Sandfuture – Justin Beal

Ah, architecture books. They’re both the bane and the delight of my existence, because they reflect the buildings they’re talking about. Heavy, in a conceptual, even philosophical way, but so, so interesting. When I saw Sandfuture on Netgalley, I knew it would be an impressive tale – the blurb didn’t pull any punches, telling me I was about to discover the life and the works of Minoru Yamasaki, architect. 

As it happens with almost every remarkable book I read, it took me a while to finish it.

**

An account of the life and work of the architect Minoru Yamasaki that leads the author to consider how (and for whom) architectural history is written.

Sandfuture is a book about the life of the architect Minoru Yamasaki (1912-1986), who remains on the margins of history despite the enormous influence of his work on American architecture and society. That Yamasaki’s most famous projects–the Pruitt-Igoe apartments in St. Louis and the original World Trade Center in New York–were both destroyed on national television, thirty years apart, makes his relative obscurity all the more remarkable.

Sandfuture is also a book about an artist interrogating art and architecture’s role in culture as New York changes drastically after a decade bracketed by terrorism and natural disaster. From the central thread of Yamasaki’s life, Sandfuture spirals outward to include reflections on a wide range of subjects, from the figure of the architect in literature and film and transformations in the contemporary art market to the perils of sick buildings and the broader social and political implications of how, and for whom, cities are built. The result is at once sophisticated in its understanding of material culture and novelistic in its telling of a good story.

272 pages
Architecture
MIT Press
Goodreads

**

Cover: The cover is a no. I’m really sorry, but there are a lot of WTC pictures – the ones taken from ground level are maybe the best. Why not pick one of those?

Yay!

  • Sandfuture is part biography, part artistic musing. The author, Justin Beal, set out to explore the life of Yamasaki, the architect behind the Pruitt-Igoe complex, the Northwestern National Life Building, and the World Trade Center. At the same time, Beal talks about his experience in the art world, relating it to various architectural pieces and the way they interact with both the landscape and the people. The decision of writing a disjointed story confused me at first, I won’t lie. As the book progresses though, the two parts come together like pieces of the same puzzle.
  • Yamasaki is both well-known and obscure. It’s a dichotomy I can’t figure out, no matter how hard I tried while I was reading. He accomplished a lot, but his life saddens me. I mean, Sandfuture is a biography, and it made me experience a wide range of emotions, something that seldom happens with non-fiction books.
  • When it came to the WTC, I always shared the same feeling of both Beal and Mekas. They scared me. I guess it’s the concept of skyscrapers itself that doesn’t sit well with me, for many reasons. 9/11 aside, I can think of a dozen things that can go wrong when you work (or live) inside one vs a two-stories building. Reading about the construction of the towers did nothing to assuage that uneasiness; rather, it gave me a slight claustrophobia when I checked the exact width of the windows. Yikes. Kudos to Beal for the vivid descriptions (and for cementing my resolution to steer clear of my town’s ‘scrapers).
  • Of course I still prefer older, more refined buildings. That’s my core, Aristotelian inside; yet, Yamasaki’s interpretation of modernism is captivating.

Nay!

  • The beginning is too slow, the prose a bit too rich, and that might discourage a reader less tenacious than me. Also, kudos for the pictures! The placement though, it should have been better thought-out. If you’re talking about a building, put a photo of said building on the same page. 

TL;DR
4 stars on GR.

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