Wednesday, November 11, 2009

on books

in my inbox today:

[click to enlarge]

despite closing their doors for good in chicago, prairie avenue bookshop is holding an auction for items in their rare architectural book collection. we are somewhat of an architectural book collector ourselves, and even though the prices on these books may be way out of reach the list list is still intriguing to peruse. some selections include works by edward lutyens, charles garnier, walter gropius & frank lloyd wright. browse through the entire catalogue here. the prairie avenue lot starts on page 37.

but the auction is a bittersweet event--a reminder that one of the most influential and well known architectural book stores will unfortunately join the ranks of many other institutions that have been affected by not only the down turning economy, but also the shift towards the internet being the chosen method of buying goods. this will not turn into a rant, but is meant to be merely a lament for the experience that browsing, selecting and reading books offers to our cultural existence. consumerism aside [overindulged expenditure], a society's values can be measured by the quality of their creations--our built environment included. architect david chipperfield said it best recently when asked about the state of british architectural values [which could also be said about the usa]:

“Simple,” he says. “Britain gets the architecture it deserves. We don’t value architecture, we don’t take it seriously, we don’t want to pay for it and the architect isn’t trusted... We are a country that values money and individualism. Architecture becomes glorified property development, not valued culture. Ten storeys? Try for 20. Squeeze in more bedrooms. That’s British architecture." - via

this attitude could be applied to many different aspects of our culture [including books]: expediency over thoughtfulness, convenience over tactile experience. given our nomadic way of life, this not surprising. some will also argue that reading a book on your iPhone saves trees from being made into books. to us, this sounds more like tunnel vision. trees are a renewable resource and can be replaced if handled responsibly [it's not about the delivery, it's all about the approach]. the physicality and weight of a good book can offer new emotional, physical & intellectual connections to our environment and society. it is a [semi] permanent snapshot of our society's discoveries and interests, whether it be the twilight series or research on stem cells.

of course there are many degrees of value, and we are not promoting the death of digital book reading in any way. we just want to keep the choice of "the book" alive...



commoncents said...

Great post - I really like your blog! Keep up the excellent work!!


ps. Link Exchange??

mgerwing said...

I can't express how sad this closing is. I worked in Chicago for many years and spent many a lunchtime and too much of an intern architect's salary at Prairie Ave. I was in Chicago the day after it closed and just stood outside for a minute. Not only the ability to browse has been lost, but the tactile sense of books, their color and size and smell. This place was a temple to architectural self-education. Very sad indeed.