There is a pattern that people follow when they make the transition from ordinary to noteworthy on the way to celebrity. It goes like this:
- Toil in obscurity
- Do something people like
- Get lots of local newspaper coverage
- Get a smattering of local TV coverage
- Get national newspaper coverage
- Get a coffee table book made about you
Local architect Jeanne Gang is up to step #6 with the release of “Reveal: Studio Gang Architects” a couple of months ago by the Princeton Architectural Press. The publisher was kind enough to send along a copy of the book for us to review.
The 256-pager is heavy on renderings, diagrams, and photographs, making it a much quicker read than it appears from the intimidating black cover. It starts with an overview of Studio Gang, and where it stands now, then segues into a section called “Works” which, unfortunately, starts out proudly with the Ford Calumet Environmental Center, a project that the Chicago Tribune recently declared pretty much “dead.”
Or perhaps, we should say “pining for the fjords,” because it’s at this point that the book’s illustrations turn from artsy to preachy. Do we need to see 2,500 dead birds in a book about architecture? Let’s leave the sophomoric shock value images back in art school. We all know that buildings kill birds. I’ll start living in a field in harmony with nature right after Jeanne and her staff do.
The book does the work of Studio Gang justice in a way that newspaper reviews, fluff-filled regional AIA magazines, and the endless onslaught of McGraw-Hill e-mail newsletters can’t. You get a real sense of why things are designed a particular way. And being able to sit down and flip back and forth across 20 or 30 pages of reference material about a single project helps the mind connect concepts in a way that only paper books can.
That’s right, you will learn something. The volume is half showcase, and half textbook. In fact, there are even step-by-step instructions for recreating some of Gang’s more clever bits of work in your own home. Assuming, of course, that your garage is equipped with a marble saw and your back shed has room for 400 pieces of custom-cut stone.
Naturally, the firm’s iconic Aqua tower (430 East Waterside Drive) gets a big juicy space in the center of the book, but it’s not gratuitous. It is instructive, and especially useful considering how familiar we all have become with the skyscraper’s form.
At one point, a photostat of the building is roughly annotated in Sharpie like a patient about to get liposuction, with its wonderful curves, hips, and love handles marked up with words like “flare,” “cleft,” wave,” and “doily” as we follow the process of turning a bog-stanard square apartment block into the sort of masterpiece that earns someone the title “starchitect.”
(By the way, Jeanne and gang– I have better photographs than you do. We should talk.)
It is with this review that we are instituting a new rating system. Roughly equivalent to a one- through four-star system. The grades are
- Bypass: Don’t bother with this one.
- Branch: Check it out from the local library.
- Borrow: See if any of your friends have a copy to lend.
- Buy: Time to break out the credit card.
In my opinion, “Reveal: Studio Gang Architects” rates a solid borrow. In all, it’s a good book. Naturally, it gets points for being of local interest. But it’s a little short, covering just a handful of projects. If you know a friend or a student who is into architecture, it would make a great birthday present. It’s more advanced than most of the pedestrian architecture books that get published these days, but not so tough that a reasonably bright person can’t grasp it.
If you’re not interested in helping out this web site, then you can use this link to make the purchase and Amazon keeps all of the money.