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book review: modern north

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book coverFaced with the prospect of a long, hot D.C. summer (high temp today is 90 degrees), I turned to Modern North: Architecture on the Frozen Edge for some cold comfort. This book by Julie Decker, director of the International Gallery of Contemporary Art in Anchorage, Alaska, was released this spring by Princeton Architectural Press (hardcover, $45). I had a feeling I'd particularly like it, given my tendency to gravitate toward Scandinavian architecture.

I did. The book starts with a grouping of essays by Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa, Canadian architecture critic Lisa Rochon, British architect Brian Carter, and Alaska-based architect and writer Edwin B. Crittenden, which help provide background information on northern and cold-climate building design. It then delves into 34 featured projects, most of which are located at latitudes of 60 degrees North or higher.

All of the projects are strong, but some personal favorites of mine were Snøhetta's Karmøy Fishing Museum in Karmøy, Norway, with its mossy concrete walls; the Monastery for Cistercian Nuns on Tautra Island, Norway, by Jensen & Skodvin, which is clad in thin shingles of copper-hued slate; and Tham & Videgård Hansson Architects' cleverly laid-out Villa in Archipelago in Stockholm, Sweden. More buildings I loved: light-filled St. Henry's Ecumenical Art Chapel by Sanaksenaho Architects in Turku, Finland; mayer sattler-smith's Buser/Chapoton residence in Big Lake, Alaska, which has a striking facade of charred wood; and the no-frills Hotel Kirkenes in Kirkenes Harbor, Finland, by Sami Rintala. 

The work is presented nicely, with a good mix of firms--some world-renowned, and some less well-known--represented. At the start of each writeup, the book lists the latitude of the project's location, as well as its mean temperatures in January and July. It's a charming graphic conceit, but also a reality check that gives you a sense of the serious climate-related restraints these architects face. It makes the work's elegance that much more impressive.--m.d

 
 

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