian Liberty Style has roots in the manic profusion of energetic zigzagging details of nature in Baroque period art, and in other Italian Renaissance art influenced by North African Islamic arts, particularly calligraphy. So to dive into the 100 illustrations comprising this book’s core, you are immersing yourself in cross-cultural cross-talks charged with spicy Italian flavors.

The “Liberty” in the book’s title refers both to the Arthur Liberty’s department store—exploding with Art Nouveau decorative items for the homes of the emergent 19th-century middle class—and the spirit of “liberty,” a new political, social, and aesthetic freedom emerging after Italy’s 19th-century national unification. That explains why even the few imitative decorative works on display in these pages—those William-Morrising themselves into plant-rich but peat-dense wallpaper—still maintain charm. Giovanni’s glass panel of the mythic Medusa could have been created yesterday. And advertising posters exude an exotic romanticism easily confused with 21st-century waves of neo-psychedelic graphics marked with Botticellian flair.

Khanh Trinh Editor
John Szostak
Richard L. Wilson

This sensitively written and finely produced catalogue accompanying last year’s exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Australia of the work of the artist Kamisaka Sekka offers a visionary re-thinking of the classical Japanese style known as “Rinpa.” For Westerners unfamiliar with Rinpa, Richard Wilson’s introductory essay offers a concise overview of this style, which showcases the natural world suffused with poetic lyricism and which dominated both fine and applied Japanese arts from the 16th to the end of the 19th century.

This historical preface opens a pathway into the heart of the book: the 300 plus color illustrations of Sekka’s art accompanied by Trinh’s biographical and artistic account of how Sekka matured into a leading figure in the evolution of modern Japanese design. Essentially, Trinh presents Sekka as a liminal artist par excellence. A world traveler aware of the Western art world’s emergent fascination with Japanese aesthetics at the birth of the 20th century, Sekka possessed both the taste and sensibility needed to treat traditionally stylized Japanese nature imagery with a robust experimental spirit and a healthy dose of humorous irreverence. Sekka’s woodblock book of satiric designs from 1903 risked outright vulgarity (one dog sniffing the excrement of another) when not mocking sterile imitation of traditional motifs (a Japanese character becomes stylized into a menacing cartoonish devil).

In a serious vein, Sekka’s reformulation of landscape designs for silk kimonos approached the threshold of pure abstract patterns. He emboldened subdued colors from the floating world, the dreamy palette of Buddhist Weltschmerz, and injected a blazing chromatic force, the effect being akin to shouting uncontrollably during the conventional silence of Zen meditation. Even more surprising was Sekka’s willingness to appropriate Rinpa-like odes to nature’s bountiful flora by way of closely borrowing ideas from William Morris’s textiles.

By blurring distinctions between imaginative Japanese and Western biomorphic designs, and by mocking stale formulaic and clichéd Japanese folk art traditions while vibrantly revitalizing others, Sekka influenced Japanese designers in our time, including neo-Pop painter Ai Yamaguchi and fashion designer Akira Isogawa. Illustrations of their art conclude this eye-opening volume.

Fritz von der Schulenburg

This bravura coffee table book of impeccably photographed international interiors offers bountiful rewards—once you get past the terrifically ambiguous title. Didn’t Thoreau find his Walden pond cabin luxurious and elegant? And what about Zen monks aesthetically sizing up their caves? This is not coyness. No rigorously thoroughgoing definition of interior minimalism (we’re told minimalism is “about light and space”—what isn’t?) is offered. Is it waggish to suggest that what we have here is a portfolio of expensive elegant minimalism? So the book showcases a recently renovated Swedish baroque palace, a Colorado ski lodge, a Loire Valley chateau, and a variety of private estates on both U.S. coasts. The photography is the stuff of dreams, suggesting furniture too fine for even well-behaved children to sit upon; great textured white walls no fingerprints will besmirch. Museum-grade interiors abound, perhaps explaining the curiously provocative Brancusi quote concluding the book, “Architecture is inhabited sculpture.” And to be fair, some traditional Shaker interiors intelligently revealing the paradoxically materially poor roots of today’s pricy minimalism are displayed.

Economic factors aside, the deep joy of this book arises from nine astute interviews with the showcased interior designers. Robert Kime cogently discusses his interior designing as textile-inspired. The Palladian roots of designs by Axel and Boris Vervoordt are thoughtfully illuminated. And John Stefanidis declares with winning candor, “Aestheticism can be the enemy of creation.” All interior designers can glean ideas, particularly pertaining to fiercely colored doors, floors, and stairs counterpointing Apollonian white walls, from this lushly expansive survey.

Jürgen Adam
Florian Hufnagl Editor

Few interior furnishings have so caught the imagination of artists as carpets of Oriental pedigree. Artistic imagination makes carpets fly. From the ancient folktale Arabian Nights to the Disney film Aladdin in which an animated flying carpet has its own human personality, the carpet possesses a potent symbolic and aesthetic power. Ironic since carpets in our everyday lives can be so easily taken for granted, intended for the un-lofty fate of being trod upon, thoroughly grounded, often created by anonymous workers in high-tech factories in developing nations. Or we can consider faux-Eastern themed carpets as inexpensive domestic wall decoration, originally inspired by artisans in some Middle Eastern or Maghreb encampment, even if commercially and cheaply plentiful because of simplistic mass-produced copies of original folk styles. Or we can see exceptional folk carpets as art fit for major global exhibition, lifting them out of their usual utilitarian context. German architect and scholar Jürgen Adam has done just that—and what a gift he has given by putting them on exhibition in Munich at the International Design Museum.

Adam has collected an magnificent range of nomadic Moroccan folk carpets over the years that are significant artworks, and has noted strong crosscurrents between their designs and those of modern Western artists, including Eileen Gray, Ellsworth Kelly, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko. The International Design Museum’s exhibition offers a ravishing counterpoint of North African vernacular textile design and Euro-American modernism culled from Adam’s collection. If the carpets don’t seem to fly in tandem with Rothko’s canvases, you may have only your earthbound perception to blame.

For those unable to attend the Munich exhibition that opened in September 2013 and closes in May 2014, Adam, with the help of the International Design Museum, Munich, has created an exceptional exhibition catalogue, Moroccan Carpets and Modern Art. With over 700 gloriously printed color illustrations, this hefty oversized tome sports an embossed linen cover, and a consistently insightful commentary by Adam available in German, English, and French.

For anyone unfamiliar with the evolving folk tradition of Moroccan carpets, Adam offers a clear and comprehensive overview of their design features and history. Created traditionally in wool by various tribes of nomadic rug makers to serve as mats, blankets, or shawls, these pile, knotted, or flat-woven carpets share highly abstract and freely colored designs. Their creative uses of color and abstraction attracted Le Corbusier and brought these carpets to the attention of other Western designers in the early 20th century. The Moroccan rug-making tradition continues to undergo dramatic changes in the present, substituting industrial for natural dyes, and cotton (new and recycled clothing scraps) and synthetic fabrics for wool. but the inventive abstract patterns and subtle shimmering shadings prevail as their stylistic signature.

By juxtaposing these Moroccan carpets with Western art by Rothko, Newman, and others, Adam is doing considerably more than showing the pre-modern roots of Abstract Expressionism, valuable as that is as an exercise in neglected art history. In thoroughly analyzing the ties between Maghreb textile design and abstract Color Field art in the West, he is offering a challenge to all current Western designers to consider the following lessons to be learned or reconsidered:

• the play of gradually modulated, boldly colored abstract patterns conveys both spiritual and musical associations, simultaneously communicating the antiquity of modern style and the modernity of ancient folk style. The spiritual associations are realized in esoteric symbols found in Islamic and Jewish mysticism, and could be inspiringly appropriated in secular contexts.

• Free-form and geometric patterns exist engagingly in isolation on various planes that seem to “cross talk.” This resulted in the transformation of a practical textile integral to a nomadic lifestyle into a multi-layered visual “book” of pan-Islamic, folk-flavored cultural conversations over centuries.

• Moroccan carpet designs communicate material and spiritual energies in constant motion. Like a Kandinsky or Klee painting, these Moroccan carpets offer no final “resting place” or clear focal center among viewers in their ever-dancing patterns. This kinetic sense implicit in their designs might explain the globally prevalent archetype of the flying carpet since the carpets’ dynamic designs transcend a purely passive decorative and practical earthbound role in favor of a jumpy, visually busy, eye-catching, oscillating display.

• Unlike digitally created designs that factor out tactic sense during the design process, hand-crafted Moroccan carpets entail constant fingertip sensitivity on the part of their artisans to fabric textures including small irregularities. Colorful abstract patterns grow out of this tactile encounter with material itself in hand for their creators.

• Adam quotes art critic Gottfried Boehm: “Carpets thus expand our understanding of imagery in an unusual way. They are pictures to look at and touch; they subvert the distinction between visible painting, tactile sculpture, and built space…” Note how the carpet’s “subversive qualities” are in synchronization with current genre-blurring and cross-disciplinary mixes happening today in industrial design, fashion, and architecture.

Whether you head to Munich or to a bookstore stocking this catalogue to catch a glimpse of this fruitful collision of ancient Maghreb carpets and modern Western art, your inner eye will be opened to hitherto bypassed design possibilities. Or you may simply savor and meditate upon flights of imagination catalyzed by abstract textile patterns. Or ponder what artists sans formal arts training can continue to teach those formally schooled.

Photographs by Guillaume de Laubier
Text by Antoine Pecqueur

If this book’s title evokes an expensive coffee-table collection of gorgeous color photography of for the most part traditionally designed opera houses, you’ll be largely, and yet insufficiently, correct. The text is considerably more worthwhile than the clichéd title suggests. Through 32 examples of global opera houses—the focus generally avoids multi-functional concert halls and cultural complexes—the photographs and text present an exceptionally detailed overview of varieties of opera-driven design luxuriance. Many of the same qualities of “over the top” melodramatic musical ornamentation found in classic opera find expression in classic opera house design.

Guillaume de Laubier is a photographer who relishes details a hair’s breadth from kitsch, highlighting an Edwardian stained glass design crowning an exit door in the London Coliseum as well as rococo tapestries and murals florid to the nth degree. There is enough sweet eye-candy in these photographs to send a reader with modernist and/or inimalist proclivities into an aesthetic equivalent of diabetic shock. But a half dozen opera houses far more congenial to those sensibilities also are showcased effectively, including Snøhetta’s Oslo Opera House and Henning Larsen’s Operaen Store Scene in Copenhagen.

Antoine Pecqueur’s writing is entertaining, breezy, anecdotal, and situated effectively facing each page of Laubier’s photography of a particular structure. Those seeking information about the acoustical imperatives facing opera house designers won’t find much enlightenment here. Luckily, Victoria Newhouse’s magnificently written Site and Sound: The Architecture and Acoustics of New Opera Houses and Concert Halls will help in that area, although the uneven quality of its often undersized photographs is annoying. Designers interested in extraordinary opulence, particularly in terms of finely finished public interiors, will rejoice in consulting de Laubier’s and Pecqueur’s tome.


Deyan Sudjic
Designed by Jonathan Hares

To give equal billing to the book designer as well as author of this nonpareil two-volume monograph on the extraordinary Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata is understandable when you hold this set in your hands. The books are encased in an acrylic box, a reminder of the wondrous furniture and interior decorations Kuramata could derive from unsexy acrylic. But as with everything pertaining to Kuramata, there is more than meets the eye initially. Empty the acrylic box of its sturdily bound volumes, one largely history and analysis of the artist by the attuned design critic Deyan Sudjic, author of The Language of Things, the other a catalogue raisonné with around 600 of Kuramata’s designs). Hold the acrylic box so that its surfaces are exposed to a strong light source. The box becomes prismatic, creating a multi-hued light show you could also create by turning a beveled glass pane, bringing to mind all of the material differences as well as commonalities of glass and acrylic.

During Kuramata’s tragically short life and career (b. 1934 – d. 1991), he playfully yet fiercely worked designing objects, furniture, and interiors (the interiors, sadly, are all demolished now) that existed memorably in the interstices between ambiguously paradoxical material states and states of mind. Confounding the transparencies of acrylic and glass by creating bravura masterpieces like his “Glass Chair” and his acrylic “Miss Blanche” chair, he also intermingled sensations of weight and weightlessness in his chair fabricated from wire mesh and in his cabinets that seem to bend like reeds in a breeze. He also had an uncanny love, perhaps inspired by Joseph Cornell’s art boxes, of creating profuse and asymmetrically configured drawers for bureau-like furniture that resembled what storage units Alice might have discovered in Wonderland.

Mingling ancient and modern Japanese folk fantasy traditions with touches of European Minimalism, Kuramata created a totally beguiling range of objects and furniture with a light and mysterious touch. Deyan Sudjic and book designer Jonathan Hares deserve our gratitude for a monograph that re-animates the sense of wonder and mystery that suffused all Kuramata ever touched in his studio.

Oscar Tusquets Blanca et al.

Designing an outstanding staircase is not a challenge for the faint of heart. It is a daunting feat, since any notable staircase design is an exercise in matching the utilitarian need to traverse building levels with a designer’s wish to invent an individualistic artistic statement, a memorable monument evoking straightforward or curvilinear “poetry in motion.”

In this stunning coffee table book, a team of erudite European writers and world-class photographers offers an affectionate tribute to grand staircases. Their spotlight lingers upon the most monumentally grandiose staircases found in European palaces and other structures associated with the rich and famous from the Renaissance to the 19th century. Generously, the book offers an expansive (if concise) global survey of staircases pre-Renaissance, including examples of stairs (designs without guard rails and defining enclosed spaces) rather than strictly staircases. And a closing chapter on contemporary staircases includes I.M. Pei’s luminously futuristic staircase at the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar and Norman Foster’s swirling City Hall for the Greater London Authority emanating vertiginous grandeur. Oddly, many of the most groundbreaking examples of modern staircases are omitted—think of Peter Eisenman’s inverted and column-interrupted staircases and that surreal vernacular stair complex in Mexico, Las Pozas, created by Edward James. But what this book does with considerable charm and visual flair is offer a mesmerizing meditation upon the richness of luxurious detail in inventive European staircase design, raising staircases from a necessary building element to a major gateway catalyzing movement into architectural experiences of a rare order.

Sandy Black

Few books with “sustainability” in the title possess the ambitiousness and cross-disciplinary depth of this colossal handbook on sustainable fashion. With hundreds of illustrations and scores of incisive interviews with designers, eco-activists, and entrepreneurs, there is an overwhelming amount in this hefty coffee-table book that really is a provocative sourcebook for sustainable designers in any field.

Sandy Black has sharply organized a burgeoning mass of sustainable fashion in a form that addresses key philosophical as well as practical questions, beginning with the fundamental (uncomfortable) question as to whether in a field as fad-driven as fashion if and how “sustainability” can be realistically achieved. That question takes on urgency when we realize that textiles and clothing life cycles use more energy and water than any other industry except for construction and agriculture. In search of sustainability in fashion—which perhaps would be a more accurate title than the one Black gave—we’re treated in these pages to wide divergences in perspectives from designers. Hussein Chalayan welcomes the challenges sustainability issues present—but straightforwardly justifies designing with materials that are not from recycled sources. The fabric printing and design company Ely Kishimoto regretfully acknowledges that it hasn’t yet figured out a process to remove dangerous chemicals from its wastewater.

Interspersed with these moderately cautionary accounts are remarkably uplifting accounts by fashion designers defying the conventional marketplace wisdom of supporting quickly and cheaply produced “throwaway” clothing with polluting consequences. Most crucially, one comes away from this swirl of new fashions, imaginary and ready-to-wear alike, with a sense of integrative vision. Perhaps designer Shelley Fox’s notion that all well-designed clothing is ipso facto sustainable is a tad simplistic, but the cross-cultural evidence in Black’s sourcebook reinforces the notion that fashion, rather than being the most ephemeral and toxic of necessary and everyday design arts, can also be made manifest in clothing that is passed down through appreciative generations.

Black’s book’s sole flaw might be its overwhelming U.K.-focus—but that seems unsurprising given the current British dominance in designing sustainable fashion, realizing that prolonging and re-purposing textile life contributes to our global commonwealth.

Hiroko T. McDermott
Clare Pollard

Japanese textiles invite multi-sensory interaction from design mavens and textile collectors alike. Intricately embroidered surfaces and luxurious silk folds seem to cry out for appreciative human touch. Mark this catalogue from a recent show of extremely rare Japanese textiles designed solely for Western markets a rare achievement. Production values were so rigorous for this volume that a reader comes as close as possible to sensing the depth and irregular surfaces of textiles.

Since these commissioned or market purchased textiles were intended to decorate the interiors of Victorian-era homes, wall hangings and screens abound, festooned with de rigueur Oriental exotica, embroidered dragons, phoenixes, and tigers. But surprising subject matter intrudes as well since this work was entirely export fare. There are hangings with kitschy embroidered American flags Jasper Johns might envy, and a naturalistic seascape worthy of a beach town’s souvenir shop. The tawdriest imagery is totally redeemed, however, by baroquely ornate embroidery patterns crowned with gold thread stitching of stunning virtuosity. The few dozen surviving Japanese textiles from Meiji Japan featured here—few people took these textiles seriously as art worth preserving in the West in the late 19th century, so many examples have decayed—shimmer and glow with an otherworldly splendor evocative of a Noh play, or to amplify the East-West cultural exchange factor, a Morris Graves painting of a rare bird of an inner eye with deep Asian vision.

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