GUNNAR BIRKERTS - Metaphoric Modernist
GUNNAR BIRKERTS – Metaphoric Modernist
With an introductory essay by Sven Birkerts and architectural comments by Martin Schwartz.
320 pp. with 500 illus., 242 x 297,5 mm, hard-cover, English
Latvian-born architect Gunnar Birkerts belongs to the second
wave of modernists who arrived in the United States from abroad, a group that includes Kevin Roche and Cesar Pelli among others. Educated at the Technische Hochschule in Stuttgart, Birkerts worked first with Eero Saarinen in his now-legendary office in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and later was chief designer for Minoru Yamasaki. At that time both Saarinen and Yamasaki were developing their distinctive architectural signatures and building their international renown. Subsequently Birkerts established his own practice, evolving a design process and a philosophy with its own original profile. His approach does not seek a »right style for the job« in the manner of Saarinen. From the first, Birkerts’ work was tied to a program as well as a particular context – a place – to the extent that it became expressive of the surrounding landscape and accommodating to the existing vernacular. Birkerts’ designs, from the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis to the Corning Museum of Glass to the Houston Arts Museum and recently the Latvian National Library, shows him exploring with ever greater resource and inventiveness the expressive possibilities of symbol and metaphor. Form, he believes, expresses function, and does so with its own rich, meaningful vocabulary. Birkerts uses visual metaphors to link program, client, and landscape in a resonant solution. His methodology of using metaphor – meaning – as a first principle, as a generator of design concept, is unusual in the profession, but it is vitally connected to his Latvian heritage and his family background as the son of a folklorist and writer.
This heritage is given a new turn here, for the biographical text of the book has been written by his son, Sven Birkerts, who is a noted literary critic and author of the influential book The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. He has also written a memoir, My Sky Blue Trades which describes at some length his coming of age struggles with his architect father. Now, years later, Sven brings his cultural perspectives as well as his family insights to bear, offering a unique portrait of a life and career. History and description are enlivened throughout by observations and reflections on the career – the destiny – of this master of the expressive concept. The book is richly illustrated and complemented by descriptive assessments of the projects by Martin Schwartz, who is an architect and writer and who teaches at Lawrence Technical University in Southfield, Michigan.
Edition Axel Menges
Sven Birkerts, Martin Schwartz
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