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Unpacking My Library: Architects and Their Books (Unpacking My Library Series) Hardcover – November 30, 2009

3.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Jo Steffens is director of Urban Center Books and editor of Block by Block: Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York City.
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Product Details

  • Series: Unpacking My Library Series
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st edition (November 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300158939
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300158939
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 0.8 x 5.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #946,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If you are one of those people who stears clear from the small talk at dinner parties and instead heads straight for your hosts' library to nose your way up and down the shelves, then this book is for you. Jo Steffens had the opportunity to peek into ten famous, largely New York-based architects' libraries - ranging from 750 to over 6000 volumes - and filled a book with snapshots from some of their shelves, short conversations about the meaning of books in their practice, and a top ten list of each.

The experience is predictably labyrinthine. No surprise that we often bump into the likes of Corbu, Mies, Loos and Kahn. A strong showing, also, of key (proto-)postmodernist thinkers (as opposed to builders): Benjamin, Foucault, Derrida, Bataille, Deleuze. Rem Koolhaas' S M L XL is probably one of the few books to show up in all libraries, although it never makes it to the top 10 (his Delirious New York does, once). Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction is another fixture of the postmodern architectural scene. There is not an awful lot that refers back to older, pre-modern architectural practices (Michael Graves' library is an exception). And surprisingly little in terms of monographs on contemporary European colleagues (I don't think I saw anything referring to work by Rodgers, Piano, Herzog & De Meuron, ...). There is, on the other hand, quite a bit of fiction on those shelves - a lot of which reminds us of the fractured, the layered, the tectonic: Finnegan's Wake, Gravity's Rainbow, Moby Dick, The Man Without Qualities all figure in top 10 lists. Then again very few poetry books. Only one - Celan's Last Poems - show up, in Steven Holl's final selection.

The overlaps fascinate, but so do the differences.
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Format: Hardcover
As I've been a fan of cut-down trees all my life 'Unpacking my library' would seem the ideal addition to add to my shelves in the book jacket and design section. Architects are the obvious choice as the book's subject, by their nature they are tidy folk and the professional and personal titles they own are sure to be in a photogenic format. The only other creative people I can think of who could be the subject of a similar book are graphic designers, artists in their studios would probably have books scattered everywhere.

The ten featured architects are all presented in the same format: a general shot of their library (oddly these are all in black and white) and a nice touch, I thought, were captions about the shelving dimensions, manufacturers, materials and the number of books. Bernard Tschumi has the most at six thousand. An interview follows, which I found mildly interesting then close-up color photos of some books on the shelves so spines can be read by turning the book sideways. These shots are number keyed into the black and white overview photo. Finally the ten nominate their Top Ten Books, presented on a spread as cover thumbnails and what is the only book that pops up five times: Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, so no surprise there.

Reading the spines reveals no great surprises either, a mixture of architectural titles (several have a copy of 'S,M,L,XL') and culture. (Are the real revealing titles in another room?) Liz Diller and Ric Scofidio share a copy of 'Jocks & nerds', books on cars and highways. Bernard Tschumi has a copy of Philip Nobile's 1974 'Intellectual skywriting' and quite few movie and photo related titles and obviously copies of his own books. Stan Allen has 'Facts about Finland' and 'Mart Stam's trousers'.
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Format: Hardcover
This little book is deceptive. It's lovely to look at, and to feel as if you can snoop within the libraries of Michael Graves and Diller & Scofidio, but it's also a strong statement of personal taste, of professional position, and of someone's inner life. It makes you want to buy and read more books, and it celebrates the declining art of book collecting.
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