New Books Tell the Stories of Those Who Followed the Urge To Build

Architects express their ideas in homes, cathedrals, barns

THE go-go 1980s are clearly over as far as architecture-book publishing is concerned. Gone are the brassy, bold monographs filled with new works by postmodern architects. What remains are a few thoughtful, well-planned projects. Here are brief glimpses of several current releases:

Patricia Bayer's "Art Deco Architecture: Design, Decoration, and Detail from the Twenties and Thirties" (Abrams, 224 pp., $49.50) is a monument to the imagination.

Art Deco was truly a worldwide movement. Bayer guides the reader through a profusion of buildings that were precursors to Art Deco. She then embarks on an exhilarating tour of the international exhibitions between 1925 and 1940 that served as grand showplaces for Art Deco style.

Art Deco buffs who enjoy this book should also search out the 1989 volume published by Abrams called "Art Nouveau and Art Deco Silver" by Annelies Krekel-Aalberse. While narrowly focused on silverwork, the book is an excellent complement to Bayer's comprehensive volume.

Meredith L. Clausen's "Spiritual Space: The Religious Architecture of Pietro Belluschi" (University of Washington Press, 128 pp., $50) makes an elegant case for the successful fit between Belluschi's churches and their congregations.

Clausen also explains Belluschi's dilemma. After World War II, many churches expanded and built new edifices. The architecture of these new structures had to incorporate a balance between the faith and hope that a new building always represents and the growing secular demands on churches and synagogues as they increasingly served as multifunctional community centers.

In an article by Belluschi excerpted at the back of the book, he spells out some of his thoughts on religious buildings: "To design a house of worship is in effect to explore our relationship with God and to search for an understanding of the nature of religion as an institution.... By what means should a church building strive to express its transcendent purpose?"

Clausen explores many of Belluschi's attempts to craft an answer to that question - churches and synagogues that are spare, refined, and tuned-in to the faith of their congregations.

Houses have always been designed as bulwarks against the vagaries of climate. The idea of cooperating with the environment has been anathema to most designers. In "The Naturally Elegant Home: Environmental Style" (Little, Brown, 232 pp., $45), Janet Marinelli debunks the common belief that environmentally sensitive homes are basically unfit for habitation.

Unreliable energy-saving gimmicks and gizmos dating back to the oil crisis of 1973 have "been elevated to flawless engineering and fine art," writes Marinelli. This book shows the magnificent possibilities and the practical realities of environmental design. The book gravitates from a rarified "HG"-style presentation at the beginning to a gritty and practical diagrammatic format by the end.

"Barn: The Art of a Working Building" by Elric Endersby et al. (Houghton Mifflin, 256 pp., $50) takes the reader back to a time when life hugged the earth. Basic structures fitted their locales because they were made with whatever material was available.

Whether one's forebears came from Essex, England, or Eiderstedt, Germany, or Nievwer Ter Aa, Holland, this book shows what farm life was like in the old country.

In the New World, immigrants started with designs brought over from their home countries. They adapted rapidly to fit the challenges of new climates. In the march across the American frontier, each time a family moved to a new piece of land, the barn was the first structure to go up. When that was done, the settlers built a house.

Frank Lloyd Wright, probably America's best-known, most-loved architect, left a legacy that is justly exploited by Carla Lind's "The Wright Style: Recreating the Spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright" (Simon & Schuster, 224 pp., $50).

Lind provides an insightful rationale for Wright's enduring popularity: "Wright's commissions were not all as grand as the Dana and Martin houses [two of his famous commissions]. Most were for middle-class business people who had a sense of adventure but a more modest budget."

Adventure on a budget. That concept is as American as apple pie. But Wright never got too outrageous. He embraced two ideas: a readiness to explore new technologies and reverence for the working classes.

A delightful section of this book focuses on "The Wright Influence." Lind chronicles the work of many architects and designers who are carrying Wright's ideas into modern and unexpected settings. Lind also explores the ways in which people had to make accomodations to live in their artistic, but sometimes inconvenient, Wright homes. The book concludes with a directory of sources, materials, and furniture reproductions that will be a boon for anyone with serious do-it-yourself tendencies.

Julius Posener's "Hans Poelzig: Reflections on His Life and Work" (The Architectural History Foundation/MIT Press, 287 pp., $50) is a personal tribute by the student (Posener) to his mentor. This book demonstrates that the memoir is one of the most digestible forms of historical writing.

While Posener's style is brusque and spare, the storytelling is heartfelt and compelling. The book not only pays tribute to Poelzig but also manages to endear the reader to the author as well. Though other German Expressionist architects are better remembered than Poelzig (and Posener specifically does not group him with them), Poelzig's memory is well served by this testimonial.

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