Manhattan New York By Gerrit Engel. Schirmer/ Mosel, 2006. 344pp.78 euros (£53)
The sky in Gerrit Engel's photographs is a uniform pale grey, which at once gives a clue to his intentions. Much like the Bechers, documenting blast furnaces and water towers as neutrally as possible, Engel's approach to architecture is to resist the play of sunshine and shadow that enlivens a composition but obscures detail, and to shun fancy angles or other theatricalities.
He aims for a sober dossier, presenting 162 Manhattan buildings chronologically, each with a page to itself and the facing page blank but for a minimal caption.
The emphasis is on institutional and landmark structures rather than Manhattan's still rich domestic architecture, and of course one can argue about his choices - why, among the few dwellings, do we find Johnson's 1950 Rockefeller Guest House but not Lescaze's 1934 house on East 48th St (the first Modern one in Manhattan)? But the selection overall is pretty representative, coming up-todate with Foster's Hearst Tower.
Whereas Jörg Brockmann's book, One Thousand New York Buildings (AJ 15.12.02), often showed just a detail of his inclusions, all of Engel's are seen in their entirety. Given the problems that Manhattan's grid and (often) the buildings' height pose for any photographer who wants to do this, the resulting image may have the building centre-stage but much else lurking in the wings. Which is one of the book's pleasures.
The contextual and contingent repeatedly assert themselves, keeping Engel's parade of monuments in their place.