The New Wood Architecture is a feast for the eye but offers little nourishment for the mind, writes Brian Edwards. The main virtue of this beautifully produced book by Naomi Stungo is the grouping together of some familiar and less familiar contemporary examples of building in wood. It is the kind of volume to turn to at the end of a tiring week to remind you that there is, after all, pleasure in architecture. But if you want to discover how to create wooden masterpieces, to learn new approaches to wood construction, or to engage in some discourse about the nature of wood, this is not the book for you.
Since architects like picture books, it should sell well. But for the serious reader it lacks structure and discrimination. One searches in vain for a rationale and, although the book is themed, argument is on the whole scarce. One would like to be more generous about a book which supports a worthy cause, i.e. sustainability, but the reluctance to get beyond the image is disappointing.
There are five themes each supported by half-a-dozen or so case studies. Each theme is introduced by a short essay, but few of these essays penetrate their subject or offer any insight into the particular nature of wood architecture as against the properties of wood building. Any book with 'architecture' in the title carries a responsibility to the subject, difficult though that is to discharge.
While offering a pleasurable escape into examples of contemporary wood buildings from churches and schools to private houses, the book also provides a glimpse into the future shape of sustainable construction. The sensuous, self-renewing and spiritually repairing nature of wood, so well captured by the photographs, transcends normal definitions of green building. To its credit, this book acknowledges that fact and, in some examples illustrated, actually celebrates it.
Brian Edwards is professor of architecture at the University of Huddersfield