Thursday, November 21, 2013

Time Capsule of Optimism: The New Architecture of Europe 1961

cover page image image sourced from: here
Sometimes when I come across books writing in present continuous tense about the present (then) recording the spirit of "here and now" but published long ago, they work as fantastic time capsules, to relish nostalgia and optimism in equal measure. The format, the style of writing, the buildings selected all come together to form one complete picture of optimism. The very same optimism that one senses while watching an old BBC documentary where the narrator explains the design of a brand new housing estate for communities built with miraculous new age materials that symbolise a collective spirit.

Recently I bought "The New Architecture of Europe" by G.E. Kidder Smith from a second hand book sale. The books introductions lays down the spirit of this new era as
"The introduction of rolled steel and reinforced concrete (both approximately 100 years ago), then plate glass, new forms of factory processed (i.e., laminated) wood, and most recently, plastics, has revolutionized man's building means. Moreover, when one demands totally fresh building types--skyscrapers, large hospitals, community halls, housing projects, expansive schools, industrial plants, and not forgetting that terror, the automobile, garages and suspension bridges--the result will inescapably and logically produce a new architecture. Furthermore, this has been and is being colored by a newly egalitarian society, one assailed by changes more profound and rapid than ever before in history."

This book published in 1961 attempts to map/analyse 225 most stimulating buildings from 16 countries of post war Europe. Selection of these new fantastic buildings is subjective, but as the author explains, "Merit alone is not sufficient for the inclusion of a building: it must have ideas and stimulation as well. In some cases a building that demonstrates fresh and constructive thinking, or explores a new facet of space, but suffers design weakness, has been chosen over similar example of routine thought but superior execution".
The chapters are by Country location, which starts with the Mr. Smith concisely explaining the state the country is in after the war and what are the developments that are facilitating these new experiments in architecture.

This book puts all the present day expensively printed and bound Phaidons ,World Atlases, Glossy design Magazines, hourly updated Design Blogs etc to shame. If you ever come across this book, you love modern architecture, and want to reinstate your faith in the collective spirit of architecture and design...Buy it! Enjoy it!

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