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Book review: 'Volume' and 'Stanton Williams'

Felix Mara reviews two new monographs on the work of architect Stanton Williams

Stanton Williams: Volume
Black Dog Publishing, November 2009, £29.95,

Stanton Williams
foreword by Edwin Heathcote, Quart Verlag,
October 2009, £19.50,


‘Our view has always been that it is the work that’s important and any reflections on our work are best done by others’, says Stanton Williams. Perhaps this outlook explains why, until now, there were no monographs about the practice. And then suddenly, as it approaches its 25th year, there are two.

Volume explores a narrow selection of complete projects, from the 1987 shop for Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake to the 2009 National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition of paintings by German artist Gerhard Richter, both in London. Each section begins with images and ends with a written summary.

There is an appreciation by cultural commentator Stephen Bayley, and museum expert Ken Arnold discusses Stanton Williams’ exhibitions. Architectural critic Irénée Scalbert’s essays come closest to the type of criticism that make Stanton Williams uncomfortable, referring to contemporaries, including David Chipperfield.

Understandably, the practice tries to avoid pigeon-holing and misinterpretations, which could distract its design work, upset its programme and interfere with its reception. This is futile: evaluation of this type is inevitable for practitioners working within an architectural culture.

In Stanton Williams the choice of built and unbuilt projects serves as a useful foil to Volume, but architect and critic Edwin Heathcote finds himself in a similar problem
area. He locates the practice within a contextualist strand of modernism, which eschews aloofness and universalism.

While it is difficult to reconcile this interpretation with the practice’s self-enforced isolation from critical discourse and its pursuit of artistic autonomy and total architecture, these books may be the starting point for a dialogue.

  • Felix Mara is technical editor of the AJ and editor of AJ Specification

Readers' comments (1)

  • It would have been useful to have a review of the books in plain English instead of this pompous and pseudo-erudite piece concerned more with itself than with the books or their content.
    With a bit of luck, dear Felix, you might do better next time!

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