Seven architects reveal their pandemic reads

Cozy Up

Seven architects reveal their pandemic reads

Just because the weather has taken a turn for the better doesn’t mean it’s safe to socialize. So why not read up? (Martin Vorel)

It may seem like a hazy, distant memory, but the lockdown did have a start date. It began, depending on where you live, in mid-March, just four months ago. Those of us fortunate enough to work remotely were thus spared a commute. What to do with this “surplus” time? Naturally, more work (e.g. minding children), even as some of us embarked on a series of projects, from baking bread to scaling that mounting pile of books on the bedside table.

Of course, the lockdown was/is not a ticket to bonus leisure time. Nor do the following suggestions reflect that; on the contrary, many suggest a probing for new sensibilities, to design but also to social life. Many, too, look to the protests against racial injustice that broke out at the top of the summer. So we polled architects—not for their sourdough recipes but their quarantine reads. Below are some of their recommendations, in their own words.

Sara Zewde, founding principal, Studio Zewde

Dark Space: Architecture, Representation, Black Identity by Mario Gooden (Columbia University Press)

Gooden is a professor of practice at Columbia GSAPP, and his 2016 book explores the history, theory, and criticism of Afro-diasporic spatial practices. With an emphasis on notions of culture, Gooden structures the text into five distinct essays on the intersections of architecture, representation, and Black identity. He ties architectural theory to examples of modern and contemporary architecture, pointing readers in the direction of an approach to design powered by Black spatial practice.

Tei Carpenter, founder, Agency—Agency

The Pandemic is a Portal” by Arundhati Roy (essay to be included in her upcoming book Azadi: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction)

Roy, an author and winner of the Man Booker Prize, offers a meditation on the state of things amid the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic in India, laying bare threats to democracy and vulnerabilities of marginalized communities. She identifies the virus first as a rupture and then as a portal, concluding that “[n]othing could be worse than a return to normalcy.” Instead, Roy advocates for the necessity of alternative imaginations for another world… the next world.

Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks

bell hooks’ 1994 book remains an intersectional and critical approach to active pedagogy. It is, in hooks’ words, an “intervention”: a vehicle for learning, relearning, and unlearning how one was educated in school and on the possibility of how to renew and enact an anti-racist model for teaching and building a community of learning.

The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins by Anna Tsing

Anthropologist Anna Tsing’s book is a work of analysis and ethnography that happens to center around the Japanese mushroom matsutake. The most valuable mushroom in the world, matsutake is capable of surviving within and despite highly compromised and contaminated landscapes—indeed, it flourishes in them. Both an aesthetic and ethical narrative, Tsing’s story of a mushroom offers new, hopeful ways to think about resilience, environmental renewal, and survival.

Daniel D’Oca, principal and co-founder, Interboro Partners

Like astronomy, skiing, and playing the violin, I’d always thought of geology as something I’d probably enjoy but never get around to. But the quarantine has opened a window. In recent weeks I’ve been reading “regional geology,” a genre I recommend for its ability to connect you to your surroundings while distancing you from the present reality (and conjuring images of enormous, seemingly immutable landforms that greet pandemics with a shrug). As I’m in the Hudson Valley, the books on my shelf are The Hudson Valley in the Ice Age and The Catskills: A Geological Guide, both by Johanna and Robert Titus.

Jing Liu, cofounder, SO-IL

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf

It was the right time to be reminded of how the impact of colonialism on enslaved and indigenous populations, and that of agriculture on natural resources, was already obvious to people like Alexander von Humboldt, who lived more than two centuries ago. Wulf tells a story about the merit of exploration, not for the purpose of exploitation but as a way to deeply understand our place and responsibility in systems much larger than ourselves. It is a lifetime’s work to conjure such knowledge, cognition, and awareness.

Troy Schaum, founding partner, SCHAUM/SHIEH

On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life
by Sara Ahmed

This book is an exploration of how the aspiration to institutionalize practices of inclusion and anti-racism might reproduce some of the existing patterns of inequality instead. In Ahmed’s account, institutions appear resistant to embodied inclusion and anti-racism, and instead enact diversity as merely symbolic performances. Although it is almost a decade old, On Being Included offers a fresh and detailed ethnographic take on how power operates in institutional settings.

Hilary Sample, principal and co-founder, MOS Architects

There is a constant flow of books, journals, magazines, trade journals, newspapers, texts, emails, blogs moving across our space, tables, and screens. Reading is an essential activity towards design thinking. I have a growing library of writings focused on women artists and architects.

In a Cloud, in a Wall, in a Chair: Six Modernists in Mexico at Midcentury by Zoe Ryan

Augusta Savage, Renaissance Woman by Jeffreen M. Hayes

Daybook: The Journal of An Artist by Anne Truitt

The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

Selected Writings on Design by Anni Albers

Thomas Kelley, cofounder, Norman Kelley

Epics in the Everyday: Photography, Architecture, and the Problem of Realism by Jesus Vassallo

Building on themes present in his brilliant first book, Seamless: Digital Collage and Dirty Realism in Contemporary Architecture, Vassallo’s latest tracks how the subject of realism might untangle photography’s fickle relationship to architecture, and vice versa. Though the structure is seemingly rigid—each architect in the book is paired with a photographer—themes like superficiality and nostalgia are given space to complicate the comparative art-historical method. A must-read for anyone who is tired of hearing the term “post-digital.”

The Man in the Glass House by Mark Lamster
A portrait of Philip Johnson that closely charts his successes as an architect, curator, lover, and political provocateur, as well as his more-than-questionable failures as each. The book reads fast, like a life you wish you could have experienced secondhand.

Lives of the Artists (Volume 1) by Giorgio Vassari
A classic for anyone who likes old biographies and dead gossip.

El Croquis 203: Harquitectes
While I was unfamiliar with the work of Harquitectes prior to this publication, I have become obsessed with their ability to blend sustainability, anonymous form, and brickwork into a coherent project. The issue should also be lauded for its series of fluid yet staccato-like conversations among the firm’s four partners and the principals of amid.cero9. Spain still kills.