In 1920 F Scott Fitzgerald took what turned out to be a rather rocky road trip from Connecticut to Alabama in a used Marmon so Zelda could rekindle with her childhood in the south. His upbeat account of the eight day adventure were later published in book form as The Cruise of the Rolling Junk. Zelda was less generous with the journey writing simply: ‘the joys of motoring are more-or-less fictional’. When building his 1924 Type 35, Ettore Bugatti modelled the engine first in wood to make sure the proportions were right for the car. In 1933 the racing driver Francis Turner was killed while testing Buckminster Fuller’s crazy-shaped three-wheeled Dymaxion since the architect and inventor didn’t bother too much with mastering aerodynamics and proper engineering so his prototype lifted at speed making it impossible to steer or brake as Turner was to tragically discover. The Fiat Lingotto Turin facility and its cinematic pista were the work of a naval architect by the name of Giacomo Matté-Trucco who was inspired by the theories of the Italian Futurists.
These are just some of the myriad of topics gathered from the car-besotted century by Stephen Bayley in his latest book The Age of Combustion – an edited selection of his Octane column, The Aesthete. This is a hugely engaging book and Bayley is a natural raconteur. His writing is erudite but also light and fun – forever weaving his immense pool of knowledge on architecture and design and cinema and literature and life into multiple narratives. Or to quote the industrial designer J Mays: ‘No one articulates the Theatre of Design like Stephen Bayley.’
‘Ultimate Collector Cars‘ is a lavish double-volume book by Charlotte and Peter Fiell documenting history’s one-hundred most collectable cars. It features the landmark 1903 Mercedes-Simplex 40-horsepower, the evocative 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC, iconic Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa of 1957, Bertone’s supremely glorious 1973 Lamborghini Countach and the present-day McLaren Speedtail and Aston Martin Valkyrie hypercars. Expertly researched and beautifully illustrated with archive and studio photography, Taschen’s latest book is a timely ode to the motor car as we enter the new age of the automobile. Read my interview with the authors who discuss their two-year research into this project here.
Mok Wei Wei has shaped a unique identity for his Singapore boutique practice W Architects. During a career spanning over three decades, the award-winning designer and one of Asia’s leading architects has built domestic and commercial projects that offer a unique hybrid of contemporary design needs and urban sensibilities, infused with Chinese traditions and grounded within a local context. Be it designing private homes, apartment complexes, museums or community centres, Mok’s buildings are spatially daring, they are ecologically aware and, best of all, are full of fascinating creative solutions for constructing in a tropical ever-evolving dense Asian metropolis.
Mok Wei Wei: Works by W Architects charts this exceptional career. Published by Thames & Hudson, this visually-engaging and insightful book documents Mok’s designs from the 1980s to the present day to include W Architects’ most significant work – the austere rock that is Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, and the redesign for the National Museum of Singapore. Mok was raised as a Chinese cosmopolitan and schooled in architecture at the height of Postmodernism, and while Singapore forms the backdrop to most of the works featured here, his influence extends far beyond the city-state to the entire region. Written especially for the book, Mok calls for architecture to remain radical and to keep responding to the needs of our ever-evolving societies – words that feel urgent in an increasingly urbanised world.
Takenobu Igarashi’s bold and brilliant three-dimensional letters introduced new ways of expressing symbols. The cult Japanese graphic artist created new forms of visual communication – design that has conceptually altered how we view the medium. A new book celebrates the work of this visionary creative. Takenobu Igarashi: A-Z is an exhaustive guide to his life’s work, his experiments with typography and his methodology. It features Igarashi’s celebrated prints as well as designs published for the first time, and archival plans, drawings and production drafts which reveal the process of thinking, creating and making.
To understand the world of Igarashi, though, is to step back in history and to Japan’s space and place in the story of design. Graphic design played a pivotal role in communicating modern Japan’s position on the world map following the defeat and devastation of World War Two. The success of events such as the 1964 Olympics Games and the 1970 Osaka Expo helped open doors for local designers and brands, who needed a unique visual expression to mark their place on the global market.
Japanese designers worked within the context of international movements, specifically modernism, but also brought to their work elements of tradition, of craft, colour application and poetic symbolism as well as references to local anime and manga. The 70s saw post-modernism enter the discussion with a new breed of graphic artists rebelling against modernism – eschewing the traditional grid pattern in favour of free forms and personal expression. It was within this scene where Igarashi began his personal typology experimentations.
Born in 1944, Igarashi’s visual world was dominated by American culture – the abundance of goods and the bold colourful graphics of Hershey chocolate bars and Lucky Strike cigarettes. He writes in the preface to the book: ‘the colourful American culture symbolised abundance and freedom. Immersing myself in the world of alphabets overlapped with dreaming of the future.’ He became fascinated by the Roman alphabet for it is ‘composed of basic geometric figures, it has a fascinatingly simple structure which makes even the most complex expression possible.’
Igarashi studied at the Tama Art University in the 1960s under the influential graphic designer Akio Kanda – his ‘Pure Graphics’ course introduced experimental methods for planar construction and spatial quality which set the foundation for his typographic practice. Later, while at UCLA, Igarashi met another mentor Mitsuru Kataoka, a pioneer of cutting-edge technology in design practice. In the US he explored the Roman alphabet further and became familiarised with Arabic numerals.
Throughout the 70s and 80s, at his independent studio in Tokyo, Igarashi set out to liberate lettering from the limits of communicative functionality. Working with the fundamental principles of graphics, he started to explore the possibilities of alphabets, using the axonometric method to draw three-dimensional letters. ‘My strong urge to free myself from conventional rules and to go beyond the drawing methods that were technically possible at that time opened up doors to a new world of creating form in infinite variations,’ he says.
Igarashi’s letters are like architecture – meticulously constructed buildings that appear three-dimensional – with the essential geometries of the alphabet, the circle, triangle and square, his building blocks. He writes: ‘The circle as a symbol of perfection is frequently used in composition for the formative nature of a circle’s centre point. The triangle serves directly as an expression of its powerful shape; and the square, with its capacity for space, is a typical framework for design.’ As he concludes in the preface to A-Z, ‘In the journey of making, there is no terminus.’
The city of Yazd is nestled deep in the desert in Iran’s central plain. This world heritage site is home to a mighty collection of domes – structures made entirely from local raw earth bricks and covered in kah-gel, a protective layering of earth and straw. They are intersected with ingenious wind towers too – early air-cons sending cool air into homes. Then, a clever network of wells and underground water channels, known as quanat, provide Yazdis with water collected from mountains and over long distances. There are intricate mansion homes built during the Qajar dynasty (1789-1925) too, some of which have survived the desert climate and even earthquakes. This is urban planning for people and places, with spectacular visceral impact.
We didn’t quite make it to Yazd on a recent trip to Iran – harsh desert storms kept us locked away in nearby Kashan. So, it is hugely exciting to leaf through ‘The Art of Earth Architecture’, and explore the pages dedicated to the raw beauty of Yazd. Published by Thames & Hudson, the book presents a panorama of raw earth structures from around the globe, from ancient times to the present day. And it is a fascinating voyage into an area that seems to have been largely neglected from the history of design. ‘Raw earth is the most humble, most ecological, and most accessible of all construction materials,’ writes the author Jean Dethier in his introduction. ‘It is a treasure lying beneath our feet.’
It turns that for some 10,000 years we have been building homes and schools and palaces and forts and more with raw, unbaked earth. Available in abundance, this simple material is extremely durable and ideal for construction. Often confused with cooked earth (which is treated either baked or fired), raw earth is essentially drawn from the mineral undersoil beneath the fertile land which typically grows crops. There are various forms of raw earth construction too: adobe and rammed earth, cob, wattle, and daub. Civilisations have made villages and cities from this earth, and Dethier sees the material as a means of democratising architecture.
With over 800 photographs and illustrations, the author surveys 450 sites from 75 countries across continents. Featured are the temples and palaces of Mesopotamia and Egypt, the Great Wall of China, the Alhambra in Spain, as well as vernacular heritage and historical cities such as Shibam in Yemen, Djenné in Mali and Marrakech.
Dethier observes contemporary raw earth buildings too – the work of pioneers of modern earth architecture, Francoise Cointereaux and Hassan Fathy, as well as those by celebrated architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, Frances Kéré, Wang Su, Norman Foster and Renzo Piano.
‘The Art of Earth Architecture’ brings together archaeology and history, culture and technology with a speculative eye on how we can harness lessons learned from the ancient art of sustainable raw earth building to benefit the now and the future. Dethier is an architect himself, as well as curator, essayist, and activist who has been awarded the prestigious Grand Prix d’Architecture for his contribution to the democratisation of architectural cultures.
He believes raw earth building to be a viable, ecological alternative to current construction methods, noting that the use of this natural material requires neither industrial transformation nor high energy consumption, and it doesn’t produce harmful gases. The author says contemporary earth architecture has proved its worth in terms of relevance, reliability, and quality, making it a convincing substitute for cement and concrete for small or medium-sized buildings.
The book sets out a bold ecological manifesto with articles by renowned researchers and practitioners – including those of the CRAterre group, the research laboratory on earthen architecture founded in 1979. They provide a radical yet real argument for earth construction to play a much more pivotal role in the fight against climate deregulation. The history of raw architecture is about need, resources, and skills. Writes Dethier: ‘It is vital that we change the economic logic of the building industry, creating a new model that favours the use of local natural resources.’
Jean-Louis Cohen, Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture at New York University Institute of Fine Arts, says the book ‘convincingly demonstrates that the renaissance of earth architecture is no longer merely a pipe dream, but has become a tangible ecological reality – and this is very much thanks to the active militancy of its authors’.
And perhaps the incredible architectural beauty and heritage sites spread across the pages of ‘The Art of Earth Architecture’, including the Yazd that I’m destined to see one day, teach us a valuable lesson: sometimes the best solutions are to be found in the most humble, the most low-tech places. This is the history of buildings and architecture, cities and settlements, of planning spaces for people and places.
‘The Art of Earth Architecture’ by Jean Dethier is published by Thames & Hudson and out on 27 February 2020