Coffee table

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 July, 2006, 12:00am

Case Study Houses by Elizabeth Smith (Taschen, $75) had its beginnings in 1945, when John Entenza, editor of influential avant-garde magazine Arts & Architecture, decided to show Americans how they could live. With a building boom inevitable after the Depression and war years, he sought to encourage architects to design low-cost, modern housing, examples of which would gain exposure in his monthly publication. Although not every idea was realised, his grand scheme resulted in 36 designs, some of them conceived by people who remain household names today, including Eero Saarinen and Charles and Ray Eames. The couple's double-height structure, built for personal use, was constructed entirely of industrial, prefabricated components. The most iconic design from the programme, however, was that of Pierre Koenig, whose Stahl House is featured on the cover of the book. It also underscored Entenza's aim encapsulated in this statement: 'It becomes the obligation of all those who serve and profit through man's wish to live well to take the ... black magic out of the hard facts that go into the building of the 'house'.'

Another book aiming to uncover mysteries is Karen Mazurkewich's Chinese Furniture: A Guide to Collecting Antiques (Tuttle, $385).

A handsome tome, it offers a historical overview of Chinese-furniture craftsmanship and explains the pitfalls of collecting, helping consumers to make informed decisions about what to buy. Mazurkewich, a former Asian Wall Street Journal reporter, interviews experts in the field and weaves in their comments to produce balanced pieces. She also provides interesting profiles of a handful of Chinese who have profited from the boom in antiques that began in the 1980s. Some were born into the trade; others, such as the wiley Fan Rong, were lucky enough to realise its potential early in the game, although the mainland-based dealer says, 'Now the number of wolves outnumbers the meat.'

The first issue of Domus d'Autore (Domus Magazine, Euro10/$97, from is a keeper for Rem Koolhaas fans or collectors of special editions. Conceived of as a yearly publication edited by leading figures in design, architecture and town planning, the book, subtitled Post-Occupancy, affords the Dutch superstar a platform on which to (re)present four of his recent buildings: the Netherlands Embassy in Berlin, the Seattle Public Library, the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) Campus Centre in Chicago and the Casa da Musica, in Porto, Portugal. Proving he isn't one of those architects who shun the profession's 'only new F word' (function), he seeks the opinions of everyday users of his buildings to show ways in which architects interact with the world and how the world, in turn, influences their work. It's refreshing to read statements from people who tell it like it is. Take this comment from a campus bookstore manager about the IIT building: 'I like the way [it] is laid out [and] that it is visually stimulating. I'm not certain what the architect's vision was, but I feel the building itself is functional.' The same building provoked this reaction from a student: 'The unfinished ceilings, the grey metallic floors, the unforgiving furniture ... it's almost like someone is trying to decorate a prison cell with cheery colours. It just won't work.'