What architecture books did I find most inspiring, informative or interesting over the past year? I gathered a list of my top favourites from the books I’ve read this year. This listing has been grandiosely titled Architecture Books 2017, but it is not a review of brand new publications. Rather, I tried to gather my thoughts about the architecture books that I really enjoyed owning and reading in 2017. As I like to end the year with gratitude, this blog post also pays tribute to all the committed and devoted authors and publishers of architectural literature. Thank you for your work, keep calm and carry on!
Architecture Books 2017 – Anni’s list of best reads
I start off my list with In Search of a Forgotten Architect: Stefan Sebök 1901–1941 by Lilly Dubowitz (Architectural Association, 2012). The book tells about a talented Hungarian-born architect who worked with artists and architects such as Johannes Itten, László Moholy-Nagy, Walter Gropius, El Lissitzky, Moisei Ginzburg and the Vesnin brothers. Like many of his contemporaries, Sebök moved to Moscow at the turn of the 1930s to contribute to the building of the ideal Soviet society. The ambitious modernist project stopped short, however. Sebök was arrested and convicted to be executed as a spy in Stalin’s purges in 1941. The later books about Gropius or Bauhaus hardly mention him at all.
The book chronicles Sebök’s life and architectural work in Dessau, Berlin and Moscow. The author, Lilly Dubowitz, is not an architect but a family member: Sebök was Dubowitz’s uncle. The fact gives a particularly tender air to the text that meticulously documents Dubowitz’s painstaking quest for knowledge about Sebök’s fate. The wonderful illustrations and the informative essays by Éva Forgács and Richard Anderson fine-tune the outstanding contents. I learned about this precious book during my conference trip in New York in February and I’m truly grateful to my research fellows for the tip. This is one of the most remarkable books I’ve ever read about early modernism.
“There is a reality to national traditions that goes beyond myths of nationalism”
Another inspiring book the author of which I had a great pleasure to meet during my conference trip is Charlotte Ashby’s Modernism in Scandinavia: Art, Architecture and Design. The title has found quite a many readers already, and I could not recommend it more. This book is for those who want a fresh viewpoint towards the art, architecture and design history of the Nordic region.
Compared to other textbooks on the subject, Ashby succeeds in keeping her touch light whilst creating a plausible, holistic context for the developments of modernism between 1890 and 1970. Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland are not treated as isolated cultures, but as a region where artists, designers and architects have vivid relations with one another and their European colleagues. Here’s a link to the blog post where Charlotte tells about her book in more detail. I look forward to reading more from Charlotte in the coming years.
Don’t judge an architecture book by its cover
My third vote goes for Lichtzauber und Materialität – Materiality and the Magic of Light by Wolfgang Jean Stock (Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2014). This is one of those books that you definitely should not judge by its cover. The unappealing yellow binding hides great photography and a well-balanced review of contemporary church architecture in Finland.
This spring, I used this book as a reference book for my university course on the theory of post-1960s Finnish architecture. Although the book has been written from an outspoken Christian perspective, it’s not at all as tacky as the worst mythologising praises I’ve come across about Finnish architecture. New readings about contemporary architecture are scarce. This one proved out to be an excellent treatise on a highly intriguing topic.
“Monuments are the expression of man’s highest cultural needs”
The fourth book on my list is Architecture Culture 1943–1968, a documentary anthology by Joan Ockman (Rizzoli, 1993). This is an old publication, and I bought my own print as a crappy second-hand copy already in 2014. It’s only this year that I’ve started to read it properly, however. I’m very fond of anthologies in general, and this one is a real treasure.
The span of Ockman’s impressive collection ranges from the Nine Points on Monumentality written by José Luis Sert, Fernand Léger and Sigfried Giedion in 1943 to Hans Hollein’s Everything is Architecture from 1968. Philip Johnson’s Seven Crutches of Modern Architecture (1955) is there, and so is Alvar Aalto’s The Architect’s Conscience (1957). Even Gaston Bachelard’s The Oneiric House (1948) and The Post-Modern House by Joseph Hudnut (1945) have been included. Hudnut’s essay was crucial to my research of postmodern thought in Finnish architecture, and it was lovely to see it listed. It was a dusty job to track it down from the archived Architectural Record paper issues in our university library.
By the way, I find myself dwelling more and more on the concept of romanticism in postwar architecture theory nowadays. In the historiography of Finnish architecture, the general belief in the unanimously adopted modern project is still so unwavering. Maybe my intuition tells me to write a proper research paper on the topic? With Ockman’s anthology at hand, it couldn’t be easier.
Architecture Books 2017 – book tips
I’d like to round off this list with a few architecture books published in Finland. The first lovely new arrival is Puinen Uusimaa – Wooden Uusimaa Guide to Architecture (Parus Verus, 2017) by Jussi Vepsäläinen, architect, and Jussi Tiainen, photographer. I was lucky to receive my copy as a gift from the first Jussi. Yesterday, I met with the latter Jussi to get a few copies soon to be included in our shop stock.
For those of you unfamiliar with Finnish regional geography, Uusimaa is the southern province and the most populous region in Finland. The Wooden Uusimaa book is a lovely little guidebook (a follow-up to the Wooden Helsinki guidebook by the same authors) that presents more than 100 architectural sites where wood is the principal building material. The selection includes both historical and new projects, extensions, renovations and developments.
New research, new opuses
Another much-awaited new book is an outcome of a very long and arduous research project: the doctoral dissertation by Professor Pirjo Sanaksenaho titled Moderni koti – Pientaloasumisen ihanteet arkkitehtuuri- ja sisustusjulkaisuissa 1950–1960-luvuilla [Modern Home – Single-family housing ideals as presented in Finnish architecture and interior design magazines in the 1950s and 1960s]. Pirjo defended her thesis at the Aalto University only a few weeks ago, and I congratulate Pirjo for the achievement. For those of you who don’t read Finnish, Pirjo may have research articles or conference papers in the pipeline, so tune your search engines.
The last but not least is The Building of Finland (Rakennustieto, 2017). The new, fantastically illustrated tome does exactly what it says on the tin. It came out in October in Finnish, Swedish and English, the editor is Harri Hautajärvi, architect and the former editor-in-chief of the Finnish Architectural Review. I’m working on a proper book review for the Architectural Histories journal, so no more about the contents for now. Here’s a link to the publisher’s website for you to take a closer look and grab your own copy. Oh, and let’s not forget the fabulous Hotel Regatta book by architect Marja-Riitta Norri and the Kaupungin piirteet – Stadens prägel – Outlining a City book about Helsinki about which I wrote in this blog post in June.