by Neil Spiller. Thames & Hudson, November 2016. 256 p. ill. ISBN 9780500343203 (h/c), $60.00.
Reviewed May 2017
Architecture and Surrealism, an intense relationship, indeed! Mr. Spiller presents a well-developed and thought-provoking discussion that is a delightful balance of historical criticism and interpretation of the Surrealist movement and its influence on architectural design, thought, and practice. The author references the work of the intellectual and artistic visionaries of the Surrealist movement such as André Breton, Max Ernst, Sigmund Freud, and Salvador Dalí, to name a few, and aligns the movement with that of the creative and intellectual output of influential architects such as Lebbeus Woods, John Hejduk, Rem Koolhaas, Bernard Tschumi, Robert Venturi, and Daniel Libeskind. Discussion of the Modernist canon is presented and used as a point of contradiction, comparison, and motivation for a new architectural rhetoric and alchemy for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
The book is comprised of four chapters, with an introduction, in addition to a brief bibliography, list of image credits, chapter-organized references from in-text citations, and an index. Each chapter is dedicated to an architectural theme and its ties to surrealist precedents - bodies, houses, cities, and biomechanical landscapes. Proceeding each chapter are examples of contemporary architectural projects that demonstrate or incorporate Surrealist influence in inspiration, motivation or design; these multi-page entries, however, are not included in the table of contents and are visually set apart from the chapters using gray and black page design. There are an ample number of quality images and reproductions throughout, almost 200, of varied sizes, many filling a full page or an entire page spread. The use of parenthetical page number references coupled with the overall size of the pagination type makes it easy for the reader to refer back for visual context and clarity. The book has a case binding with signatures and printing that are representative of what one expects of Thames & Hudson publications; attractive, with the potential to develop spine and/or casing damage after extensive circulation and use.
Mr. Spiller is well published and a respected author and practitioner of architectural design. The majority of his publications concentrate on contemporary issues in architecture, topics that explore the influence and (perceived) impact of digital technologies on design practice and thought of the twenty-first century. The author’s style of writing is academic with clear, concise sentence structure, and should be accessible to the undergraduate researcher and beyond. Enthusiasts of architecture and art history will find intrigue and satisfaction in this book. Both cohorts stand to gain a better understanding of the other, with the subtle reminder that design and design influence do not occur in a vacuum.