January reading list: Design and architecture

By Penny Craswell

January is an excellent time of year to catch up on reading, including those design and architecture books you accumulated during the year but didn’t have time to read, or those you were given for Christmas. Here’s my list.

My January reading list, 2018, Penny Craswell, The Design Writer
My January reading list, 2018

Hello World by Alice Rawsthorn (2013)

At 288 pages, this is a book that can be read straight through like a novel, or dipped into as you like. With chapters like “What is design?” and “Why design is not – and should never be confused with – art”, the book addresses the basics of design in a style that is both straightforward and instantly engaging, but Rawsthorn’s examples are its true strength. Her journalism background means she draws from every element of life, describing, for example, how the pirate flag was an example of early communication design (page 29-30). Thought-provoking reading. Also don’t forget, her new book Design as an Attitude is out this year.

Dezeen Book of Interviews (2014)

This compilation of interviews with designers and architects by London website Dezeen including some excellent reflections by designers including Hella Jongerius, Ilse Crawford, David Adjaye, Formafantasma, Iris Van Herpen, Thomas Heatherwick, Tom Dixon, Rem Koolhaas and more. The questions are different for each designer, revealing a range of interesting answers on various topics. Definitely a good book for dipping into.

What’s So Great About the Eiffel Tower? by Jonathan Glancey (2017)

Across 70+ chapters, this book examines individual buildings, architectural movements and architects across history, exploring the changing nature of how we interpret buildings. For example, Glancey asks whether the Crystal Palace was a one-year wonder or one of history’s most influential buildings; whether concrete is just grim utility or a rock bed of invention; and whether John Pawson is a slight minimalist or quiet visionary. In some cases, the questioning is a conceit, but in many others there is a spirit of revisionist history or philosophical questioning that succeeds in challenging our most fundamental understanding of architecture’s canon.

The White Road by Edmund De Waal (2015)

Not quite as easy a read as De Waal’s The Hare with the Amber Eyes (which reads as a riveting novel), The White Road nevertheless is packed full of ideas, information and history, this time concerning porcelain. The reader can’t help but be drawn into De Waal’s obsessive fascination with “white gold” and this makes it a must-read for ceramicists as well as ceramics historians, curators, collectors or writers. This is a huge book at 400+ pages but even if you only get a quarter of the way through (like I have) it’s still worth it.

Sirius by John Dunn, Ben Peake and Maiera Piscopo (2017)

Published as part of the Save Our Sirius campaign to save a brutalist block of flats in Sydney’s The Rocks from being razed and redeveloped, this book includes a history of the area and origins of the building, details about the brutalist architecture (by Tao Gofers), the politics of its creation and potential destruction, and the people of Sirius, with short essays by some well known Sydney architects and activists. It also features a sizeable section on the residents and their recollections of living there. A fantastic little book on a very important building.

The Maker by Tamara Maynes (2015)

This book combines three books in one (or maybe more than three). The author starts by ruminating on the role of the maker – including her personal history of making – and by listing the skills that you can learn to become a maker (including basketry, papercraft, quilting etc). She also presents a number of short Q&As and quotes with Australian and international makers, offering short insights into the world of making. Finally, she provides instructions on how to make a series of decorative and useful objects for the home. Interesting concept for a book, but might be better for beginners.

Happy: Creating Joyous Living Spaces through Design by Amanda Talbot (2014)

Australian design editor, stylist and consultant Amanda Talbot has put together a design book that also acts as a motivational guide for getting the most out of life. In it, she questions how we live at a fundamental level, asking questions about whether the pursuit of happiness can destroy our chances of being happy, what it’s like to slow down, how watching too much TV can make us unhappy and much much more. The result is a life affirming guide to living that then translates through sumptuous photography into a tangible, visual guide to design. This is a good one.

Barber Osgerby Projects (2017)

London design duo Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby look back on twenty years of their industrial design practice in this book, which features sumptuous imagery of their products throughout their careers. The written text is presented in the form of six essays written on six key projects (mostly object/furniture designs), with each essay based on a conversation that the duo had with someone they worked with on the project, offering insight into the creative process for these projects. A lovely book and will particularly be of interest to industrial designers and furniture designers.

Thank you to Dezeen, Barber Osgerby, Carter Williamson (Sirius) and Murdoch Books (The Maker) for sending me complimentary review copies of books.

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