Launch Slideshow

Best of Books 2012

Best of Books 2012

  • Citizens of No Place

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    "Citizens of No Place: An Architectural Graphic Novel," by Jimenez Lai—Jimenez Lai’s graphic novel presents a new wave of criticism—one that eschews the rigidity of traditional architect-speak, and opts instead for dynamically illustrated fiction. Disassociating the cartoon from the conventional comic book, but retaining the same hero-versus-villain schemes, these manga-style short stories critically explore concepts in urbanism and the role of the designer in such a manner that can be comfortably enjoyed by those living beyond the borders of the insular architectural community. • Princeton Architectural Press, $19.95

  • Draw Me a House

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    Cicada Books Limited

    “Draw Me a House,” by Thibaud Herem— Sure, this coloring book doesn’t provide much to read. The sparse text limits itself to such mental-exercising prompts as “Drawn an aerial view of the room you’re standing in,” or “Join the dots to find out what iconic building is on this page.” (It turns out to be Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House). Despite its simplicity, it provides a wide-ranging primer to for the fledgling architecture and design enthusiast, young or old, on Fallingwater, sink faucets, mansard roofs, igloos, and Le Corbusier. By drawing these houses, for once we consider the minute carefully constructed details of our built surroundings, too often overlooked. • Cicada Books Limited, $17.95

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    Thibaud Herem

    A sample spread from "Draw Me a House" features classic column types and room to draw your own.

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    Thibaud Herem

    Another spread from "Draw Me a House" features freehand sketches of Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye.

  • In the Life of Cities

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    Lars Müller

    “In the Life of Cities: Parallel Narratives of the Urban,” edited by Mohsen Mostafavi—The identity of a city has never been defined solely by its architecture; the urban fabric is woven not only from its buildings, but also the lives and creative impulses of its citizens. And what is the relationship of these citizens to their built surroundings, and what influence does each have on the other’s existence? To answer this question, Harvard Graduate School of Architecture dean Mohsen Mostafavi presents a collection of essays and photo essays in which the city plays as central a role to the narrative as the humans that inhabit it, from Jakarta to Johannesburg, with stops in Baku, Cairo, and others in between. • Lars Müller, $66

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    Lars Müller

    A spread from "In the Life of Cities" by Mohsen Mostafavi.

  • Ezra Stoller: Photographer

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    Yale University Press

    "Ezra Stoller: Photographer," by Nina Rappaport and Erica Stoller—With an uncanny ability to capture the enormity of a building within the confines of a two-dimensional image, Ezra Stoller established himself over the course of his decades-long career as the go-to photographer that modern luminaries sought after to capture their master works. This stunning monograph is an indulgent feast for the eyes, surveying the full range of Stoller’s subject matter. He captured not only the architectural icons of the 20th century—Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum, Eero Saarinen's TWA terminal, or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building, for instance—but also domestic spaces, large and small, that defined the look of mid-century America. • Yale University Press, $65

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    Ezra Stoller

    Marin County Civic Center by Frank Lloyd Wright, as seen by Ezra Stoller.

  • Oblique Drawing

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    The MIT Press

    “Oblique Drawing: A History of Anti-Perspective,” by Massimo Scolari—Readers, be warned: The density and complexity of Massimo Scolari’s writing can be a difficult pill to swallow for those who aren’t already well versed in the concepts of parallel project or nonperspectival representation. But beneath the erudite language, Scolari offers an engaging argument against the status quo of our perceptions, that central projection is the final say in our representations of the world. As he does in the surrealism in his drawings, the rebellious architect challenges established visual notions, this time through his writing. Drawing examples from sources as myriad as pre-Renaissance art, geometry, and military customs, Scolari shows that different theories of perspective exist to provide what others lack, and that our ways of seeing the world around us are a two-way street; they equally serve to show ourselves our surroundings as they do to project our inner ideologies. • The MIT Press, $39.95

  • Imagining the House

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    Lars Müller

    "Imagining the House," by Wang Shu—After winning the Pritzker Prize this year, Wang Shu, co-founder of Amateur Architecture Studio and the sole China-based architect to take the highly coveted award, and his works were brought to attention of Western circles. In shining a long overdue spotlight on his innovative reuse of building materials, the Pritzker introduced the West to the salvaged stones, bricks, and tiles of the Ningbo History Museum and the remnants of demolished traditional houses that make up the China Academy of Art’s Xingshan Campus. “Imagining the House,” with pages as minimal as its very straightforward, artless cover, charts the path of Shu’s design process. Photographs express his thorough preliminary explorations of each site, while reproductions of his quick-succession, hand-drawn sketches are windows into his mind, showing the progression of his thoughts as they solidify into buildable concepts. • Lars Müller, $65

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    Wang Shu

    A typical spread from "Imagining the House."

A number of things that happened in the world of books in 2012 didn't reach the world of architecture books. There was no break-away e-book about architecture, nothing to compare to Mark Z. Danielewski's The Fifty Year Sword, a genre-busting novel whose print and digital formats try different experiments. Which is fine. No one launched a Symbolia for architecture, that is, a tablet magazine specific to design the way that Symbolia is specific to the graphic medium of illustrated stories and journalism. And that's also fine.

No one reinvented the wheel in 2012, but instead, a number of writers took to long-form to reconsider architecture from its roots—and from a credible number of perspectives. Far from exhaustive, this list compiles the books that had design fans (and editors) talking from the moment of their release. One of these books is meant for tots who are just starting to think about the material world around them; one of the books was written with the grizzled theorist in mind. One graphic novel could arguably claim both demographics as its audience.

The exhaustive list of books published this year is here, and it includes a few that readers shouldn't miss. For example, ARCHITECT featured an excerpt from Material Strategies, by ARCHITECT contributor Blaine Brownell. Young Architects 13, which profiles the winners of last year's Architectural League Prize, is a good way to keep up with innovative practitioners. And no one can resist massive coffee-table tomes such as 20th Century World Architecture: The Phaidon Atlas or Three Centuries of Educating an Architect or Vitamin G.

But the books that made the best-of-2012 list represent something else—the graphic novels, coloring books, monographs, and dense tracts that stood out from the entire field. These final six would make excellent additions to any personal library.