Luminous Buildings: Architecture of the Night Edited by Marion Ackerman and Dietrich Neumann.Hatje Cantz, 2006 160pp.£29.99
This publication is the catalogue for an exhibition inaugurated at the new Kunstmuseum in Stuttgart this summer and heading to Rotterdam's Netherlands Architecture Institute in January 2007. The show is curated by the respected Dietrich Neumann, architecture professor at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.
Neumann's introductory essay attempts to give an abridged history of external architectural lighting yet understandably only scratches the surface. A second essay covers 'light architecture' in painting and photography, which is relevant primarily because so much of the historical reference material is only available in these media.
There are three further sections to the book, each accompanied by short essays. 'Applications' includes fireworks, outline lighting, oodlight, glass blocks, reections, luminous advertising and kinetic light; 'Locations' includes exhibition pavilions, 'light cathedrals', department stores, picture palaces and filling stations; while 'Visions' includes streets, fountains, crystals and the 'city of light'.
Taken all together, these represent an intriguing mixture of building types and lighting treatments, though several of the choices seem somewhat arbitrary.
Historical references throughout are interesting, with Jan Willen Eduard Buys' 1928 De Volharding-Ban building in The Hague deserving comparison to KPF's Lehman Brothers Times Square building almost 75 years later. Raymond Hood, architect of the Rockefeller Centre in New York, is credited with coining the expression 'architecture of the night', which gives both the show and catalogue their title.
The book mentions the debates that existed in the 1920s and 30s between North America and Europe over the use of coloured light on buildings, with the US coming down in its favour and European Modernist architects regarding it as brash and gaudy. (More recently, however, this viewpoint seems to be reversing. ) The US World's Fairs and their European counterparts were importantin demonstrating new practice for illuminating buildings.The design by Henry Ford's architect, Albert Kahn, for the Ford Pavilion at the 1934 Chicago World's Fair can be seen as the precursor of Speer's use of light at Hitler's political rallies in Germany.
As a stand-alone book, the publication is awed. One irritation is the layout, which leaves you constantly icking pages to match up text and image. But this is a large and difficult subject to try and cover comprehensively. The book leaves you wanting to know more. Perhaps seeing some additional images sourced for the exhibition might add the missing dimension. On balance, though, I would recommend Neumann's own Architecture of the Night: The Illuminated Building (Prestel, 2002) as being more cohesive and interesting.
Jonathan Speirs is a principal of Speirs and Major Associates. The book is distributed by Art Books International (023 9220 0080)