What We’re Reading

What We’re Reading

Daniel Johnson, AIASF 2015 Emerging Professional, shares some excellent book recommendations for the architecturally-inclined.

Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas
by Dennis Wood

In today’s day and age most people have put down their atlases and instead log on to Google Maps to find their way around and visualize the world through accurate digital cartography. That is not the way that Dennis Wood chooses to visualize the world, and his book Everything Sings is a shining example of how maps can show us so much more than how to get where we are going.

Wood frees himself from the pragmatism of traditional mapping conventions and examines his small half square mile Raleigh neighborhood of Boylan Heights through a series of abstract maps that narrate the idiosyncratic qualities of his community. Wood invites us into his world through maps which reveal everything from lovers initials carved around the neighborhood, maps of the pumpkin carvings put out during Halloween, maps of which neighbors have barking dogs, maps that visualize the neighborhood based on the lines of the telephone wires flying above, and many more. They are creative, psychological, cultural and more human than any modern cartography I’ve seen. You will be fascinated and inspired by this imaginative visual narrative of place, and I guarantee you will start seeing the world a little bit differently. 

Recommended Companion Reading:
The Landscape Imagination: Collected Essays of James Corner 1990-2010
by James Corner
San Francisco: A Map of Perceptions
by Andrea Ponsi

Questions of Perception: Phenomenology of Architecture
by Steven Holl, Juhani Pallasmaa, Alberto Perez-Gomez

Architecture is more than brick and mortar coming together, it is a multi-sensory experience that embodies both the tangible and intangible experiences of our material environment. Questions of Perception reveals these multivalent characteristics through the incredibly accessible writing by a triumvirate of talented architectural minds. The three authors open us to the philosophy of phenomenology, a lens that views architecture as sensorial and existential endeavor that collapses space, time and matter into an integrated experience for the mind and corporeal body. The premise of phenomenology rests heavily on the belief that architectural experience is understood through sensorial input. Our material environment is more than just something we see, we experience it through our muscles and bones, our blood pressure, our smell and hearing, through the haptic information interpreted through our skin, to the depth and imagination of our minds.

Juhani Pallasmaa describes the ultimate result of these coalescing experiences; "In memorable experiences of architecture, space, matter and time fuse into one single dimension, into the basic substance of being, that penetrates the consciousness. We identify with this space, this place, this moment and these dimensions as they become ingredients of our very existence. Architecture is the art of mediation and reconciliation." There  has been no other book that I have read about architecture that has filled me with as much joy and connected my entire existence to the built world as Questions of Perception. It is a book that stays with you; it alters the way you appreciate the fundamental qualities of the world around you.

Recommended Companion Reading:
Eyes of the Skin
by Juhani Pallasmaa
The Poetics of Space
by Gaston Bachelard

The Lancaster Hanover Masque
by John Hejduk

The work of John Hejduk stimulates imagery of tendrils, spirals, bells, squares, rectangles, dots, with the ghostly appearance of the human form as presented in the ambiguous overlay of a plan and section of one of the "objects" he created for his Lancaster/Hanover Masque. These formally bizarre architectural objects are paired with "subjects," which provide an equally disturbing collage of imagery (only now through the written word). In the case of the "Church House," Hejduk presents a fragmented story of a man of god, who rings the church bell, waxes the pews and rivets the entries, as long as mysteriously titled characters allow him to maintain his clerical position. The written imagery has a mysterious feel yet it seems grounded in reality, as there is nothing within the short narrative that sounds unreasonably unusual, however when our attention is turned to its drawn partner (the object) our sense of reality swiftly dissolves into the abyss created by the haunting, abnormal, geometric forms which attempt to physically describe the space in which this narrative takes place.

The juxtaposition of the reality of the subject, with the alien-like formal qualities of the object, creates an ambiguity that emulates the characteristics of a dream state. It is through these unexpected relationships which confuses our mind by defying logic and replacing it with an intangible experience within our imagination. It is Hejduk's motive to use dream-like imagery in this way to impede our logical centers so that we can be made aware of something else — some otherness. This mysterious quality is one of the intangible activators of architectural experience, one which surpasses the senses and exists somewhere deeper. Hejduk's book attempts to reduce the noise which impedes us from seeing beyond the obvious, in an effort to reconnect us to the intangible qualities which architecture embodies; in other words, to reveal the important relationship between our mind and the constructed forms around us.

Recommended Companion Reading:
Architecture's Desire 
by K. Michael Hayes
Invisible Cities
by Italo Calvino