Ahtisaari, Martti & Carter Wiseman. The United Nations at 70: Restoration and Renewal. Rizzoli. 2015. 204p. photos. ISBN 9780847846153. $55. ARCH
The UN is an immediately recognizable New York icon and a superb example of mid-century modern architecture. Nonetheless—owing to deferred maintenance and outdated safety standards—by the end of the 20th century it required significant renovation. Incredibly, the building might have been torn down. Instead, a painstaking and historically accurate restoration was undertaken. Planning for the massive project started in 2000 and was completed in time for the UN’s 70th anniversary. Wiseman (Twentieth-Century American Architecture: The Buildings and Their Makers) offers an informative essay detailing the UN’s original construction and the restoration process. Bright, glossy color before-and-after exterior and interior photos and numerous black-and-white historical shots fill the book. Photos of the UN’s design are a particular delight: elements such as inlaid-wood door motifs and wallpaper designs; the original mid-century modern furniture; and artworks that grace the buildings. VERDICT Architects and preservationists will appreciate the details of the renovation process, and general readers interested in mid-century architecture will enjoy poring over the many photos.
Alpern, Andrew. The Dakota: A History of the World’s Best-Known Apartment Building. Princeton Architectural. 2015. 224p. illus. ISBN 9781616894375. $55. ARCH
Alpern (Holdouts! The Buildings That Got in the Way) explores the social and historical context, design, and engineering features of the legendary Dakota apartments, which preside over Central Park on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In the late 19th century a profusion of magnificent residences for the affluent were built in New York, of which the Dakota is arguably the jewel in the crown. Although many of these grand buildings were razed over the following decades, swept away for newer architectural visions, the Dakota still stands. The author’s primary research delivers fascinating details culled from period newspapers, architectural drawings, and in-process construction and other historical photos of the building and neighborhood. Although many celebrities (notably John Lennon and Yoko Ono) have called the Dakota home, Alpern focuses on the building itself, the development of the surrounding neighborhood, and the previous innovative apartment designs that helped inspire the Dakota. VERDICT Readers will become engrossed in the grandiose visions and architectural innovations that grew out of an environment characterized by extremes of wealth and poverty.
Brun-Lambert, David & others. Unforgotten New York: Legendary Spaces of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde. Prestel. 2015. 192p. illus. ISBN 9783791381343. $39.95. ARCH
“Vanishing New York” has become a widely recognized phrase summing up concerns that luxury real estate, corporate retail, Bloomberg-era rezoning, and gentrification have displaced mom-and-pop stores, affordable housing, and, of relevance to this book, arts venues. Brun-Lambert, John Short, and David Tanguy (writer, photographer, and designer, respectively) set out to visit defunct Manhattan spaces that incubated disco, hip-hop, punk, experimental film, dance, and performance. What they found surprised them: some of the spaces were still functioning, or were housing newer arts institutions. The authors’ efforts morphed into a celebration of unforgotten landmarks. They appropriately lament the loss of much of the artistic vitality of late 20th-century New York but also celebrate (in archival and contemporary photos and words) the people and places that defined trendsetting cultures, recouping a positive story amid disconcerting change. Texts describe the significance of each venue and its current use. VERDICT Readers interested in contemporary arts will enjoy this photo documentation of a time when art was less constrained by real estate values and more about exuberance, improvisation, and boundary-pushing creativity.
Design Museum & Julie Iovine. New York in Fifty Design Icons. Conran Octopus. 2015. 112p. photos. index. ISBN 9781840916911. $20. DEC ARTS
Wall Street Journal architecture reporter, critic editor, and author Iovine’s slim volume is a breezy tour of buildings, interiors, and graphics that she argues ought to be considered iconic, defining the New York of this moment in time. It’s one of two (the other on London) of a projected series about icons of major international cities. The book is an extended listicle, a format that the publisher makes good use of in several titles (e.g., Fifty Modern Buildings that Changed the World). Iovine’s book isn’t a treatise, nor does it try to be. Many of the choices are buildings, but many are quirkier (bagels, for example, and the color blue that Tiffany uses). The writing is clear, and one could hardly argue that Lincoln Center, for example, or the New York Public Library’s stone lions shouldn’t be on any visitors’ or New Yorkers’ icon radar. VERDICT An enjoyable browse, too brief for readers truly obsessed with architecture and design. Casual readers will like the color photographs and the bite-sized nuggets of information served up on each of the icons.
Gura, Judith & Kate Wood (text) & Larry Lederman (photos). Interior Landmarks: Treasures of New York. Monacelli. 2015. 240p. ISBN 9781580934220. $60. ARCH
This title is a companion to the 2015 exhibition Rescued, Restored, Reimagined: New York’s Landmark Interiors, organized by the New York School of Interior Design (NYSID) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. The exhibition’s curators—Hugh Hardy (H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture); Kitty Hawks (interior designer); Gura (design historian, NYSID); and Wood (Landmark West!)—show readers 47 beautiful interiors and discuss the challenges they present, including era-specific design concepts or balancing competing demands of preservation, property values, and an interior’s usability. Each entry includes details about an interior’s construction, architect(s), renovations/restorations, history, and color photographs. Arranged in chronological order from Manhattan’s 1811 City Hall to the 1967 Ford Foundation atrium, they unfold a progression of design styles. VERDICT Wonderful at pointing out the striking design details of each interior, such as the Empire State Building lobby’s anemometer, which measures wind speed at the building’s top, this volume will appeal to architects, preservationists, and all interested in this design niche.
James Corner Field Operations & Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The High Line. Phaidon. 2015. 458p. illus. ISBN 9780714871004. $75. ARCH
Since the High Line Park opened in 2009, it’s been an immensely successful tourist attraction and a popular publishing topic, too. There have been several books on the destination, but one can’t imagine more exhaustive coverage than this work provides: the spine measures almost two inches thick, and the authors are the designers themselves, the principals of James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The book is brimming with photos and illustrations of the original High Line during its industrial phase; the renovation preplanning phase; each stage of remediation and reconstruction; and the diverse ways in which visitors use the space today. It is quite a design object: the cover evokes the park’s walkway stone material. However, as the book’s introduction points out, more than design, it is the stories that stand out about the High Line—its history, the activists who fought to keep it, its impact on the neighborhood, and the cultural icon it has become. VERDICT Design fanatics will spend hours studying this work and, if outside New York, will probably look into the earliest flight to see the High Line in person.
Murray, James T. & Karla L. Murray. Store Front II: A History Preserved; The Disappearing Face of New York. Gingko. 2015. 348p. illus. maps. ISBN 9781584236047. $65. ARCH
In 2008, photographers James and Karla Murray published Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York. That book garnered much praise, both as art and as documentation of endangered mom-and-pop businesses in New York. Adding poignancy to the images are many examples of the disappearances of such shops in recent years, victims of rising commercial rents, gentrification, and corporate retail encroachment. The threat is real: almost two-thirds of the businesses photographed in the Murrays’ first book have vanished in the short time since its publication. They continue their project with this follow-up effort, covering all five of New York’s boroughs (Manhattan and Brooklyn receive the most attention). The subtitle of this new volume speaks to their desire to preserve the businesses, if only in photos. Troubling urban politics aside, the images are beautiful and so precise (the oversized format helps, too) that readers will get lost in them, savoring the weathered facades; hand-lettered signs; neon; awnings; and crowded window displays. VERDICT Fans of fine photography, and those concerned about urban issues will find much to absorb here.