A Brutalist Cemetery, a Center for Spiritual Exploration, a Compendium of Product Design: What We’re Reading, Summer 2024 Edition

This week, the New York Times is counting down the 100 best books of the 20th century, and while you could be reading one of those this summer — or, perhaps, the book everyone I know is talking about, which does tangentially relate to this site in the form of a motel-room renovation! — we’ve recently had a few more hefty design tomes come across our desk. What better time, then, to inaugurate a new column, where we tell you all the great things we’re reading, browsing, or simply returning to again and again for inspiration. 

August Journal

August — a travel and design journal that’s edited by one of New York’s great men-about-town (Dung Ngo) and released according to our preferred publication schedule (occasionally) — recently put out an issue concerning one of the most pervasive themes in design: utopia. A term coined more than 500 years ago — or at least as long as people have been wanting to find themselves anywhere but here — the concept of utopia has turned up again and again in design, from the Shakers to Chardigarh to Sea Ranch, but in this issue it’s more often than not explored on a smaller scale. In one feature, the artist Fritz Haeg interviews the linearphobic, slightly psychedelic Mexican architect Javier Senosiain about his 1984 masterpiece Casa Orgánica (top); in another, the Eames Institute is posited as a utopian incubator for design experimentation. But our favorite story, at least visually, is a photo essay on the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland (bottom), a cast-in-place concrete building devised by Rudolf Steiner, who’s best known as founder of the Waldorf school but was also apparently a killer architect. It’s the headquarters of the Anthroposophical Society, also founded by Steiner as a way to explore the spiritual world through the lens of science, and its details — rugged, board-formed concrete, beige plastered surfaces, frescoed ceilings, hand-carved door hardware — feel remarkably fresh nearly 100 years on. Photos: Fabian Martinez and Manfredi Gionacchini

Charcarita Moderna

Speaking of utopias, in a sense, the new book Chacarita Moderna investigates a nearly forgotten female architect and her prized project: “In 1949, at a time when Argentina was one of the most powerful countries in the world, the city of Buenos Aires launched the construction of the Sexto Panteón, an underground necropolis containing 150,000 burial plots. This monumental Brutalist-style cemetery is the first and largest experimentation of modern architecture applied to the funerary field, and yet remains unknown. Ítala Fulvia Villa (1913-1991), the project’s forgotten architect, was one of Argentina’s first female architects and urban planners. As a pioneer of South American modernism, she contributed to Le Corbusier’s master plan for Buenos Aires.” In this feminist re-reading of history, the French architect Léa Namer tries to resurrect both the architect and the idea. It’s also full of pretty incredible photographs.

Designed For Life

Moises Hernández

Misha Kahn

Fernando Laposse

Minjae Kim

Jonathan Muecke

India Mahdavi

Max Lamb

A nice companion to Woman Made, Phaidon’s 2021 volume devoted to female designers, Designed for Life is an overview of what the book calls “the world’s best product designers,” period, and it focuses on several of the more contemporary aspects of contemporary design — sustainable materials, athletic shoes, tech-enabled products, and, naturally, designers dipping a toe into the art world. There’s an excellent introduction by our friend Kelsey Keith (who edited the book), and, in the rankings, I found lots of names that were new to me: Zavier Wong, a Design Academy Eindhoven grad who makes tables from broken pieces of found materials like brick and Styrofoam; Swiss designer Thilo Alex Brunner, who designs shoes and athleticwear for On; Moisés Hernández, who currently works as a color designer for Apple and designed the pink chair at the top of this stack as well as a Prouvé-esque table lamp for Hay; Thabisa Mjo of Mash.T Design Studio, a South African designer who won a Nando’s chicken shop talent contest to launch her career; plus lots of favorites, like Fabien Cappello, Zaven, Soft Baroque, Julie Richoz, Jonathan Muecke, Aaks and more.

What We Keep

At first glance, the themes of Jean Lin’s new book What We Keep seem similar to those of our own book How to Live With Objects: how to identify objects; how to acquire and collect them; how an object acquires value or emotional resonance over time. But the experience of reading Lin’s book is wholly different, built as it is around personal anecdotes from studios Lin has worked with in her career as a gallerist, interior designer, and agent at Colony in New York. Built around the five elements that provide the foundation for Chinese thinking — wood, fire (glass), earth (textiles and ceramics), metal, and water — each chapter profiles a series of makers who work in a primary material and offers practical advice, like how to identify different species of wood, how to collect brushes, etc. Together it tells the story of not only what we keep but why we feel compelled to do so.