Atlas of Novel Tectonics By Reiser + Umemoto Princeton Architectural Press, 2006. 256pp. £15.99 It is extremely difficult not to quite like this book by envogue New York architects Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto.
Roughly A5 in size with rounded corners, its cover at a distance is vaguely moleskin but, close up, a nice dull black plastic, with a lightly embossed woodgrain pattern - a purposeful but unclear design.
A bit like the book's contents.
Inside, the black and white illustrations are as you might expect, but the colour plates are pasted in as they were in art books a century ago. Pasted.
So, from the beginning, it's tactile and retro.
Here is a very serious attempt to grapple with current modes of architectural thought, problems of geometry, and those old demons to do with materials, non-orthogonal from, structure and content. But you feel you should not quite like the book because its mode of argument is sloppy and inconclusive and, in that bad old academic tradition, often deploys whole paragraphs when a few descriptive words would do. And the argument is not sustained - merely a lot of little one- and two-page aperçus and propositions.
Nothing wrong with that - a kind of Aesop's Fables for architecture grouped under sections headed Geometry, Matter, Operating, Common Errors to Avoid, and The World.
The trouble is that, at the end, you realise you have forgotten too many of them for the whole thing to readily cohere.
The choice is to go back through the text or down the pub - where you'll find a lot of people arguing in the same bits-and-pieces, disconnected way. But there you get the general drift of the argument because you can act as interlocutor and tease it out.
In a book it doesn't really work that way unless you, the reader, have a photographic memory, or the text contains really exciting insights, or is interactive, or at least can be interrogated. Or if the authors decide to collect their strands together and come clean about what they really mean about everything.
So what is there left to like? Well, this seems to be an attempt to do a Complexity and Contradiction for the modern architectural age. As with the Venturis' book, some of the propositions are attractive, but while Complexity had really novel insights, Atlas of Novel Tectonics has, mostly, fairly well-discussed ideas which are expounded full-on but then simply trickle away.
Quite at random, Reiser + Umemoto raise Deleuze's notion of exact, inexact and anexact geometries. It is an interesting preliminary proposition. But it leads, after a few more paragraphs, to no more than a set of slightly portentous generalisations.
What the Princeton editor has consistently failed to do is ask the authors exactly what they mean and, with this established, how and why it could be true.
And whether it matters.