Favourite Books of January

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I really, really, really love architecture.

In fact up until a few years ago the plan was to marry an architect. Not only because I wanted a beautiful house, but because I love how architects’ minds work; in colours, shapes, spaces, dimensions and emotions. Given that I have no plans for matrimony anytime soon (re: ever), and because my mind also works this way, I have decided it is time to give up on romance in favour of becoming an architect myself.

The timing of this epiphany was reasonably unfortunate; I was halfway through a Masters degree in Cultural Materials Conservation, and the thought of changing my whole professional trajectory after so many years of hard work and dedication was exhausting to contemplate.

I certainly haven’t given up on realising my architectural dreams, however; gone are the days of entering the work force at sixteen and staying in the same industry, sometimes even the same company, for your entire working life. Statistics indicate that today young professionals in my age bracket, and in subsequent generations, are likely to five or six different careers, often in completely different and unrelated industries each time. There is hope for me yet… maybe just ten or fifteen years down the track.

In the meantime, I have been satiating my architectural desires with (surprise, surprise), books. The January edition of my monthly Book Review will consequently focus on three of my favourite architectural offerings; each, in its own right, communicates the power of space, and spaces, in shaping both how we see the world and our place within local and global communities.

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The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us by Joel Katkin.

Katkin analyses the role cities play in shaping how we live and our levels of contentment. This is architecture as urbanism, and takes place on a grand scale; at one end as high density housing, and at the other extreme, as ubiquitous urban sprawl.

While defining exactly what characterises a global city, Kotkin raises some unsettling points; can architecture be used to reinforce class and racial segregation in urban centres? What affect does migration have on housing affordability? Is smaller really better?

He also highlights more fundamental, sweeping issues facing the global community as we make the active choice to move toward mega-city urban models. For example, does the prevalence of high-density housing necessitate an increase in slum living for lower and middle-income earners? Is the increasing uniformity of major global cities leading to a loss of collective identity among residents? Do high-density housing models lead directly to increased levels of depression? What is the role of ‘built’ public space? And, most importantly, are the architects, developers and urban planners who are building our cities actually listening to feedback from those living in them; the average citizen?

Given Kotkin’s necessary emphasis on statistics, this is definitely more ‘textbook’ than ‘novel’. It is, however, an incredibly interesting read, and an important and necessary rumination on the role architecture and urban geography play in the lives of ordinary citizens.

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Radical Cities: Across Latin America in search of new architecture by Justin McGuirk.

The form, function and structure of various cities across Latin America are analysed in this brilliant little book to consider how architecture can be used as a tool; one capable of addressing cycles of poverty, inequality and violence.

Spanning from Brazil to Venezuela, Mexico to Argentina, McGuirk chronicles the role of architecture in the lives of citizens, including those in the famous ‘barrio’ (slums). Activist architects, maverick politicians, corrupt officials, altruistic community leaders and organised crime syndicates all lend a hand in shaping the physical geography of these cities, and therefore their social landscapes as well.

Latin America is presented here as both the playground and graveyard of some of the most innovative and experimental architectural solutions to social and political problems, and McGuirk does an admirable job of weaving a narrative that is at once informative and entertaining. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

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Cabin Porn: Inspiration for your quiet place somewhere by Steven Leckart and Zach Klein.

When I first saw the name of this book in a Melbourne store, I laughed aloud. Featuring sumptuous photography of some of the most simple but beautiful cabins from around the world, for the architectural enthusiast, ‘porn’ really isn’t such a bad analogy.

This is my go-to book when I am feeling down; there’s nothing like a celebration of simply living, small environmental footprints and quality architectural design to buoy the spirits.

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