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Aluminum by Design

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By Sarah Nichols et al. Carnegie Museum of Art/Abrams, 2000. 296pp. £48

This is the beautifully produced catalogue to an exhibition now touring the US and scheduled to open at the Design Museum in London in October 2002. Given that two-year wait the book must stand on its own, which it certainly does. Rich and sometimes surprising in its illustrations, it takes a wide-ranging look at a material which, in the words of one contributor, went 'from precious to pervasive'.

Its architectural applications are the subject of an essay by Dennis P Doordan, who highlights Otto Wagner's 1902 facade for the news agency Die Zeit and his Postal Savings bank of 1906: 'In these designs, aluminum becomes emblematic of a new, self-consciously modern approach to building.' But while other architects went on to underline the material's Modernist credentials (Albert Frey's Aluminaire House, 1931, for instance), there were pragmatic adaptations of it to traditional ends - even a 1960s Colonial Revival house with aluminium siding!

Designers from Voysey to Philippe Starck appear, via Buckminster Fuller and Jean Prouve; there are baseball bats, kitchen utensils, aircraft. 'The danger with aluminum is that you can do with it what you like - it has no real limitations, ' said Mies van der Rohe in 1956. As the picture above shows, Boris Bally recycles it, turning aluminium traffic signs into chairs.

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