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Component Design

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By Michael Stacey. Architectural Press, 2001, pp208. £30

This is quite a useful book (although the price is a bit steep), primarily aimed at the student and specialist market, but which will also benefit those needing simply to improve their knowledge of how things work, writes Austin Williams.

Rather than blindly ceding authority to specialists, Stacey suggests that the designer should strive to become more knowledgeable about the ever increasing diversity of materials while recognising that the specialist has a key role to play. In this way, partnerships could be forged on a more equal footing.

The book comprises a short opening polemic on this subject, followed by a reasonably detailed explanation of different components available to an architect; from aluminium extrusions to composites, polymers to prototypes. It provides inside knowledge of a wide range of materials and finishes, as well as understanding their manufacturing, complexities and production timescales. It should serve to improve an architect's grasp of the cost implications of choosing one form of manufactured component over another.

Tim MacFarlane's brief foreword states that 'one of the keys to creating a rich and refined architecture lies in understanding the methods of production'. But is it not an understanding of the limitations and capabilities of a material that is essential? Do we really care how a thing is manufactured? Indeed, the quote about Newton standing on the shoulders of giants suggests that we advance by building on prior knowledge rather than exploring past processes.

That said, the book actually concentrates on component manufacturing and prefabrication techniques, whose manufacture inevitably tends to be more directly related to its end use. Besides, Stacey wants architects to push the boundaries of manufacturing - to create new dies and tooling methods - rather than to accept their current limitations.

This book should serve satisfactorily as a sister to the formative Mitchell's guides, but I look forward to the next volume having less pace, more range and greater coherence using the simple process component of good editing.

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