Tropolism Books: House: Black Swan Theory and AT-INdex


Title: House: Black Swan Theory

Author: Steven Holl

Publication Date: May 2007

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 1-56898-587-9

Title: AT-INdex

Author: Winka Dubbeldam

Publication Date: June 2007

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 1-56898-535-5

Not only do the folks at Princeton Architectural Press send us lots of books to review, but they have a sense of humor.

Recently we received copies of the two books listed in this review. The two books are polar opposites, and all but begged us to do a comparative review.

Click Continue Reading for the goods...

House: Black Swan Theory is a collection of houses by Steven Holl, ranging from his early Stretto House (1989-1991) to the Swiss Residence, completed in 2006. Some of the houses presented are unbuilt, but the majority of the book is composed of large pictures of built projects of varying scale. While many of the projects will be familiar to anyone with a cursory knowledge of Mr. Holl's work, the presentation side-by-side, and not in chronological order, invites us to look closely at the details, materials, and simple ideas that compose these buildings. The book contains many detailed photographs of project materials, interesting shadows, and details. It's like a guidebook for the Dwell generation looking for cool house ideas. The architect's essay is short and hidden in the first few pages of the book. This will be a great guide and reference on anyone's shelf, including architects, draftsmen, homebuilders, and people who just adore Steven Holl. It is made more appealing by having been edited so Mr. Holl's conceits do not take precedence over the built work. The reader is free to observe this work without the architect talking to him about it.

AT-INdex is about the same size as House, but that is all it has in common with that book. The cover has printed on it all the architectural catchwords from 1999-2003, the book's title, the author's name, and some random graphics of a helmet. Inside the conceit is continued, with lots of poorly designed text (why use one typeface on a page when you can use 5?), a mind-numbing amount of cloudy and uninformative computer renderings, and an irritating tendency to repeat projects in different portions of the book. That there are few built projects is not our complaint; neither is the fact that the built work is rough, experimental, old, and full of formal tics from my alma mater. That the number of projects that are included was not edited in half, with half the images thrown out in the ones remaining, is our complaint. The deluge of useless information simply covers up the sometimes remarkable built projects (such as the beautiful exterior of the GT residence, which is shown in two small images on pages 24 and 25).

AT-INdex suffers from another conceit. The projects that have been built seem to be repeated with the most frequency, as if the built projects were some totem of authenticity that the reader needs constantly be reminded of. This is not the strategy of an architect who believes that built work requires little explanation, once it is complete. Ms. Dubbeldam's work holds a lot of promise, particularly because of her ability to land large projects at so young an age. We'd like the next book to let that promise shine.

House: Black Swan Theory and AT-INdex: Winka Dubbeldam are both available at Amazon.


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