Submitted by Pappal Suneja

"Book Review Quest" (1960 -1990) floated by AJC+ announces the Winning Entries

India Architecture News - Apr 01, 2021 - 11:49   5874 views

"Book Review Quest" (1960 -1990) floated by Architectural Journalism & Criticism Organisation announces the Winning Entries.

Theme described for the Competition was -

A 'Review’ is putting forward a personal perspective on any book, article, film, event, or product. Reviews allow you to start a conversation on the related topics with the writer and with other readers. You can offer agreement or disagreement and identify where you find the work exemplary or deficient in its knowledge, judgments, or organization. You can clearly state your opinion on the work, which can be a brief description or a “BLURB” in about 500 -1000 words.

The Books chosen for this quest were time framed in the era of 1960–1990. This Open call wished to start new conversations, dialogues, and discussions on some of the famous books and give the readers' minds food for thought within.

The 'Citation Award' goes to Amit Rautela, B Arch. 5th year, School of Architecture and Planning, Sharda University, Greater Noida

Book Reviewed - Robert Venturi: ‘Complexity and Contradiction In Architecture,’ 1966.

“I am for richness of meaning rather than clarity of meaning”, this one statement defines the architecture or design in a most subtle way. Robert Venturi has expressed or exposed architecture where you will always notice the poise and stature he has maintained throughout the writing. Complexity and Contradiction “is” architecture. There will be always literary critique coming throughout the works of an architect and that is one reason he always stands equivalent to an artist. When you try to understand a piece of art, how it is told to you or how you perceive it on your own, you are often not amused from it until it is pleasing to eye or it has a history or story to it. But it is not the job of an architect to work for an entity. His job is to reveal to expose what people rarely see. He observes, he looks more than others and how further he goes determines his potency.

In this book, Venturi has discussed how complexity, distorted and ambiguous in architecture need to be accepted. Architects are selective on their design approach, they cant be solving all the problem and that might make their design less potent. It is power and complexity of art that results in ambiguity and which promotes the term “richness of meaning”. He also tells architecture can be “both-and”, it doesn’t have to be “either-or” in which he mentioned examples like Shodhan House and Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier. How in some places contradiction is adapted and in few places it is juxtaposed to which venturi says contradiction adapted is tolerant. It admits improvisation and ends in qualification, on the other hand contradiction juxtaposed is unbending and ends in unresolved and impure. As Louis Kahn said: It is the role of design to adjust to the circumstantial. Venturi has also mentioned the balance and tension between rectilinear and diagonal forms. He says how Mies was consistent with his points, planes and rectilinear designs of pavilions and when he uses diagonal like in his courthouse projects of 1930, there is a little tension between the rectangular and diagonal whereas Wright when uses diagonal he prefer it keeping hidden like his staircase hanging, his driveway in plan of falling tower and then Le Corbusier who prefer keeping diagonal in his design exposed like in Villa Savoye. Inside and outside is other interesting concept he discussed here, how necessary it is to maintain the continuity or whether the inside should be expressed on the outside. The mentioned examples which works towards the unity or whole rather than an individual building. A building can be complex from inside, but from outside it relates and maintains unity to its adjacent building. Although many architects say the design starts from within and grows outside, but venturi concludes that designing from both ends is necessary since it creates tension which helps make architecture. Venturi says since inside differs from outside the wall, the point of change becomes an architectural event. Architecture occurs at the meeting of interior and exterior forces of use and space.

It is how we see this book written in 1966, as Venturi compares architecture with T. S. Eliot’s analysis of difficult poetry, that building is much more than a human habitation. It is his experience from inside and outside. It is continuously developing, and it is important for us to keep such intricate details in our mind when we are in the craft. I will conclude this book by saying that it is the tension, complexity and ambiguity that results in the qualification of architecture.  


'Special Mention Award I’ goes to Parichita Mohapatra, Assistant Professor, Gopalan School of Architecture, Bangalore.

Book Reviewed–The Image of the City, Kevin A. Lynch, 1960.

Hallelujah!! Reviewing a book that was released over two decades prior to my existence, when the author’s soul too had departed from here, is definitely not going to be a child’s play. The book, by the American urban planner, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Kevin Andrew Lynch, “The Image of the City” (1960), is an exhaustive inclusion of the look of the cities, their structure, visual and spatial characteristics, and the city image development, established by the connect that shifts, turns, meanders, revolves and interweaves, perfectly, the threads, in and around ‘the observer’ and ‘the observed’, which is described at several instances in the book, as a two-way process. The tone of the book is found to be speculative, tentative and presumptuous.

The extensive study behind the book encapsulates the lengthy interviews of citizens, talking about their first impressions and experiences, their mystic instincts of way finding ranging from well-controlled ones to chaotic ones and the not-so-happy ones to the delightful and memorable ones. The book elaborately describes the learning from three cities, Boston, Jersey and Los Angeles, their visual form at the urban scale, examples of parts of these cities, components of the image of a city environment- the legibility, the process of building the image, structure, identity and imageability, and these urban dynamics go back and forth to relate to relevant mentions of specific areas of these cities, until the final culmination with the finding of the principles of city design, a construction in space, one of a vast scale, which is justifiably considered as a temporal art, to achieve an imageable landscape - identifiable, visible, coherent and clear, if not beautiful. A beautiful and delightful city environment is a subject of oddity as stated by the author.

The book beautifully describes the city as perceived by its users owing to the social role it plays and the emotional security it offers. Why I call the description beautiful is because of the simple yet strong justification it carries.

“Common memories of the ‘hometown’ were often the first and easiest point of contact between lonely soldiers during the war”.

I find it so apt and relatable.

“The sweet sense of home is strongest when home is not only familiar but distinctive as well.”

With this note, the author mentions the positive values of legible surroundings that one misses and the pleasures that are restricted because of the chaotic city images. The challenge of the city image being tested against the filtered perceptual input, in a constant interacting process, that subjects the image to a significant variation, is a matter of concern. Long familiarity or a stereotype image of a striking physical feature creates a powerful impression in the user’s mind.

“An American can always spot the corner drugstore, however indistinguishable it might be to a Bushman.”

Along with the detailed description of the parts of a city image, paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks, the book also throws light on the characteristics of an environmental image, its identity or oneness, structure or pattern relation and meaning or the associated emotional value. Not to forget, to derive meaning from a city form is not a very simple affair and so is not dealt with in this book.

It is a must mention that the author has used simple and relatable examples to explain larger and complex urban factors. The examples of a camouflaged animal or of a maze or labyrinth, or of The Everest or even the relation of the church choir inside with the bells above, deserve an applaud.

The book identifies the problem of environmental imageability, the challenge to identify the parts and to structure the whole, as a new one, as the primitive man could only afford to cater to the basic needs of food and shelter.

The inclusions of definitions by other activists and planners makes the book even more interesting, like the capsule definition of architecture by Suzanne Langer,

“It is the total environment made visible”.

The three cities are portrayed realistically, be it the vivid form of Boston, the formlessness of Jersey or the grid-iron plan of Los Angeles, and the common themes shared by them are also discussed with sufficient examples.

Another good mention in the book is the missing links of Boston, along with the explanation of possible contributing factors responsible for their disappearance in the revelation by the representatives. The book gives importance to societal stratification, the socio-economic culture and also the age contrast in the built fabric, and describes their roles in shaping the image of the city.

It encompasses the study of the environmental image giving focus to the visual and spatial character, except for a few places where emphasis is given to the tactile aspects, the paved walkways or the cobbled street or the plant detailing along the driveways or the smell of candies and candles, like in the Plaza Olvera Street. The description of the smog and haze tormenting the city dwellers and diluting the urban scape in Los Angeles hints at the extensive study done behind this book. The book contains very good maps and interpretations of the same.

The mention of ‘The Sun’ as a landmark or of ‘The Expressway’ being visualized as ‘path’ for a driver and ‘edge’ for a pedestrian seems to be so accurate and fascinating. Many other examples like these seem to draw the reader’s attention. The best part of the book being the inclusion of the words quoted by the subjects.

However, the examples of the three cities in the second half of the book becomes somewhat confusing to relate to, which may lead to loss of connection with the reader.

To sum up, definitely this book is very informative. If I ‘d to mark it on a scale of ten, I would give it seven marks for the quantum of knowledge it transfers to the reader and the powerful impression it leaves in their minds. 

'Special Mention Award II’ goes to Sneha Danai, Sinhgad College of Architecture, Pune.

Book Reviewed - Design of Cities by Edmund Bacon, 1967.

Design of Cities: a 333 paged book was published in the United States of America in 1967. "The Father of Modern Philadelphia", an American urban planner, architect, and educator - Edmund Bacon after his successfully popular book, Man and the Modern City (1963) came up with the Design of Cities, a book that will take you to history and back to present to let you know how the cities grown. Highly influenced by Paul Klee's drawings and quotes, he proves that designing a space begins right at one's self. Man is a tiny part of the universe, however, related to the whole. He wrote the book being a participator in his current historical past of the rebirth of Philadelphia back then.

If you would cook architectural design, the key ingredients in your recipe are mass, and space, for the essence of design, lies in the interrelation of these two. With mass is the man and space, the universe, the thing that binds them together is the architectural form which is affected by the cultures. The author explains this theory using Francesco Guardi's drawing, telling us how important it is to be in the design, to design!

Basically, the book can be divided into three tenses - past, present, and future. From the discovery of perspective in Vignola's book to Stockholm, which stands as the best example of designing in all aspects. From the growth of the Greek cities to discussing the future of cities as the amalgamation of planning and architecture. Edmund Bacon explains how Greece disturbs its harmony in design by integrating the Odedion, which he thinks was dominating other space, something that I didn't find pretty convincing. Taking you through the timeline of the Miletus- the Greek, the Hellenistic, and then the Roman, one can see how the city eventually grew from the basic design of Hippodamus's rhythmic square. He also compares the design of a city produced by one and by multiple persons- Priene and Camirus, respectively.

Walking down the Panathenaic way of Athens, you will reach the Route of Triumphal Procession in Rome where, unlike Greece, the author sums up the city as togetherness, explored geometry, and balanced scale. Moving to the medieval design, the City of Todi will bring to you the play of views. And I think Edmund should have summarized the medieval city design as a segment: two defined endpoints with significant structures emphasizing the space. Succeeding Renaissance and Baroque movements that started in Rome brought major changes like Michelangelo's act of will; single movement system getting developed as an Early Renaissance to High Renaissance to Mannerism and finally Baroque; the surrounding design that came into the picture. Baroque is the time where the author makes a strong statement- “..chaotic and see no major achievements of Sixtus V.." which you will find completely wrong as you make up to the 18th and 19th century where you realize that, Sixtus V was the one who laid foundations of the beautiful designs by Rainaldi, Bernini and Fontana, and Valadier. The 18th and 19th century is a whole new transformation to the architecture world. The shaft, the principle of scale by plane, the evolution of space and development of Paris, which is itself a long chapter to talk about. With modernization stepping in, Edmund says it's a tragedy of the London people that they neither understood the architecture nor tried to preserve it, instead ruined it with high-rise structures welcoming the present-day cities of the world in the 21st century where the buildings don't relate themselves to the ground as they used to in ancient times. The book concludes with its views on decision making and its implementation in the planning of Philadelphia- the city of the author itself.

The complete book revolves around the concept of movement. Think of a city as a tree, a tree that grows, a tree that shrinks, or a tree that can be replanted. Branches form the simultaneous movement system, which with no doubt is the main core that brings harmony in design. The type, color, texture, and shape of the tree also play a part in the experiencer's perception. Edmund Bacon on page number 41, leaves us with a thought for life about the ways of perceiving space although missed out on explaining the effect of the world war on city designs. I would recommend this book to those that ought for a finer bodily expression of man's inner desire and aspirations in a city of their own or different.


Certificate of Appreciation_1: Cornèl Hugo, Graduate Architect

Book Reviewed - A Pattern Language - Christopher Alexander, 1977.

No pattern is an isolated entity. In returning to Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, I found myself arrested by these words. Captivated by the simple brief paragraph describing a network of interconnections with larger patterns ‘above’ and smaller patterns ‘below’. It is certainly not unfamiliar imagery to a woman who grew up with, and often takes for granted, the global network that constitutes the internet. Yet, reading them again, during a global pandemic, I understand the words differently. I cannot help but wonder if there was a time in the 44 years since its publication that the line ‘no pattern is an isolated entity’ could have resonated more? Somehow, I doubt it.

It resonated so much, in fact, that I have taken some liberty with (and inspiration from) Alexander’s seminal work to illustrate why I think A Pattern Language is still one of the most widely read architectural treatises in our ever-changing, fast-paced world.


A Pattern Language should be read in conjunction with Alexander’s other work; The Timeless Way of Building (255), THE OREGON EXPERIMENT (256) and The City is not a Tree (257).

We find ourselves confronted with the necessity of change. Our modern lives are so networked that to be ignorant of the way we affect and are affected by those around us is no longer a viable way to live or design.

It’s been repeated ad nauseum that the year 2020 was unprecedented. If ever there was tangible proof of our global interconnectedness, it is the rapid spread of data, from ideas to COVID-19, this past year. Almost overnight, many people were required to reshape their immediate environments to make it more compatible with our viral society fundamentally shaped by who or what we are connected to. Bedrooms became offices, dining tables morphed into class rooms and sofa’s quasi lecture halls bringing to life the patterns of SCATTERED WORK (9), WORKSPACE ENCLOSURE (183) and NETWORKS OF LEARNING (18), only not in the way Alexander had originally envisaged. The domestic space expanded and the everyday routines we took for granted in and around the city moved into the private sphere or disappeared altogether.

One of A Pattern Language’s key strengths is the evocative descriptions of normal (although the word ‘normal’ has shifted in meaning) life and places it depicts. He rejoiced in the little things we all came to miss during lockdown. The pattern MAGIC OF THE CITY (10) described as centers with a unique and exciting sense of place along with NIGHT LIFE (33) and SHOPPING STREET (32) defines some of those aspects of pre-pandemic life we’ve taken for granted and can no longer practice as we once did because of introducing face-masks and social-distancing. Even the pattern WINDOWS OVERLOOKING LIFE (192) has taken on new meaning with many of us ‘overlooking life’ through the blue-framed light of our computer screens. These windows have proven poor substitutes for an actual ACCESSIBLE GREEN (60), LOCAL SPORTS (72) and walking along a PEDESTRIAN STREET (100).

Other patterns, Alexander himself seemed to take for granted. He failed to acknowledge the political importance and power of bodies in physical public space in SMALL PUBLIC SQUARES (61), DANCING IN THE STREET (63) which is a common form of protest in my home; South Africa and LOCAL TOWN HALL (44). Virtual versions of city centers and public squares have fallen far short of their physical counterparts. Access to the internet is unequal globally and the disappearance of people from view has silenced many vulnerable and minority voices as showed by the rise in gender-based violence during the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.

There are patterns within the book that have dated, others that are particularly Western in nature and many that are subjective. This has not lessened my delight in rediscovering Alexander’s influential work. My advice to new and returning readers is simply this;

Use a Pattern Language to foster a renewed appreciation of those ordinary interactions that were once taken for granted and might no longer be possible. Keep the image of the interconnected, enmeshed network of our lives that Alexander describes in mind as you (re)design your intimate spaces, walk the city after lockdown and virtually or physically engage with others.

The way we acknowledge and allow the pandemic to change us can take many forms. I now read A Pattern Language similarly to the Software Developers for whom Alexander has become a bit of a cult figure1; like a framework for a design that you can plug your own content into. If you read his introduction, you’ll realise that was exactly Alexander’s intention–that each reader would make this work his own. It was a challenge I gladly accepted. A Pattern Language proposes that we see the world as a connected whole. If 2020 has taught us anything; that is exactly what we are.


Certificate of Appreciation_2: Shlok Sonawane, Vidyavardhan’s Institute Of Design Environment and Architecture (IDEA), Nashik

Book Reviewed - The Barefoot Architect: A Handbook for Green Building, Johan Van Lengen, 1981.

‘The Barefoot Architect- A handbook for green buildings’ by Johan van Lengen  the book was initially written in Spanish in the 1980s and was later reprinted by Shelter Publications in 2008.

As the title itself hints the book to be a manual for green building, the author introduces by saying that the phrase ‘Barefoot architect’ refers to those early architects who used to mix the adobe by treading mud with their bare feet. Along with providing solutions for a sustainable approach towards architecture, the author also promises to describe the relationship between the house and the environment considering the aspects such as the micro and the macroclimate, the materials, and the construction techniques.

As the introduction explains the book to be ‘a manual for those who dream to build home’, the language of the book is kept simple so that even an amateur will understand the solutions and the principles explained in it. With a majority of the concepts explained using simple sketches and graphics with a minimal amount of text, the overall content becomes interesting.

At a first glance, the book may appear to be more explaining the traditional techniques but it includes modern techniques as well. However, Johan van Lengen’s approach towards these solutions by using the traditional as well as modern techniques makes the overall manual timeless. Using the same approach and the ideology of the author, Barefoot Architect holds a sound place to provide solutions for the future as well.

The book includes various sections, starting with the first chapter called Design that talks about making drawings, house forms, step-by-step guide of building houses and layouts, siting of house and the impact of the environment on the house followed by designing and planning the settlements. The next three chapters are a discussion of three major climatic zones viz. Humid tropics, dry tropics, and temperate. The next section talks about materials, right from the selections of the material and then the discussions on a variety of materials such as earth, sand, lime, wood, cactus, bamboo, sisal, and seacrete. Later the discussion moves towards the construction phase, followed by the chapter on energy that includes heat and motion, mills, and solar energy. The next two chapters talk about the other essential services that are water and sanitation. The overall organization of the chapters has been done systematically of starting from simple ideas and then discussing the complex ones.

The manual constantly focuses on using local techniques, climatic conditions, and the local materials also suggesting to avoid imitating the style and construction techniques from the other regions. The author also explains the impact of the neighboring buildings on the wind patterns, directions, the sun path and light, and the other site conditions and not just simple site analysis based on the overall climatic conditions of the region.

Although the book makes a lot of use of graphics and explains the vast subject ranging from the simple necessity of making drawings to a step-by-step guide of building houses, the settlements in different climates, the construction methods and materials, and the other essential services the book delimits itself in providing the solutions and giving patterns for designing, the book does not include or mention any cases from the history of interpretation from the precedence. The strategies provided in the book cover most of the climatic conditions for various reasons, making it a guide to building houses in any climatic conditions and not just limiting itself to a particular zone.

The overall manual is promising in providing sustainable solutions with sufficient detail and interesting graphics chronologically explaining the concepts makes the book a great guide for the architects, builders and owners who are seeking to find solutions in designing and building the houses.


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