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Tower and Office: From Modernist Theory to Contemporary Practice. By Iñaki Ábalos and Juan Herreros. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003. Pp. x+295. $45.

Tower and Office is an ambitious book. Like the high-rise buildings it investigates, this newly revised (and first American) edition strives to accommodate the analysis of many interdependent milieus of building design and technology. It successfully combines thorough critiques of the evolution of [End Page 852] the design disciplines required to create tall buildings. Topics covered include structure, enclosure, mechanical systems, and spatial planning. The authors, Iñaki Ábalos and Juan Herreros, are Spanish architects who bring a critical international perspective to their study of a quintessentially American building type. Through extensive analysis of important buildings of the modern movement, they clearly trace and explain the developments, both technological and social, that made the high-rise office building possible. The book is organized into three sections: an analysis of early high-rises, contemporary technological developments, and the typological and urban evolution of current tall buildings.

In the first section, Ábalos and Herreros critically review the modern movement's contributions to the architectural development of high-rise buildings. Le Corbusier is their prime focus, but Mies van der Rohe is also cited often, as would be expected. It seems that most early building proposals were still heavily dependent on overall shape and form, perhaps because designers concentrated on how the high-rise building related to the modern city and to the idea of the building as a city itself. Indeed, the subtitles in chapter 1 bear this out; all of them refer to Corbusian skyscrapers by their form: cruciform, cartesian, or lozenge shaped. Yet to build taller, Corbusier and other designers realized the need for technology to play a greater role in architectural design.

Ábalos and Herreros next investigate the impact of evolving building technologies on high-rise design. Their thorough analysis of the technological evolutions that allowed designers to propose taller and ultimately more efficient buildings is the strongest part of the book, despite some unnecessarily difficult language. They examine the role of structure, enclosure, and mechanical systems, clearly noting their interdependence. They also describe how designers such as Fazlur Kahn and Bruce Graham at Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill pioneered designs wherein structural behavior and form were truly integrated, to great architectural benefit. Equally important to structural design, however, was the ability to analyze the behavior of taller and taller structures. Since lateral stability of tall buildings is a necessity, it is also a major determinant of form. The development of appropriate enclosure systems was driven by new structural models that had evolved beyond the reticulated frame. The new enclosure systems in turn necessitated the design of improved mechanical systems. By now the reader should have gained an appreciation of the complex and multidisciplined nature of high-rise building design.

In the third section, Ábalos and Herreros expand their investigation to explore the typological and urban evolution of high-rise buildings. This section ranges from analyses of the evolution of the modern office space (including furniture) to the planning of mixed-use skyscrapers. The authors describe how less tangible issues influence modern office design. Concepts such as separating workers' tasks and the division of labor and [End Page 853] management staffs directly determined how offices were planned. Both improved enclosures and mechanical systems then allowed space planning to expand beyond traditional depths determined by accessibility to natural light and air.

In this elegantly edited and crafted book, readers will find much useful information in addition to the text itself. An index of names and the extensive endnotes are valuable to those for whom this book will inspire further study, and there are sure to be many. Though the diagrams are often too small, the detailed comparative tables summarizing several chapters are very useful.

There are many other books that focus on some of the topics presented here. The strength of this book lies in the breadth and depth of the analysis. After all, the development of the modern high-rise building is dependent on careful integration of mutually dependent systems. All buildings need structure, enclosure, and mechanical systems, but high-rises demand truly integrated designs in order to be successful, or even feasible.

Robert J. Dermody

Robert Dermody is an assistant professor of architecture at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island.

Additional Information

ISSN
1097-3729
Print ISSN
0040-165X
Launched on MUSE
2004-12-07
Open Access
No
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