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Commerzbank Frankfurt: Prototype for an EcologicalHigh-Rise

by Colin Davies with photographs by Ian Lambot. Watermark/Birkhauser, 1997. 300pp. £49 (Distributor 0181 542 2465)

Sir Norman Foster and Partners: Commerzbank, Frankfurt am Main

by Volker Fischer and Horst Gruneis with photographs by Ralph Richter. Edition Axel Menges. 72pp. £28 (From Triangle Bookshop 0171 631 1381)

Ian Lambot has been photographing Foster's Commerzbank in Frankfurt from the beginning, as he did for hksb, writes Barrie Evans - and very good the photographs are. Lambot, 'fascinated by things mechanical', gives the same care to half-built structure or services as he does to the finished building. Commerzbank Frankfurt is a book Lambot has also designed and edited (and joint publisher Watermark is his company). After a while you can feel Lambot needed an editor himself, with so many similar shots. Not to mention 34 floor plans!

There is a substantial, informative text by Colin Davies. His chapter headings of design, project, structure, cladding, services, circulation and fit-out signal that this is a detailed, prosaic account. It tells you all you could want to know of the process and the detail but falls short for lack of a critical edge, as if it were an official version commissioned by Foster. For example, while the subtitle is 'Prototype for an Ecological High-Rise', ecology does not become a critical framework. Rather the services chapter recounts the design intentions for energy performance and internal environment. What, also, of the building's urban contribution? And we are told baldly that the cladding was redesigned as part of a cost-cutting exercise, but not that this involved a subcontractor design that was significantly different from the original - surely the Commerzbank's main disappointment.

However, if you are happy just to get into the mass of given detail, and savour Lambot's excellent photos, then this will take some beating as the book of the building.

A brief story of design development and a text walkround, plus a few pages on the technology, are a brief prelude to the main body of the Axel Menges monograph on the Commerzbank - Ralph Richter's photographs of the completed, but unoccupied building. There are 50 pages of them, in an unbroken run. The monotonous layout makes this seem even more like overkill than Lambot, though there are many more images in Lambot's book. Stick with that.

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