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Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture

phaidon21st.250.jpgPhaidon 0640 Disney Concert Hall USA.250.jpg

I already own the Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture as well its travel edition, so its unsurprising that I finally caved and purchased the Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture last night.

For the uninitiated, it's best to start describing the 21st Century atlas by its size as the title itself is straightforward. The 21st Century atlas comes with a plastic carrying case, which you will need as the inside cover proudly lists its weight at 14.5 lbs. The book is so tall and wide that I can almost squeeze my Wii Fit inside the carrying case.

So, does size matter? Yes, when you're looking at pretty pictures of architecture. The book is 800 pages, featuring 1037 buildings by 653 architects covering 89 countries. Anywhere between half a page and two pages are spent on each building, so the large page size is essential to packing in as much information per building while retaining good photo quality.

The Contemporary atlas covered 1998-2004 while the 21st Century atlas covers 2000-2008. As you might expect, there is some overlap between the atlases, though buildings that were lightly covered in the previous edition received expanded detail in the new edition and vice versa. It's not too troubling as the amount of actual overlap is fairly small. Head-to-head, the 21st Century atlas covers fewer buildings (1037 vs. 1052) but more countries (89 vs. 75). The page count is nearly identical and the page layout design is also similar, though the 21st Century atlas is updated with more saturated tones and a cleaner design. It somehow manages to shed three pounds of weight, which I assume has something to do with the paper. For the truly obsessive, the 21st Century atlas adds in coordinates so you can plot the buildings' exact positions: useful if you're trying to locate homes.

My favorite building so far is the Too Tall Teahouse in Japan, which immediately stood out as I flipped the pages: it is perched atop two tree trunks. Stunning and also the smallest building in the atlas at 67 square feet. The Sugiharto Steel House in Indonesia is also remarkable for its sub-$6000 modern looks.

San Francisco only received a single entry in the previous edition so I was happy (as a Bay Area resident) to see entries on Herzog and de Meuron's de Young Museum and Morphosis' San Francisco Federal Building highlight the recent construction in the city. Tokyo really lights up in the new edition and nearly doubles its entries from 15 to 27, led by construction in Omotesando. There are three new Omotesando buildings (MVRDV's Gyre, SANAA's Christian Dior, Toyo Ito's TOD'S) -- four if you count Herzog and de Meuron's Prada building down the street. Unsurprisingly, the Ginza gets a couple new buildings: Ito's Mikomoto building and Shigeru Ban's Hayek Centre. New York City also shines with Gehry's first NYC building, Foster's Hearst Tower, Piano's New York Times building and Morgan Library expansion, and several more.

If you are wondering whether or not to update to the latest edition, the answer is probably yes, because you probably have the same obsessive personality as I do, as evidenced by your ownership of the previous edition.

If you are new the the atlas and wondering whether you should buy it, consider whether or not you want a comprehensive book covering recent world architecture. I found the previous edition useful for finding architects that I wanted to study more about -- many of the architects in the atlas have monographs that you can purchase. The atlas is cross-indexed so each page lists other buildings by the same architect. The indexes are even color coded by region and have a three-letter code to identify the type of building. If you click on the Walt Disney Concert Hall page above, you'll see that the top of the page lists three other buildings by Gehry -- a Tourism building in El Cienego, Spain and commercial buildings in Berlin and New York -- all numbered so you can quickly find the page.

I also found the previous edition useful for planning buildings to visit while traveling. I wasn't too surprised when a travel edition came out and I look forward to the travel edition of this one as well.

Phaidon 0592-3 Africa South spread.500.jpg

(book spreads used with permission)

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