We never tire of paging through books on residential design. Read on for reviews of three exciting new releases.

frank gehry: the houses by mildred friedman

Fans of Frank Gehry, FAIA—as well as anyone who primarily thinks of him as an institutional architect—will savor this unorthodox new book. Authored by writer and curator Mildred Friedman, Frank Gehry: The Houses (Rizzoli New York, $85) devotes a generous amount of space to interviews with not only Gehry, but also many of his residential clients, former staff members Greg Walsh, FAIA, and Paul Lubowicki, AIA, and a partner at his firm, Craig Webb, AIA. By including homeowners' and collaborators' voices, Friedman provides a rich and candid look inside 23 of the starchitect's startlingly original midcareer houses.

In her provocative foreword, UCLA professor Sylvia Lavin writes, "Every inhabitant of a house by Gehry becomes an artist as they are called on not merely to use its spaces but to perceive its architecture." The clients, whether professional artists or not, seem to appreciate this role. "I sit here at every meal, and I look straight out through the glass of the front door, and I see the steps and those three rails as one of Gehry's finest deliberate sculptural elements," says Robert Benson, a law school professor who with his wife Lesley commissioned a Gehry house in the early 1980's. "I haven't kept my eyes off of it for twenty-six years."

But it's also intriguing to hear the more everyday concerns, the same programmatic issues every residential architect faces. In talking about the process of remodeling their famous Santa Monica, Calif., house, Gehry's wife and business partner Berta discusses her desire for a bigger kitchen, a safe staircase, and space for children to play in the backyard. Juxtaposed with her husband's free-associating conversational style, which incorporates myriad cultural references to everything from the Elgin Marbles to James Joyce to Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, these sorts of practical questions add another layer of interest.

The book's many photos, drawings, and plans work with the text to demonstrate how Gehry develops an idea over a span of years and projects—and how houses have played a crucial role in his evolution. Of the unbuilt Lewis House in Lyndhurst, Ohio, Friedman writes, "Ultimately, the Lewis project served as a laboratory of pure invention that spawned a new direction in Gehry's work, and attested to the continuing significance of residential design in the discovery of new forms within the ever-widening field of architecture."


albert, righter & tittmann's classical variations

The sumptuous tome New Classic American Houses: The Architecture of Albert, Righter & Tittman is chock-full of treats. There's the foreword by Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, who calls the Boston firm's work "refreshing in the grace of its erudition, lightly displayed, not flaunted." Then there are the luscious photos, generously sized to let the reader see every bit of AR&T's highly detailed houses. Add in author Dan Cooper's clear, insightful prose, and the result is a book readers will want to peruse cover to cover.

New Classic American Houses is organized into three main parts: Exteriors, Interiors, and Outbuildings, each one with a few subsections. The Architectural Styles subsection does a particularly good job of integrating general background information (a brief history of Classical, Shingle, and other house styles) into an eloquent explanation of AR&T's approach.

The firm has earned a well-deserved reputation for building on historical precedent in surprising and inventive ways. This is a difficult thing to do well, but AR&T pulls it off, creating beautiful, singular houses that relate not only to the physical environment but also to local traditions. Writing about such houses is another difficult task—it's easy to sound either too glib or too academic—but Cooper finds the sweet spot.

The more conventional way to organize a monograph is to go house by house, rather than grouping images from various houses into categories the way this book does. But the latter, scattered-project strategy effectively conveys the way Jacob Albert, AIA, James V. Righter, FAIA, John Tittman, AIA, and the more recently-named partner J.B. Clancy, AIA, think about residential architecture. And it reveals the common threads that link the firm's impressive body of work.

"The publisher's idea to organize it that way really appealed to us," Albert says. "It gets into more detail about the way people live. It also allowed us to show a lot more houses, because you don't need to show the whole thing—just the parts that relate to what you're talking about."

Published by The Vendome Press, the book is priced at $50 and will be available in December 2009.


robert m. gurney's modern monograph

The cover of Modern Order: Houses by Robert Gurney shows a new, modern house that seems to float atop a lush green lawn. Its long, taut lines lead your eye to the body of water it overlooks, and its rigorous geometry lives up to the book's title. It's a beautiful cover that introduces an equally lovely book.

But the project featured on the cover fits only one of the residential project types at which Alexandria, Va.-based Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, excels. Gurney moves fluidly among renovations, additions, new houses, and interior remodels. His always-modern work is also notable for its consistent sensitivity to context, whether that context is a green field or a historic building or neighborhood.

Modern Order (architecture/interiors press, $55) demonstrates this versatility. It presents full-color photography and drawings of 19 residences, including a new house in Potomac, Md., that draws subtle influences from Japanese architecture; a glass addition to an 18th-century farmhouse in Washington, Va. (winner of residential architect's 2003 project of the year); a Bethesda, Md., renovation completed over a span of 10 years; and many other new homes and remodels that demonstrate Gurney's skill and range. (As well as those of his wife, interior designer Thérèse Baron Gurney, who created many of the projects' interiors.)

An engaging introduction by design writer Vernon Mays provides insights into Gurney's design process and background. He posits that the architect's early experiences working on construction sites with his bricklayer father "helped [him] develop a sensitivity for the way materials feel, in addition to how they look—a tactility that is expressed in his buildings as compositions of textures." And Mays details Gurney's fascination with form and composition: "His houses are careful arrangements of shapes that give individuality and clarity to the main elements of the residential program."

The Washington, D.C., area contains a handful of world-class modern residential architects, and Gurney certainly ranks as one of them. This well-organized and visually pleasing book helps make that fact even more apparent.

Further reading about Gurney and his work:

2003 ra Design Awards Project of the Year
2006 ra Design Awards Grand Award / Kitchen
2007 ra Design Awards Grand Award / Architectural Interiors
2009 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Grand Award / Custom Home More Than 5,000 Square Feet
2009 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Grand Award / Custom Bath
2009 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Grand Award / Renovation
2009 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Grand Award / Renovation
2009 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Merit Award / Custom Detail
2008 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Merit Award / Custom Home More Than 5,000 Square Feet
2007 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Merit Award / Custom Kitchen
2007 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Merit Award / Custom Home 3,000 to 5,000 Square Feet
2007 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Grand Award / Custom Renovation
2007 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Grand Award / Custom Renovation
2006 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Grand Award / Accessory Building
2006 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Grand Award / Custom Renovation
2006 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Merit Award / Custom Renovation
2005 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Merit Award / Custom Home More Than 5,000 Square Feet
2005 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Merit Award / Custom Home 3,000 to 5,000 Square Feet
2005 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Merit Award / Custom Renovation
2004 CUSTOM HOME Design Awards Merit Award / Custom Kitchen