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    Credit: Inquiry, Rizzoli New York, 2011

KieranTimberlake is a research-based Philadelphia firm known for its award-winning institutional work, but also for technologically sophisticated buildings that reduce construction time and cost and live lightly on the land. Among them is SmartWrap, an experimental pavilion commissioned by the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum that’s sheathed in a flexible skin printed with organic LEDs and photovoltaics. Another is the ecologically agile Loblolly House on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, lauded for its clever assembly system.

Like its precisely detailed buildings, the firm’s new book Inquiry (Rizzoli, $55), by Karl Wallick, AIA, unfolds in layers. Over the years the architects have devised a unique way of thinking about the complex process of design, and thus of organizing the book. The chapter titles distill design into 10 gerunds—bending, coupling, filtering, inserting, offsetting, outlining, overlapping, puncturing, reflecting, and tuning—that form a useful (and poetic) framework for working toward the often contradictory goals of sustainable architecture. Each chapter contains project fragments that illustrate the concepts. These notions can be figurative, too. Bending, for example, refers not just to walls or metal but a certain mindset. “There is also a conceptual bending that impels the design process at KieranTimberlake,” Wallick writes. It’s a way of resolving the multiple forces at work on a project, and “a calculated attempt to slow down the rush to a singular formal conception. A willingness to bend yields great strength in architecture.”

An index of 19 projects, arranged chronologically by date, stitches together the entire presentation. Each commission includes a photo, description, and plans with shaded areas referencing the chapter and page where those details appear. As Stephen Kieran, FAIA, and James Timberlake, FAIA, write in the introduction, “Research is required to evolve, test, restate, and generate robust solutions in the quest for not only a world of architecture that establishes lofty standards for ethical performance but also one in which beauty and performance become whole again.”