Book Reviews
Books New to the Shelves of the CLUI Library
Garage, by Olivia Erlanger and Luis Ortega Govela, 2018
A playful and insightful study of the garage, “an architectural technology devised to protect machines,” that evolved into a “polyvalent space,” where obsessions and creativity can be explored, without damaging the finish. Silicon Valley was born here, as some garages claim, as well as suburban angst-driven garage bands. And so many known and unknown things between, and beyond. It’s fun even to just think about what garages are, and can be. 
 
Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape, by Francesca Russello Ammon, 2016
When considering the clearance of the postwar landscape, it’s tempting to stray from the path of the bulldozer—that piece of heavy machinery with the flat plow on the front, and tank-like treads for wheels—into that of loaders, backhoes, graders, scrapers, power shovels, tractors, and other forms of yellow-painted earthmovers, but in general, the author stays on track. The bulldozer, of course, is the most iconic of these land-forming machines, and its role as cultural notion and symbol is also addressed, at length.
 
The Spoils Of Dust: Reinventing the Lake that Made Los Angeles, by Alexander Robinson, 2018
An encyclopedic view of the contemporary conditions at one of the most conceptually and visually astounding places in the USA, Owens Lake. Robinson, a landscape architecture professor at USC, delves deep into shallow flooding, moat and row, and other dust control measures. He provides a wealth of contexts, from land art to bird migrations, to help us understand the perceptual phenomenology, politics, and mechanics of this compelling place, where more than a billion dollars has been spent for it to not be a lake.
 
A Ditch in Time: The City, the West, and Water, by Patricia Nelson Limerick, 2012
The venerable director of the Center of the American West published this singular overall view of Denver’s water infrastructure, especially the politics, people, proponents, and opponents, historically and to the present. Denver has built some of the largest water projects in the nation, even spanning the Continental Divide (through tunnels underneath Rocky Mountain National Park, and such). Its network of dams and reservoirs, fed by tunnels and ditches (canals that capture streamflow and move it elsewhere by gravity), stepping into the heights behind the Front Range, is staggering. 
 
After Promontory: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Transcontinental Railroading, edited by the Center for Railroad Photography and Art, 2019
This is the big book of the exhibit of the same name, which is still on the road (next stop: San Mateo History Museum, Redwood City, California). The book has essays that provide new takes on the history and significance of railways, but it’s really about the photos, from the historic landscape classics of Carleton Watkins to the contemporary landscape classics of Mark Ruwedel, all with a railroad running through it. Brought to us by the academic railfans at the Center for Railroad Photography and Art, a nonprofit in Madison, Wisconsin.
 
Machine Landscapes: Architectures of the Post-Anthropocene, edited by Liam Young, January 2019
Architectural Design Magazine, a book-sized design and technology bi-monthly journal, often has dramatic issues that focus on landscape and architecture, arranged around a theme by a guest editor. This edition was edited by speculative architect and Sci-Arc professor Liam Young, and explores the presently future spaces of datacenters, automated fulfillment centers, driverless cars, Chinese bitcoin mines, spacejunk, cyber-windfarms, creepy AI spaces and other extrapolations of the present, as algorithmically predicted, likely.
 
The King and Queen of Malibu: The True Story of the Battle for Paradise, by David K. Randall, 2017
Newlyweds Frederick and May Rindge left Boston in 1887 and moved to Los Angeles, using Frederick’s inherited fortune to make bigger one, in real estate and other businesses. Among the things they acquired was 13,000 acres of remote land on the shores north of Santa Monica, where they built their beachside mansion. Frederick Rindge died in 1905, and May held on to Malibu’s entirety for decades more, fighting off public roads, and manipulative encroachments, with scandalous vigor. She died in 1941, and the postwar boom finally blasted through the gates she so stubbornly held shut, enabling the enclave of private beachfront exclusivity as we know it today to develop. In LA, it’s all about the real estate.
 
The Nevada Test Site, by Emmet Gowin, 2019
Black and white aerial photos with strong shadows and oblique views bring out the contrast and reveal the textures of this transformed landscape, where the eminent photographer, Emmet Gowin, flew for a few flights, with his camera, in a helicopter, in 1996 and 1997. This was the time between the end of large-scale underground nuclear testing, and the beginning of the site’s post 9/11 retasking as the Nevada National Security Site. This was the same time the CLUI was on the ground there (perhaps a bit too much) working on our Guide to America’s Proving Ground. Now we know who that guy buzzing around over our heads was. 
 
Lake Bonneville/Lake Lahontan, by Michael Light, 2019
This book of photos, at 16½ inches tall, 10½ inches wide, and one inch thick, is small and light, by Michael Light standards, but it enables you to flip it around, and around, as you must, since on one cover it is called Michael Light Lake Lahontan, and the other Michael Light Lake Bonneville. Either way, opening it up, you get 21x16½ inch photos of one or the other place, showing Light’s characteristic dramatic high contrast, horizon-less, low altitude obliques of squiggly lines, mostly tire tracks and road patterns, shot from his plane, with a big camera. In the middle of the book is a nearly blank map of this historic emptiness, and if you flip that over you get an essay about the emptiness by William L. Fox. Flanking this, in the body of the book, are upside down to one another poem/essays by Charles Hood, and Leah Ollman. You move this book as much as it moves you.
 
Lookout America! The Secret Hollywood Studio at the Heart of the Cold War, by Kevin Hamilton and Ned O’Gorman, 2019
Finally a book comes out about Lookout Mountain, the Air Force’s secret movie studio just above the Sunset Strip, where hundreds of movies that never saw the light of day were made, and where the hundreds more that did, blew people’s minds (including Pete Kuran’s, who made a film about the Atomic Cinematographers who were based out of here). After Lookout Mountain closed, the building became a privately owned Laurel Canyon pleasure palace with a dozen spa-sized bathtubs. The book is more about the films produced here, and the programs they depict, than the place, which is perhaps as it should be.
 
Homewreckers: How a Gang of Wall Street Kingpins, Hedge Fund Magnates, Crooked Banks, and Vulture Capitalists Suckered Millions Out of Their Homes and Demolished the American Dream, by Aaron Glantz, 2019
That pretty much sums it up.
 
Water Gold Soil: The American River, by Sayler and Morris, 2019
This heavily designed book, with trickles of embossed gold ink in heavy earth-toned paper, follows the journey of water from the headwaters of the American River, whose South Fork runs through the site of Sutter’s Mill, the point of origin of the Gold Rush, through the Folsom Dam, and into the canals of Big Ag in the Central Valley. Interspersed are images of the plotting hands of cartographers of the 1950s, working the waterworks out. It’s an aesthetic, apostrophic postscript to some chapter of Cadillac Desert, complete with a backwards-looking foreword by Elizabeth Kolbert. 
 
Michael Heizer: The Once and Future Monuments, by William L. Fox, 2019
Despite its simplicity and literally monolithic qualities, Michael Heizer’s sculpture continues to elicit an interpretive stream. No doubt much of the interest in him is because he has been building Complex City, the largest sculpture in the world, by some ways of measuring, for fifty years, letting only a few in to see it. Among them has been the author, William L. Fox, the director of the Center for Art + Environment, who likely burns whatever is left of his “City” bridges in this book. (And whether we will forgive Fox for his claim of directing the “world’s only art research institute devoted to the study of human’s creative interactions with their natural, built, and virtual environments,” we shall see.)