Historical and theoretical aspects of architecture are covered in several notable new books.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK: HOW THE APARTMENT HOUSE TRANSFORMED THE LIFE OF THE CITY (1869-1930), by Elizabeth Hawes (Alfred A. Knopf, 286 pp., $30), is a smoothly written, surprisingly engaging tale of the transformation of New Yorkers from house dwellers to apartment dwellers in the course of 60 years.
What could have been a dreary sociological tract on the shift to apartments is in fact a lively story. Successive waves of immigration poured into New York City beginning in the 1830s. These population pressures ratcheted up the need for housing, forcing the city constantly to remake itself. Tenement houses spread throughout the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
The "landscape of the city was ragged, for it was breaking down and building up at the same time," Hawes writes. The tremendous upheaval, literally tearing down old buildings and putting up new ones, created what the editor, novelist, and essayist William Dean Howells described as a "savage anarchy of shapes."
"Finally, as the grim realities of tenement life began to register on writers, photographers, and then on the general public," Hawes writes, "the city sponsored a series of model tenement-house competitions, beginning in 1896."
The New York competition of 1896 has an interesting echo in Chicago this year. An exhibition called the "Chicago Tribune Architecture Competition for Public Housing" is currently on display at the Chicago Athenaeum (see listing on Page 10). The show includes 54 drawings by architects and designers suggesting improvements in Chicago's drug- and crime-ridden Cabrini Green public-housing project, which has come to represent for Chicagoans the failure of government-sponsored shelter.
Hawes quotes a 1929 prediction in American Architecture magazine that apartment architecture would represent a kind of common denominator. "It will be semi-public, hard, intricate, and vast; an architecture of speed, precision, and movement." That's a description of modern architecture that stands true even at the end of the century.
MODERN LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: A CRITICAL REVIEW, edited by Marc Treib (MIT Press, 294 pp., $45), provides a look at the history and conceptual development of a discipline that few people know anything about. A list of the grand masters of modern American landscape architecture - Garrett Eckbo, Dan Kiley, James Rose, and Thomas Church - will generally elicit only blank stares. Yet landscape architecture has come a long way from its early anonymity. This book charts the course of that development in 23 es says by some of those pioneers and by contemporary experts, including editor Marc Treib, a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley.
No book on this subject would be complete without a discussion of the influence of Frederick Law Olmsted, the urban planner and landscape designer who created New York's Central Park and was responsible for the master plan of the World's Columbian Exhibition at Chicago in 1893 (the site is now Jackson Park). For Olmsted, natural scenery was needed "to counterpoise the glittering mass of the building complexes," writes Catherine Howett.
The process of designing buildings and their grounds has become increasingly more integrated in this century. Architects have redefined their use of "landscape as the continuation of architecture and the binder of building complexes rather than as a green buffer separating buildings," Treib writes. In the same period, landscape architects' purview has broadened from intimate private gardens to wide corporate campuses. Eckbo, Kiley, and Rose, writing in Architectural Record in 1939, pointed to a trend of "cities redesigned for living." This book shows that the process continues.
BRICKWORK: ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN, by Andrew Plumridge and Wim Meulenkamp (Harry N. Abrams, 224 pp., $39.95). While less academic and more visually arresting than the other two, this book is a serious piece of history worth reading as well as leaving out on the coffee table. Describing brick as the "principal building material of the world," authors Andrew Plumridge and Wim Meulenkamp take the reader on an encyclopedic journey that ranges from visiting a breathtaking church in Copenhagen to the remains of brick columns on a Mississippi plantation. Though the mortar recipes, kiln designs, and wall-building techniques may be too detailed for some readers, the book is full of reminders of the important role brick plays. After all, under the stainless steel and glass on its roof, New York City's famous Chrysler Building is still a pile of bricks.