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The Prasad Manifesto

Who and what is a monograph for? asks Diana Periton, as she reviews Penoyre & Prasad’s latest book, Transformations.

Transformations: The Architecture of Penoyre & Prasad, by Sunand Prasad. Black Dog Publishing, October 2007. 192pp. £24.95

There has been a spate of books published by architects about their practices in recent years, from Rem Koolhaas’ Content to Patrik Schumacher’s Zaha Hadid: Complete Works. Of course, it is not a new pastime – Palladio did it, as did Le Corbusier. In each case, two basic questions present themselves: who and what are these books for?
Sunand Prasad’s brief introduction to Transformations: The Architecture of Penoyre & Prasad addresses both of these questions almost before we can formulate them. It is written ‘with clients and users in mind’ and sets out to ‘reveal and share our way of working.’
This is no easy task. It involves initiating a lay audience into the idiosyncrasies of architectural culture, then demonstrating clearly articulated attitudes towards that culture. Prasad does this through eight essays, each with a one-word title, interleaved with verbal and visual descriptions of 25 projects which relate loosely to the theme of the essay they accompany (and sometimes interrupt).
The tone throughout is briskly, chattily didactic. It often manages to describe architects’ arcane practices in a way which makes them readily accessible, as in ‘Purpose’, where the way an architect internalises the contrary demands of a brief before formulating an ‘effective and perhaps powerful concept’ is simply and clearly set out. In ‘Construction’, under the subheading ‘From DIY to PFI’, I
enjoyed the myriad implications of Prasad’s observation that ‘the attention… we focused on the joint between two components we now focus on the interface between two packages’. I learned more about PFI from this book than from more directed reading. Sometimes, though, this chattiness is condescending: Prasad writes: ‘A leading architect/academic blithely said to me not so long ago, “Surely construction is to an architect as printing is to a writer…”, perfectly illustrating how out of step with the current concerns of the construction industry professional attitudes can be.’ This made me acutely aware of the book’s printing mistakes. It is distressing to see the names of Viollet-le-Duc, Sigfried Giedion and Richard Sennett misspelled, and to be tripped up by rogue commas.

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