This article is part of our latest Design Special Report, on new creative avenues shaped by the pandemic.
For over a decade, the architect Rafael Herrin-Ferri has methodically scoured Queens’ neighborhoods, fascinated by the range of what he describes as “levels of exhibitionism” in residences outfitted with asymmetrical roof spikes and crimson speckled facades. His book All the Queens Houses: An Architectural Portrait of New York’s Largest and Most Diverse Neighborhood (Jovis, $22.99, 272 pp.) documents how residents of the Queens subdivision vie for attention with aqua canopies, watermelon stucco pigments, and sine wave driveways. Simulated cracks cut through the masonry of a mansion’s chimneys, and attics appear to be melting. He gently chides a “dead cat” gap between houses that would be “impossible to clean” and a balcony on spindly stilts that has “the smooth surfaces and floating quality of a hydraulic car lift”. But he largely avoids judgment when coming up with formal titles for homes like Pixel Ghost, Cerulean Icebox, Minoan Makeover, and Samurai Helmet House.
Travel diaries, confessionals and construction site reports serve as eye-opening resources for: Julia Morgan: An intimate biography of the pioneering architect (Chronicle Books, $32.50, 240 pp.), by historian Victoria Kastner. In 1904, Morgan became the first licensed female architect in California. She is best remembered for her collaboration with William Randolph Hearst on designs for megalomaniac castles, in styles from Bavarian to Art Deco. But she designed hundreds of more crowd-pleasing buildings, including charities headquarters run by Chinese-American and Japanese-American communities. She recycled 13th-century masonry cut for Spanish Cistercian monks and shards of French medieval glass rescued from cathedrals bombed during World War I. She climbed scaffolding wearing long wool skirts and hiding decent men’s trousers. When she didn’t like the work of male contractors, she forced them to tear it down and start over. Though she rarely spoke to reporters or otherwise sought the publicity, she built a reputation and income substantial enough to give away real estate and cars to her loved ones. As the workload eased, she took cargo ships abroad, “leaving one boat and booking a passage on another, almost as if she were catching buses,” writes Ms Kastner. Morgan barely paused to eat, so even the equally tireless Hearst urged her to try to relax. “You wouldn’t treat a motorcycle the way you treat yourself,” he wrote to the architect.
Inventions that failed disastrously or quietly passed into oblivion are revived in Extinct: A Compendium of Obsolete Objects (Reaktion Books, $40,390pp.). A team of nearly 80 scientists wrote the 85 alphabetical entries, from arsenic-laced wallpaper that poisoned Victorian families to exploding zeppelins. Once-mundane goods that have become collectibles include ashtrays, paper airplane tickets, slide rules, and vertical filing cabinets. And there are technologies now mostly confined to museums, such as pneumatic tubes for mail delivery, and pyrophones, piano-key musical instruments that power miniature burners in glass tubes that emit melancholy whispers. The book also details follies that never made it to the market: anti-gravity undergarments designed to hold up porters and telegraph mechanisms that relied on slugs that slither around sinking bowls to type letters.
Since the 1980s, the Japanese textile maker Nuno has been investigating what happens when fabrics are made up from yam paste, plantain stalks, newspapers or audio tapes. NUNO: Visionary Japanese Textile (Thames & Hudson, $75,380 pp.), by the company’s design director, Reiko Sudo, devotes full spreads to wares with names as memorable as Lunatic Fringe and Scrapyard Iron Plates. Motifs and textures are inspired by Italian bakeware, Turkish limestone walls and tropical undergrowth. Ms. Sudo explains how much painstaking salt shrinking and clamp painting is required in the rugged and sci-fi metallic sheen. The knit fabric known as Hairball “is steamed, trimmed, re-steamed, brushed, shaved, steamed and brushed again, until the fur comes to life,” she writes. And Nuno workers have the means to channel their aggression by making heirloom fibers “roasted over burners, dissolved with acid, boiled and stewed, ripped with knives and pulled apart.”