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CRITIC'S CHOICE

REVIEW

After a dire period in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was disfigured by the progeny of Philip Johnson's AT&T building, New York is again a destination for new architecture.

One promising project in the current construction boom is on the Bowery: a seven-storey stack of slab-like volumes clad in zinc-plated steel, home for the city's New Museum of Contemporary Art ( www. newmuseum. org). Its architect is SANAA: the Japanese practice headed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, which last year completed its first European building - the Zollverein School of Management Design at Essen, Germany, an erratically perforated concrete cube.

SANAA's increasingly high profile is reected in two new books - both intriguing and often beautiful, but raising as many questions as they answer. Walter Niedermayr/Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa/SANAA (Hatje Cantz, £30) features images of selected SANAA projects by Italian photographer Niedermayr, alongside a sample of his other work. Niedermayr is known for his panoramas of snowy Alpine landscapes, almost whiter than white, with skiers shrinking to tiny dots of colour in the distance. His SANAA photos tend to be similarly ethereal, uniting the buildin gs in a luminous white weightless world; the title of Milan Kundera's novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, suits them perfectly.

But in some shots you can't even be sure what materials you are looking at, let alone get a sense of inhabitation. The second book, Houses: SANAA (Actar, £24), although profiting from a number of detail drawings, doesn't really help. 'I think European people could not live in it.

I also think some normal Japanese people could not live in it, ' says Sejima of the House in a Plum Grove; you want to hear more. And while the photographs are not so rarefied as Niedermayr's, they still tend to idealise SANAA's buildings - an aestheticisation which the practice, for all its refinement and intelligence, seems to endorse.

People barely cast a shadow in SANAA's books. But a new show in Stanton Williams' gallery at Compton Verney, Warwickshire, takes The Shadow as its theme, with quite a strong cast of participants ( www. comptonverney. org. uk).

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