Books of 2012 — Concrete

Published:  December 10, 2012
Heath Killen
Books of 2012 — Concrete

Publisher: Phaidon
Editor: William Hall
Foreward: Leonard Koren
290 x 250 mm, 11 3/8 x 9 7/8 in
240 pp
175 colour illustrations

With 2012 drawing to a close, I wanted to share my favourite design books from the year. This was a tough list to narrow down, but I’ve selected five diverse titles that have really resonated with me personally, and that I feel are significant in some way. First up today is Concrete, a book that feels particularly relevant right now in light of the recent passing of Oscar Niemeyer, an architect who was a true master of the aesthetic possibilities of concrete.

The involvement of opening essay writer Leonard Koren should tell you something about what makes this book special. For those unfamiliar with Koren, he is a designer and academic who has written extensively on design philosophy, and was the founder of avant garde design magazine, WetConcrete is not just another architectural coffee table book, nor is it simply a handsome collection of case studies. It is a meditative, thoughtful examination of the emotional and philosophical qualities of materiality in design – gently probing into how it design can work with nature, how it can work against it, and how it finds a place in our heads and hearts.

The book itself is gorgeous and weighty. The dust jacket just begs to be touched with its sculpted, textural finish and silver foil title. Removing the dust jacket reveals a dark grey cloth binding and white foil de-bossed title, which appears on both the cover and spine. It is all fairly serious and austere – but in the most beautiful and appealing way. The pages are superbly designed, with that same mixture of austerity and beauty, and the book is illustrated with stunning photography throughout.

The real achievement of this book though, is that it is a perception changer. It takes the most common and often (unfairly) maligned building material we have, and presents it as poetry at mass scale. The broad selection of projects demonstrate the variable power of concrete, from instances where it is immense, foreboding, and intimidating, to others where it is the exact opposite – soft, inviting, and calming. From the first page, the reader is taken on a journey which asks them to reconsider a material that is encountered on a daily basis. It asks us to forget about it’s ubiquity, and to simply contemplate its raw, natural beauty.

Many of the projects featured will be familiar, including Falling Water and our own Sydney Opera House, however there is a healthy serving of new projects – particularly from the past 10 years – which showcases some of the extraordinary work being done on the bleeding edge of architecture and construction. I was particularly taken with a number of the Japanese residential buildings, which have fantastic names like Reflection of Mineral and Dancing Living House.

This book may not immediately seem like something that may be relevant to graphic designers, but I think there is much to be gained for designers in all disciplines from Concrete. It highlights what can be achieved with restraint, and with a deep understanding of materials and craft. Many of the forms in Concrete are awe-inspiring in their scale, and some seem to defy logic and gravity, but they are all created from the same substance. Concrete reminds us not only to appreciate the specific qualities of material, but the potential that it affords us. The perceived limits are reframed as opportunities, and with that understanding, anything is possible.

Sun Moon Lake Visitor Centre by Norihio Dan, 2010. Yuchih Township, Taiwan.

Bus Station by Juao Vilanova Artigas, 1975. Jau, Brazil.

Truffle by Ensamble Studio, 2010. Costa de Morte, Spain.

Concrete-Pod by Kazuya Morita, 2005. Nagoya, Japan.

Church of Light by Tadao Ando, 1989. Ibaraki, Japan.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *