ARCHITECTURE : Giving Shelter

Charles Lockwood is the author of seven books about American architecture and cities

The 1980s were the decade of "celebu-tects"--the "celebrity architects" who designed tea kettles, appeared in magazine advertisements, and were guests on talk shows. In the midst of this self-promotion, I.M. Pei, perhaps America's finest living architect, continued to do what he does best: design buildings which fulfill a practical need yet delight the eye and elevate the spirit.

Pei's buildings include the East Building of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, and the glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre in Paris. Los Angeles boasts its own Pei landmark: The Creative Artists Agency headquarters in Beverly Hills.

I.M. Pei: A Portrait in American Architecture by Carter Wiseman (Abrams: $50; 320 pp.) is the first full-length study of this architect's work. It chronicles Pei's life and projects, from his youth in China, to his student years at MIT and Harvard, to his early work for developer William Zeckendorf, to the 1960 founding of his own firm, to his present world-wide fame.

Although this book catalogues all Pei's works, it wisely focuses on 10 of his finest buildings, which are splendidly illustrated in color portfolios. The reader, therefore, can fully appreciate these projects, and thanks to Wiseman's extensive interviews with Pei and his associates, can understand how this architectural master shaped these buildings to the requirements of each situation and his own aesthetic vision.

If I.M. Pei might be called a Mozart among architects--refined, elegant, and self-assured--then John Portman, Jr. is architecture's Tchaikovsky--bold, colorful, and lots of fun. Although many critics are ambivalent about Portman, the public invariably loves his buildings, particularly the soaring atriums in his hotels.

In the heavily illustrated John Portman by Paolo Riani (AIA Press: $60; 247 pp.), readers can enjoy some of this architect's most flamboyant projects, such as the Hyatt in San Francisco's Embarcadero Center. They can also judge his less successful ones, like the hulking Marriott Marquis Hotel at Times Square or the bunker-like Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles.

Besides the hotels, this book catalogues other aspects of Portman's productive career: his high-rise office buildings and mixed-use complexes, his renovation of Rockefeller Center, his own real estate developments. Yet, as this book's illustrators so aptly prove, Portman will be remembered as a hotel architect. Who can't remember the first time that they stepped into one of his hotels and gasped with delight at the explosion of space within the vast sunlit atrium?

The past decade was an era of considerable creativity, as well as upheaval, in architecture, producing new movements such as postmodernism or deconstructism and new architectural stars like Frank Gehry or Helmut Jahn.

Architecture, the magazine of the American Institute of Architects, chronicled the decade's glories and occasional excesses in its monthly issues. Now, it has published the finest of those articles in American Architecture of the 1980s (AIA Press: $60; 342 pp.). The range of projects is remarkable--from a charming Shingle Style cottage at the beach, to a children's museum, to the Vietnam Memorial, to the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, and the vast Battery Park City in lower Manhattan.

Ezra Stoller is one of the nation's best known and most gifted architectural photographers. Through his technical skill and photographic vision, Stoller captures everything which escapes many observers, from the smallest details of a building to its overall spirit.

Modern Architecture by William S. Saunders (Abrams: $60; 316 pp.) is the first book to survey Ezra Stoller's work, and it boasts 436 illustrations, including 34 plates in full color. The range of photographs is enormous, and includes many of modern architecture's greatest works. Some of the photographs have become as well known as the buildings themselves. This splendidly produced book is a "must" for any serious enthusiast of modern architecture or photography.

Not so long ago, museums were veritable temples of art, meant only for the display and respectful contemplation of various masterpieces. As The Museum Transformed by Douglas Davis (Abbeville: $55; 238 pp.) aptly demonstrates, museums now serve many other functions as well: entertainment, shopping, eating, a venue for charity functions and social climbing, even a spiritual focus for contemporary society.

This provocative book discusses some of the world's best-known new museums, including the Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art, the addition at LACMA, the Aerospace Museum, even the proposed Getty Center. Besides examining the recent building boom, Douglas also examines new trends such as small museums devoted to a well-defined period or region, the difficulty of designing a facility to serve several conflicting uses, alternate spaces and artist-operated museums, and lastly, the surge of museum construction in Japan.

Many centuries before the appearance of museums, churches served as many communities' spiritual focal points, civic monuments, and works of art. Today, churches still serve all those functions, and have also become leading tourist attractions for believers and non-believers alike. Who would visit Rome, for instance, and miss St. Peter's?

Edward Norman's The House of God (Thames & Hudson: $60; 312 pp.) is a magnificent chronological survey of church architecture. Of course, most readers will turn immediately to the pages covering the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages, as well as the subsequent churches in the baroque, rococo and neoclassical styles. Norman's choice of contemporary photographs, period engravings and paintings and drawings of details allow readers to see old favorites like Notre Dame or Hagia Sophia with fresh eyes.

Churches need not be soaring monuments to represent a community's piety and devotion. Author/photographer Douglas Kent Hall's Frontier Spirit (Abbeville: $55; 216 pp.) examines some of America's most moving churches: the early churches of the Southwest. Although some churches verge on the monumental, particularly the missions of California, most are modest. Some are little more than one or two small rooms. A few have become evocative ruins. Whatever their size, these Southwest churches embody local faith, materials, construction skills, and ingenuity. Most were built by priests and Indian women and children, working in adobe. The result, according to Hall, is "freehand architecture." Hall does not limit his book to architecture only, but draws on mission annals, personal memoirs, and recent interviews to explain the role of these churches in their communities.

Few regions in America offer more charming historic architecture than the South, particularly its 18th- and 19th-Century houses. Abbeville Press is publishing a splendid series, "Architecture of the Old South," whose previous titles include Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi/Alabama, and Louisiana. The series' most recent title is Architecture of the Old South: Georgia by Mills Lane ($55; 252 pp.). Although the book covers some public buildings and churches, it focuses mostly on Georgia's historic homes. Lane's choice of photographs ranges from lavish plantation houses to humble cottages. The book also depicts town houses and mansions, particularly those in Savannah, one of the nation's handsomest small cities.

The 1980s were not just an age of impressive office buildings; it was an age of flamboyant country houses as well, from Malibu to Easthampton, and every well-to-do community in between. Although the multi-millionaires who commissioned these houses often specified the latest architectural styles, they were simply following a longstanding American tradition--the lavish country estate as status symbol.

As Mark Alan Hewitt depicts in The Architect & the American County House (Yale: $55; 312 pp.), the greatest age of the country estates ran from the 1880s through the 1930s, an age when industrialization and Wall Street had spawned great fortunes, but income taxes were moderate and servants were plentiful. Hewitt, an architect, has written a comprehensive text about the families who built these mansions and their architects, and he has thoughtfully included historic photographs, floor plans, and maps of the estates with his illustrations. Yet, most readers can't help but return to the splendid interior and exterior photographs again and again. This is not just a book to read; it is a book for many to dream over, and to give as a Christmas present.

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