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The Case for Improvisation

When this book first appeared in 1972, it was part of the spirit that would define a new architecture and design era--a new way of thinking ready to move beyond the purist doctrines and formal models of modernism. Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver’s book was a manifesto for a generation that took pleasure in doing things ad hoc, using materials at hand to solve real-world problems. The implications were subversive. Turned-off citizens of the 1970s immediately adopted the book as a DIY guide.

Artists as Cartographers

From Guy Debord in the early 1950s to Richard Long, Janet Cardiff, and Esther Polak more recently, contemporary artists have returned again and again to the walking motif. Today, the convergence of global networks, online databases, and new tools for mobile mapping coincides with a resurgence of interest in walking as an art form. In Walking and Mapping, Karen O’Rourke explores a series of walking/mapping projects by contemporary artists.

The Science of Social Space

In mid-twentieth century France, the term “social space” (l’espace social)—the idea that spatial form and social life are inextricably linked—emerged in a variety of social science disciplines. Taken up by the French New Left, it also came to inform the practice of urban planning. In The View from Above, Jeanne Haffner traces the evolution of the science of social space from the interwar period to the 1970s, illuminating in particular the role of aerial photography in this new way of conceptualizing socio-spatial relations.

Mapping, Technology, and Politics

The maps in this book are drawn with satellites, assembled with pixels radioed from outer space, and constructed from statistics; they record situations of intense conflict and express fundamental transformations in our ways of seeing and of experiencing space. These maps are built with Global Positioning Systems (GPS), remote sensing satellites, or Geographic Information Systems (GIS): digital spatial hardware and software designed for such military and governmental uses as reconnaissance, secrecy, monitoring, ballistics, the census, and national security.

Today, spaces no longer represent a bourgeois haven; nor are they the sites of a classical harmony between work and leisure, private and public, the local and the global. The house is not merely a home but a position for negotiations with multiple spheres—the technological as well as the physical and the psychological. In A Topology of Everyday Constellations, Georges Teyssot considers the intrusion of the public sphere into private space, and the blurring of notions of interior, privacy, and intimacy in our societies.

Architecture depends—on what? On people, time, politics, ethics, mess: the real world. Architecture, Jeremy Till argues with conviction in this engaging, sometimes pugnacious book, cannot help itself; it is dependent for its very existence on things outside itself. Despite the claims of autonomy, purity, and control that architects like to make about their practice, architecture is buffeted by uncertainty and contingency. Circumstances invariably intervene to upset the architect’s best-laid plans—at every stage in the process, from design through construction to occupancy.

“Where does the city without gates begin? Perhaps inside that fugitive anxiety, that shudder that seizes the minds of those who, just returning from a long vacation, contemplate the imminent encounter with mounds of unwanted mail or with a house that’s been broken into and emptied of its contents. It begins with the urge to flee and escape for a second from an oppressive technological environment, to regain one’s senses and one’s sense of self.”
--from Lost Dimension

Collected Essays on Architecture and the City

Born in Tokyo, educated in Japan and the United States, and principal of an internationally acclaimed architectural practice, celebrated architect Fumihiko Maki brings to his writings on architecture a perspective that is both global and uniquely Japanese. Influenced by post-Bauhaus internationalism, sympathetic to the radical urban architectural vision of Team X, and a participant in the avant-garde movement Metabolism, Maki has been at the forefront of his profession for decades.

The Urban Utopia in France, 1960–1970

Amid the cultural and political ferment of 1960s France, a group of avant-garde architects, artists, writers, theorists, and critics known as “spatial urbanists” envisioned a series of urban utopias--phantom cities of a possible future. The utopian “spatial” city most often took the form of a massive grid or mesh suspended above the ground, all of its parts (and inhabitants) circulating in a smooth, synchronous rhythm, its streets and buildings constituting a gigantic work of plastic art or interactive machine.


Architecture has always been intimately intertwined with its social, political, and economic contexts; major events in world history have had correspondingly dramatic effects on the discipline. The Great Depression, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Hurricane Katrina, for example, were all catalysts for architectural response and resulted in a diversification of the architect’s portfolio. Yet far too often, architects simply react to changes in the world, rather than serving as agents of change themselves.

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