The Twentieth Century Society

Reviews: Books round-up December 2016

Catherine Croft

Cape Cod Modern: Mid-century Architecture and Community on the Outer Cape Peter McMahon and Christine Cipriani (Metropolis Books, 272pp, £35)

American architect and preservationist Peter McMahon was recently in London and generously fitted in a talk for C20 organised with The Modern House. I now long to visit this East Coast summer haunt of architects and artists. His book combines beautiful new photography with lots of archive material, built up over a lifetime of visiting and living on the windswept peninsula. Most of the houses are lightweight and perch lightly on the dunes, but the ones I most want to see are Charlie Zehnder’s concrete towers.

100 Midcentury Chairs and their Stories Lucy Ryder Richardson (Pavilion Books, 208pp, £16.99)

This selection of classic chairs runs from Aalto’s Paimio armchair (1931) to Frank Gehry’s superficially similar Wiggle (1972) – pithily described as a wrap-up of Rietveld’s wooden Zig-Zag and Verner Panton’s classic polyurethane swoosh. It explains the versions each chair has gone through, and has plenty of tips for buyers. It rails against cheap knock offs, lists a ‘Hans J Wegner Top 10’, tells you how to clean his woven paper cord seats, and warns against sitting on one in new jeans in case the dye rubs off. It’s mischievously opinionated and slightly cultish, but quite why Finn Juhl’s Poet sofa is allowed to sneak in remains a mystery.

Marcel Gautherot, The Monograph ed. Samuel Titan and Sergio Burgi (Scheidegger and Spiess, 208pp, £35)

Gautherot (1910 – 96) was Oscar Niemeyer’s photographer of choice, with privileged access during the building of Brasilia. His photographs of the city capture it as ‘both promising and ominous, tremendous and fragile, heroic and problematic’. He was born in Paris and studied architecture, worked for the ethnographic museum there, and undertook photographic journeys to Greece, Mexico and Brazil. After moving to Brazil in 1940 he began documenting its Baroque architecture for the government heritage organisation, as well as working on his own projects. He was in his 50s when Brasilia got underway. Essays examine the impact of the Rolleiflex format, his meticulous documenting of his work using 12-shot contact sheets and his relationship with landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, as well as with Niemeyer. The translation is a bit clunky, but the images are outstanding.

Residents: Inside the iconic Barbican Estate Anton Rodriguez (Barbican, 160pp, £30)

Photographer Rodriguez lives in the Barbican and has photographed his fellow residents in their flats for a website (barbicanresidents.co.uk). This lavishly produced hardback has a preface by Adam Thow who is responsible for ‘commercial development’ at the Barbican Centre. Thow claims it will ‘satisfy the curious anthropologist, aesthete and design-geek in equal measure’. It made me feel like a frustrated voyeur – unsatisfied on all fronts. Residents are identified by first name, profession, and a little diagram showing which block they are in. There are no plans of individual flats, or information about the furniture or art works shown. Thow says that what makes us want to see inside other people’s homes is ‘partly a desire to find a reflection of our own good taste and partly a need to compare, aspire and seek inspiration’, which I found depressingly materialistic.