The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Book Reviews

Books New to the Shelves of the CLUI Library and Bookshop

[Manzanar] Architecture Double
Andrew Freeman, RAM/CLUI, 2006
Manzanar is one of several Japanese American internment camps from World War Two. After the war, the 10,000 occupants dispersed to reclaim their lives in America. The camp’s buildings dispersed too, into the communities of the Owens Valley and beyond, where many remain, repurposed. Photographer Andrew Freeman tracked many of them down and photographed them in their new contexts for this book, which was published by RAM books, in association with the CLUI.

Desert America: Territory of Paradox
Michael Kubo, Irene Hwang, Jaime Salazr, editors, Actar, 2006
A book of the contemporary dystopic American deserta, put together by architects and designers from Europe. Draws heavily on the CLUI database, and includes images from the archives, as well as contributions from CLUI personnel (Steve Rowell), and associates (AUDC, Tom Vanderbilt).

Mike Slack, The Ice Plant, 2006
This is the second book of images made by Mike Slack. The books are simple, reproducing what appear to be polaroids at 1:1 scale, without any text whatsoever. His curation is modest and exquisite, and provides further evidence that the existing world is more interesting than we know. Rumour has it that the title comes from the name of the boat used for the circumnavigation of Terminal Island on a public tour conducted by the CLUI in 2005.

Ghostly Ruins: America’s Forgotten Architecture
Harry Skrdla, Princeton Architectural Press, 2006
30 abandoned locations around the country are depicted in black and white photographs, some archival, some taken by the author, but its not a photo book, the point is just to show the place. Includes Wyndcliffe, on the Hudson, the Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, the state hospital in Danvers, Massachusetts, and the usual places in Detroit (Packard Plant, Michigan Central Depot, Book-Cadillac Hotel). These sites are now the confirmed icons of American Ruins, and this is an unabashedly romantic book, with a thoughtful infiltrator-turned-preservationist kind of sensibility.

The Panorama Phenomenon
Ernst Storm, editor, Uitgeverif P/F/ Kunstbeeld, Panorama Mesdag and the International Panorama Council, 2006
Panoramas – more specifically, buildings dedicated to housing 360 degree scenes - were a way of getting beyond the fragmentary depictions of the world that traditional painting and photography presented. They were immersive environments that usually showed landscapes, often landscapes in the midst of some historic battle. Generally considered an art form of the past, the medium is being explored in a few remarkable cases around the world today, one of which is in Los Angeles, at the Velaslavasay Panorama, which is mentioned in this nice book that shows the couple of dozen major panoramas still open around the world.

Sinai Hotels
Haubitz + Zoche, Fotohof, 2006
Big beautiful desert photos of hotels once under construction on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, but never finished. Their skeletal concrete brutalism resembles an alien architecture the likes of which it seems only the Middle East can produce.

Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises
edited by Architecture for Humanity, Metropolis Books, 2006

The failures of high concept and modernist design solutions when imposed on the global poor or post disaster communities are legion, epic, and tragic. Looking at dozens of possibly successful case studies all over the world, this book brings new vitality and optimism to the field of “humanitarian” design, urging simplicity, renewability, and above all urgency. It is all over the map, from LA’s Homeboy Industries and shelters erected at Burning Man, to prefabricated refugee housing in Chechnya and bamboo primary schools in Vietnam.

Mapping Paradise: A History of Heaven on Earth
Alessandro Scafi, University of Chicago Press, 2006
The paradox of mapping a place that exists only at the apogee of the imagination makes an interesting, big, and heavy book. Very scholarly, historical, and heavily illustrated, the book is as much about the evolution of human spatial cognition as the development of graphic representation of space. Many maps of course put Paradise by the rivers of Babylon, which these days is more of a living hell (Iraq).

The British Landscape
John Davies, Chris Boot Ltd, 2006
Big detailed photos of the British landscape from elevated points of view with brief captions describing what is depicted in an objective way that seems to leak out of the scene–apparently the photographer John Davies has been working in a parallel (though black and white) CLUI universe in the UK since 1979. Bloody brilliant.

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger
Marc Levinson, Princeton University Press, 2006
A nice history of the development of the metal shipping container, and its impact on global trade. One wonders: if the shipping container didn’t exist, would it have been necessary to invent it?

Left in the Dust: How Race and Politics Created a Human and Environmental Tragedy in L. A.
Karen Piper, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006
The wounds caused by the Los Angeles Aqueduct are still raw for many, as Owens Lake’s sediment, exposed by the drying up of the valley by the DWP, continue to blow over residents in the region, and to develop into slow growing illnesses attributed to dust inhalation. This book reminds us that the water diversion that made LA possible, now nearly 100 years old, is not merely a historical issue, nor is it one that should remain on the left.

Observations in an Occupied Wilderness
Photographs by Terry Falke, with essay by William Fox, Chronicle Books, 2006
Making heavy use of the magic hour, when the western landscape glows as if lit from within, Falke’s large format images of increasingly familiar sights and sites in the west come from the solid lineage of Adams (Ansel), Adams (Robert), Misrach, and Shore. Falke ratchets this tradition up a notch or two with images like “Tetherballs Used by Disney Film Crew to Mark Locations for Computer-Generated Dinosaurs.”

Uncommon Carriers
John McPhee, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2006
McPhee is back on track with this collection of essays about transportation (already published in magazines). Trucking, ship training simulators, river barging, UPS’s distribution network, and Wyoming coal trains are the subject of most of them. The odd man out is an account of McPhee’s paddle up today’s Merrimack, in the wake of Henry David Thoreau’s 1839 journey, which resulted in one of America’s earliest industrio-pastoral travelogues, and Thoreau’s first book. Any similarity we are led to draw between McPhee and Thoreau is purely by accident, I’m sure.

Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America
Joel Sternfeld, Steidl Publishing, 2006
A big coffee table book depicting and describing 60 different sites where utopian ideas have been developed on the ground in some way. On the left of each two page spread are a few paragraphs of text, on the right a full size Sternfeldian photograph, showing people in the place, or just the place, in his trademark style of place portraiture. Covers the notorious (Oneida, Llano, Arcosanti, Biosphere 2, Drop City, Shakers), the obscure (Acorn Community, a number of Oregon farms) and several places that represent environmental movements, not utopias (green roofs, urban public gardens, and small-scale biofuels plants), which bring to mind the whole slippery slope of what constitutes a utopia anyway. One person’s utopia can be another’s vision for the rest of us.

Terra Antarctica: Looking into the Emptiest Continent
William L. Fox, Trinity University Press, 2006
Voidologist Bill Fox writes about Antarctica, and while there are moments where he gets stuck in the white outs of wonderment of it all, he stays focused on the interesting stories of the place, the expeditionary histories, the scientific programs, extreme architectures, and the history of creativity in such a place

Third Views Second Sights: A Rephotographic Survey of the American West
Mark Klett, project director, Museum of New Mexico Press in association with the Center for American Places, 2006
Another installment, and maybe the most dramatic, of the Third View project, rephotographing the rephotographs of the early western landscape photographers like Timothy O’Sullivan, and William Henry Jackson. Klett, who did most of the rephotographs in the 1970’s, and his team went back to the sites in the late 1990s to make another - a third - shot from exactly the same vantage point. The result is a riveting documentation change, first over 100 years, and then of the last 20. We look forward to the fourth, fifth, and sixth views, however many it takes until someone installs streaming webcams.

The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise
Michael Grunwald, Simon & Schuster, 2006
South Florida is one of the most fundamentally transformed landscapes in America, and this is the story of how it happened. Lucidly told, the history of the region’s unparalleled boosterism and real estate scheming needs no embellishment to be appreciated.

Visionary State: A Journey Through California’s Spiritual Landscape
Erik Davis, photographs by Michael Rauner, Chronicle Books, 2006
Nice big book full of surprises, covering places related to spirituality, mostly of an unconventional sort, in the state with possibly the widest spectrum of spiritual establishments.

Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America
Alan Berger, Princeton Architectural Press, 2006
Following up his the epic Reclaiming the American West, which focused on the mining landscape of the American intermountain west, Alan Berger charted and chartered a course over the rest of the country, shooting out the windows of Cessnas with a medium format camera, shooting suburbs, office parks, and spent industrial grounds of ten major American cities, the “Drosscape” of the title. The book is also full of text, maps, and graphics that show the patterns of movement from center to peripheries, and the filling in of the in-between, though it is the captioned aerial images, low, oblique, that stand out, telling the story with documentary eloquence.

Box Boats: How Container Ships Changed the World
Brian J. Cudahy, Fordham University Press, 2006
An account of the evolution of containerized shipping from the perspective of a maritime historian. With more charts and tables, and more of an industry-wide approach than The Box, another book on the subject released this year, Box Boats makes a good compliment to that more narrative book.

Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast
Mike Tidwell, Random House, 2003
 A first person narrative account of visits to the lives of shrimpers, fishermen, and preservationists in the literally vanishing landscape of coastal Louisiana. Tremendously evocative of this amazing and unique part of the country, and an easy read that ends up being a call to arms for this important environmental story.

Rubble: Unearthing the History of Demolition
Jeff Byles, Three Rivers Press, 2006
This essential book on the history of tearing things down helps, in its small but important way, to address the imbalance that exists from the disproportionate number of books about building.