Saturday, September 25, 2010

(Book #33) Peter Eisenman - House of Cards

A few weeks ago, I was looking through the massive architectural books collection at the Brand Library in Glendale, and found architect Peter Eisenman's book 'House of Cards'. I was very excited to discover this book, as it is extremely rare and even looking for it online proves fruitless or too expensive. The book documents Eisenman's syntaxical processes of designing six residences over the course of a decade (mid 60's through 70's). We are presented with a great many sketches, diagrams, studies, models and photographs that reenact the sequence of design of these pieces of architecture. Most of the book is comprised of these images, however there were 3 different essays spliced together to form a layered commentary of, by and against Eisenman's use of syntax in design. The writings were varied in their content, with the piece by the architect himself providing an added layer of meaning to the methodology. It was also stressed that the primary content of the book was the architecture itself, which had to be "read" in its own fashion.

As students of architecture, we are effectively taught how to read a building; Architecture "speaks" and there is something inherent and special that can be understood by experiencing it firsthand. If we cannot understand a space in person, we are left to infer the design intent from images in books. 'House of Cards' makes it clear that these homes are almost entirely about process, a logic or pattern that is established by Eisenman and the forms blossom from sketched out ideas to fully fleshed out structures. It is understandable that this generative approach would not appeal to many designers, however it does align with some of my personal design sentiments. Having finally read this book, I found it a great resource and would love to eventually find another copy for my personal collection. Alas, for now I will have to remain content in returning it to the shelves of the Brand Library and sharing it with everyone else.

(Book #32) Stephen Hawking - A Brief History of Time

A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking, is a book for those that are interested in the science of the cosmos but are non-scientists themselves. Throughout the book, Hawking manages to take some of the more mind boggling aspects of physics, such as relativity and quantum mechanics, and break them down into a language that inquisitive mind can follow (mostly). Sure, any reader could get a bit lost in some of the concepts, but Hawking manages to keep the discourse grounded in a way that the content can be brought to the masses very much in the tradition of Carl Sagan. Hawking clearly has such an incredible understanding of these immense subjects that the book could have easily strayed into the overly technical and speculative. Having only read segments of this book previously, It was refreshing to reengage and follow through with the subject matter and grasp some of the more complicated temporal concepts. The book acknowledges the fact that our understanding of the universe is constantly evolving and that some of the theories written about may someday seem as antiquated and inaccurate as "the world is flat". With Hawking originally having written this in the late 80's, one cannot help but think about how much more has already been explored and understood just in the last 20 years. We are left with a sense of wonder about new discoveries on the horizon and what these advances would mean for the human species as a whole.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

(Book #31) Herman Hesse - Siddhartha

I initially picked up Herman Hesse's 'Siddhartha', with the belief that it was a story about the Buddha and that it would provide a little more insight into that religion. I was surprised to find out that it was not so much a story about the Buddha or even the Buddhist religion (even though he is encountered), but more of a cross section through a multitude of Eastern traditions, beliefs and worldviews. The story embodies many classic narrative devices, but this quest for Truth was something more unclear and intangible than the typical "Hero's Journey". We follow the titular character, Siddhartha, wise beyond his years even at the outset of the story, through a variety of encounters and relationships throughout his life as he searches for self fulfillment. It is a lonely journey and one that we all share to some capacity. As with many stories there are twists, turns and distractions from the initial goal and the character often forgets what it was he was looking for to begin with. It is ultimately discovered it in the most unlikely of places and we are left with the real question of what one does once it is found. On the whole, 'Siddhartha' contained a good deal of theological nourishment for any reader to chew on.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

(Book #29) Black Elk Speaks & (Book #30) Shit My Dad Says

Once again, I have gotten a bit behind on the write-ups for the books I have read. This year has been plowing along at an incredible pace, and when combined with other activities and obligations, it has resulted in a sense of urgency to get these books done. The writing aspect of this challenge also takes up a fair amount of time when done thoroughly. Ultimately the goal is the reading and not necessarily the writing, which was more of an afterthought and a device to help process what I have read and collect my thoughts and opinions on the subject matter. This is not to say that I won't be doing the writings, but there will likely be more concise blurbs and less essays unless, of course, the urge to gush, rant or vent is overwhelming!

Twenty-ninth up is a book called 'Black Elk Speaks' and recalls the personal experiences of a holy man of the Sioux Indian tribe. This was not a lengthy book, but was dense with many rich narratives and traditions of this particular tribe in the period after the Civil War through the notorious and unsettling massacre at Wounded Knee. Knowing only a little of these events, it was still a very fascinating and humbling read, particularly that knowing many of the ideas and details given in these stories were typically told through the art of verbal storytelling. The fact that the stories and experiences of Black Elk were allowed to be collected and written down by a man named John G. Neilhardt is a testament to the trust and respect that these two had for each other and the embodiment of a people they sought to preserve.

I followed that up with a quick and humorous read, Justin Halpert's 'Shit My Dad Says'. I got a free copy of this a few weeks ago and thought it would be an entertaining book that would help me catch up in this project. This book was spawned by the Twitter feed of the same name, and was also published in this medium ahead of a further tie-in in the form of a television sitcom. Having already been a follower of the random and often crass nuggets of wisdom from this guy's aging cranky father, this book aimed to flesh out the stories behind some of these one liners and paint a more sympathetic portrait of one of life's characters. I felt it was successful portrayal in that through all of the wacky shit that comes out of this guy's mouth, the reader gets a real sense of who he is as a person and a father, while still getting a good laugh out of it.