Books

This is an article from the Architecture Australia archives and may use outdated formatting

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF VERNACULAR ARCHITECTURE OF THE WORLD
Edited by Paul Oliver, Cambridge University Press, $1495 (three volumes).
Put off leasing the new Saab for a month because this phenomenal package of scholarship mustgo in the library-and the current price is said to be introductory. The three volumes, each about 1600 mono pages, are unlikely to be read but will be plundered for research and inspiration. Immaculate typography (those Brits really know how) is supplemented by superb sketches of primitive construction details and helpful amateur snaps of an amazing diversity of village structures. These are bound to inspire practitioners looking for primal scenarios. Volume 1 gives the overview, with essays on concepts, systems and building types, uses of symbolism and decoration, and the planet’s stocks of construction materials. Volume 2 covers the vernacular traditions of Europe, Asia and Australasia, with Australians Paul Memmot, Don Watson, Ian Sinnamon and Miles Lewis (plus others) reporting on the approaches of specific Aboriginal tribes and early migrants. Volume 3 explores Africa and the Americas. Although bits and pieces are sure to be contested, it’s a mighty achievement.

HARRY SEIDLER: SELECTED AND CURRENT WORKS
Master Architects Series III, edited by Stephen Dobney, Images Publishing and Craftsman House, $85.
Australia’s most important post-war architect is celebrating his 75th year with this 255- page monograph of his outstanding oeuvre of office towers and houses, harking way back to a 1947 model for confidently cubic domestic additions in Toronto (a project apparently conceived while he was assisting Marcel Breuer in New York). Clearly presented and generously illustrated, this is the most complete pictorial record of the maestro’s designs and buildings-so it’s thoroughly recommended for study. Be aware, however, that the ‘Master Architects’ series is supported substantially by the offices documented, so the subjects tend to influence the editing. This may explain some minor weaknesses. First, the cover image, a bitumen-edged aerial of the exemplary QV1 plaza in Perth, looks dowdy and confusing: it seems to be intended not to seduce buyers but to remind them that Seidler cando ground levels. Second, the warm essay by London writer Dennis Sharp won’t get the cranium buzzing; it’s a lost opportunity to demonstrate the “criticism” which Seidler says is non-existent in Australia. More worrying are some reports on unbuilt projects which inaccurately suggest that they are going ahead. Eg, why are readers told that the Melbourne (Grollo) Tower is all-go for completion in 2000, when we know (in Australia) that the developers dropped the Seidler design 18 months ago and are pursuing a Denton Corker Marshall scheme? Apart from these worries, the book is a fine tribute to an architect whose productions deserve nothing less.

THE SHAPING OF NOOSA
By Michael Gloster, Noosa Blue Publishing Group, $30.
Architect and environmental activist Michael Gloster has written a shamelessly biased and seductively illustrated history of the Noosa development battles. He explains how successive Shire councils, based inland at Pomona, actively encouraged coastal and canal subdivisions to raise rates for road-building- a successfully destructive strategy until Gloster, Noel Playford and other ecologically astute citizens won the council elections of 1982. Although the greenies lost next time, later councils have been much more careful-and Noosa now has a law to cap its population at a ‘sustainable’ 50,000. This must maximise land values and rental returns, so the shire economy wins too.

ARCHITECTURAL MONOGRAPHS NO 50: TOM KOVAC
Editor Maggie Toy, Academy Editions, $60.
To imagine the ethereal architecture of Slovenia-born Melburnian Tom Kovac, think of Kate Bush swirling and swooping in a white (not gothic black) gown. Do you read such a performance as “dementia” (like Dale Jones-Evans in an AA article several years ago) or allude, like both the artists, to “serenity”? In this London-published, RMIT supported book about one of our most provocative practitioners, five critics analyse Kovac’s portfolio of 19 commercial interiors and house designs since 1990. In general, writers Leon van Schaik, Aaron Betsky, John Andrews, Peter King and Georgi Stanishev appreciate his sculpting of amorphously contoured forms and spaces. Andrews says these relate both to “primitive carved space” (not mentioning messy wombs, you’ll notice) and 20th century minimalism. On the other hand, these scholars avoid admiring the costume styling connotations of fluidly draping thin boards over studwork that’s as complex, rigid and secret as Victorian corsetry. While Gehry, Hadid, Coates and the LA coterie have long been working the stucco-ply method, their compositions have given theory-traders more to digest than Kovac’s exortation, aligned to the Calvin Klein fragrance slogan: Just Be.

ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN: NEW SCIENCE = NEW ARCHITECTURE?
Guest editor Charles Jencks, editor Maggie Toy, Academy Editions, $52.
No, he did not sink in the mire of post modernism: Charles Jencks is back on deck to escort us through post-deconstructivism. Following his 1996 primer, The Architecture of the Jumping Universe, he showcases here some new-age projects inspired by chaos physics, non-linear geometries and the maths of random behaviour. While no-one knows if or how those notions will shake together as a Theory of Everything, the boffins have divined enough fascinating propositions to keep cluey architects firing for at least the next half-century. Australia’s contribution is Ashton Raggatt McDougall’s RMIT Storey Hall, partly inspired by Roger Penrose’s periodic tiling systems. Ironically, the Penrose formulae are already being critted as not random enough!- DJ.

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Published online: 1 May 1998

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Architecture Australia, May 1998

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