Charlie Brown

Natural Architecture

By Alessandro Rocca

In a world driven by high-tech gadgetry, creations of organic architecture—by hand, with raw materials that are truly green—are worthy competitors to the latest skyscraper in any competition for psychic reward. In this remarkable book, Alessandro Rocca, architect and critic at Milan Polytechnic, has assembled a world of almost surreal beauty. Artful projects span the globe, including a bridge in Tibet that connects an orphanage to a nearby village and a pavilion in Iceland with a perpetually frozen ice roof. The cover image, of Patrick Dougherty's maple hardwood saplings, twisted and woven into 18-foot-high huts, is an installation rather than a shelter. The form is both minimalist and primeval, a perfect example of the book's respect for humble materials. Princeton Architectural Press; $35

Large Parks Edited by Julia Czerniak and George Hargreaves

Foreword by James Corner

Massive earth works are all the rage in landscape architecture, none more high-profile than the reclamation of the 2,200-acre Fresh Kills landfill in New York by James Corner's Field Operations. That's a long journey from the royal gardens that kings constructed centuries ago. But this book throws a wide net, including a range of “green lungs” of at least 500 acres, whether on landfills, along formerly derelict waterfronts, or at decommissioned airfields. New York's Central Park and Paris' Bois de Boulogne rank as the glorious ancestors of the genre. But the parks being constructed today don't benefit from a single patron or powerbroker to pave the way. Instead, they are the creative issue of populist politics, zoning boards, environmental studies, and cautious bureaucrats.

Large Parks evolved from a conference at Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 2003. It includes Hargreaves and Associates' proposed Los Angeles River park system, the 1,000-acre North Lincoln Park competition in Chicago, and other projects. There are grumblings in the landscape design community about the drift toward public-private partnerships, as public monies fail to maintain the parks. Grumblings too about a fragmentation of space as different demographics make conflicting demands on turf (dog walkers vs. birders, for instance). For designers of buildings, it's worth noting that the authors and their colleagues aren't sure yet of the relationship of large parks to their urban surroundings. Will the park need the city or pre-empt it? History indicates there is room for both. Princeton Architectural Press; $29.95

Smoot's Ear: The Measure of Humanity By Robert Tavernor

The author, a British professor of architecture and urban design, might as well be asking Romeo and Juliet what the measure of their love was. In his 268-page book, he traces the history of measurement over the millennia, stopping in at the construction of the Great Pyramid and moving on to the 1,776-foot-tall Freedom Tower that Daniel Libeskind envisioned as a monument to the Twin Towers at Ground Zero. Along his journey, Tavernor challenges the very idea that systems of measurement such as the metric system are neutral standards. After all, the ancients measured with their strides, and they weighed based on the tonnage of individual kings.

The system of measurement for which the book is named owes its existence to a group of MIT students who measured a bridge using the body of their colleague, Oliver Smoot, as a yardstick. After wit and wisdom are delivered, delightfully, the author comes to this thoughtful conclusion: “Our bodies require a positive relation with the natural world, and measuring the world with and through our bodies is essential to civilised—human—existence.” But we're not all made the same. Yale University Press; $25

Fashion Since 1900: The Complete Sourcebook

By John Peacock

The British costume designer John Peacock offers an update of his annotated guide to silhouettes and couture details, decade by decade through the 20th century. The ensemble provides a sort of dressmaker's guide to trends, which would translate in architectural terms to a trajectory from Colonial Revival through Modernism to Eclecticism. If one considers the client wearing Peacock's period dress traveling through vintage architectural space, the meaning of gesamtwerk, a “total work of art,” becomes abundantly clear. Thames & Hudson; $40