Florian Heilmeyer waxes almost lyrical over a new book stuffed with information and analysis on collective housing.
This is a book of excess in many ways. In the excessive volume of its information and perfectly designed layouts; in the excessive number of info-graphics that present even the most complex and multi-layered connections in a beautiful, clear way. It is excessive too in its lust for detail and almost insatiable interest in analysing and understanding the ten collective housing schemes that it presents in all their details, references, meanings and relevance. It really sets a completely new standard in architectural publications. On reading I had to admit (excessively too!) that it really seems almost the perfect architecture book.
With 10 Stories of Collective Housing, the Spanish publisher, a+t, initiates a series, which will see each successive publication devoted to the “graphical analysis of inspiring masterpieces”, as a+t subtitles it, each one devoted to a special focus topic in architecture.
For this first volume, ten schemes from the 20th century have been chosen. Of course any such selection immediately begs the question as to why this particular ten, what were the criteria for inclusion, indeed are they even all “masterpieces”? But the editors, Aurura Fernández Per and Javier Mozas, already disarm this critique in their very sympathetic foreword: “This is neither a canonical list of buildings nor the top ten of collective housing. They were chosen as one chooses one’s friends. Faults and all, they make everything worthwhile”.
This attractively warm approach, mixed with its rigour, is what makes this book so good. Don’t expect to see Corbu’s Unité d’Habitation included here, for instance, or other already extensively covered projects. The most well-known projects featured are probably the Barbican Centre (London, 1955-1983) and the Norkomfin building (Moscow, 1932). But how about the Justus van Effen Complex (Rotterdam, 1922), the Cité de la Muette (Paris, 1934), Luigi Moretti’s multi-purpose complex in Milan (1956) or Fumihiko Maki’s Hillside Terraces (Tokyo, 1967-1998)? How much do you know about them? Well, you will know rather a lot more after reading this book.
Over 495 pages the ten buildings are not just analysed but excessively anatomised. There are floor plans, sections and photos – both historical and contemporary – but what makes this book stand out is the wealth of functional diagrammes, axonometrics and other graphics exclusively designed by Álex S. Ollero. Another nice touch is context: each project is cross-referenced to other ones and even, on occasion, to paintings or magazines that have either inspired or been inspired by the building, stretching from earlier historical works to recent designs. I have never seen a more impressive nor comprehensive way to make a connection from the skywalks of the Justus van Effen complex to the Smithsons’ Robin Hood Gardens to Bjarke Ingels’ 8 House in Copenhagen – and back!
In brief: this book is as excessive as it needs to be in order to set a new standard for architectural publications. It is not about glossy (re-)presentation but a deep understanding of architecture. If you, like me, are interested in that, then go buy it.
– Florian Heilmeyer