Best Books of 2011


Last year, we only have five top books (see earlier post), but this year we’ve expanded the list. A range of great books came past our desk and any of these may be of interest to your favorite landscape architect. Here are the top ten books of 2011, along with five other notable books:

Landscapes in Landscapes by Piet Oudolf (Monacelli Press, 2011)
In his complex, endlessly interesting landscapes, Oudolf says he prizes form and texture as much as color. He almost exclusively uses perennials, which he values for their “beauty throughout their natural life cycle.” Requiring little maintenance, his naturally sustainable landscapes, which feature drought-resistant plants, evolve over time. As Charles Waldheim, chair of the landscape architecture department at Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD), wrote in The New York Times, “he’s gotten away from the soft pornography of the flower. He’s interested in the life cycle, how plant material ages over the course of a year.” Read the full review.

The Altered Landscape: Photographs of a Changing Environment by Ann M. Wolfe (Editor) (Skira Rizzoli, 2011) 
From the book: “This comprehensive look at the work of 100 contemporary photographers captures the impact of human activity on natural landscapes. The Altered Landscape is a provocative collection of photographs representing a wide range of artists, techniques, visual styles, subjects, and ideological positions. Organized chronologically, the more than 150 images-by artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Chris Jordan, Catherine Opie, and Edward Burtynsky-reveal the ways that individuals and industries have marked, mined, toured, tested, developed, occupied, and exploited landscapes over the last fifty years.”

Field Notes from Science and Nature by Michael R. Canfield  (Editor), Edward O. Wilson (Foreword) (Harvard University Press, 2011)
The Los Angeles Times writes: “This gorgeous book reproduces samples from the notebooks of 12 naturalists in all their glory, accompanied by short essays on methodology and why field notes are still so critical to the art of science. These drawings, notes (in spectacular handwriting), photos, and maps are a reminder that natural history is the root of all biology, and observation is a critical skill. George Schaller’s drawings of a lion hunt in the Serengeti, Bernd Heinrich’s delicate drawings of leaves, Kenn Kaufman’s lists, Jonathan Kingdon’s drawings of acacia trees in Kenya, Jenny Keller’s spectacular drawings of moon jellies–these and others make science look not only appealing, fascinating and fun but human and creative as well.

Genius of Life: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin (Da Capo Press, 2011)
Genius of Place: the Life of Frederick Law Olmsted, a new biography by Justin Martin, illuminates Olmsted’s major achievements as a visionary artist, social reformer, pioneering environmentalist, and founder of the modern profession of landscape architecture. Olmsted is best known for creating several noteworthy landscapes, including New York City’s Central Park. Martin, a journalist who has written two acclaimed biographies on Alan Greenspan and Ralph Nader, paints a portrait of Olmsted as a preeminent American figure, revealing that “as a park maker, environmentalist, and abolitionist, Olmsted helped shape modern America.” Read the full review.

High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky by Joshua David and Robert Hammond (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2011)
The New York Times writes: “This lushly illustrated volume showcases the range of imaginative designs [Joshua David and Robert Hammond] explored and, in some cases, rejected. In recounting their decade-long experiment, they provide an inspiring primer for grass-roots urban planning.” Paul Goldberger at The New Yorker writes: “In this book Robert Hammond and Joshua David, who led the grass-roots movement to rescue the High Line from demolition, tell with energy, passion, and refreshing candor the story of how this industrial artifact became, against all odds, a magnificent park.” 

Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-being, and Sustainability by Andrew Dannenberg (Editor), Howard Frumkin (Editor), and Richard Jackson (Editor) (Island Press, 2011)
Dr. Richard Jackson (see earlier post) and Dr. Howard Frumkin (see earlier post) have been long-time advocates of marrying public health and design. In this book, they offer a how-to that is essential reading for all landscape architects. “The authors have crafted an exemplary look at the various components of community design that promote and support health. Through their perspective we see clearly how much community design matters to our health and well-being; and it matters a lot.” – Georges C. Benjamin, MD, Executive Director, American Public Health Association. Read the full review.

MAPS by Paula Scher (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011)
Map making is not just about creating visual representations of physical spaces, but can also be about documenting impressions and emotions. Paula Scher, a partner at Pentagram and one of the most influential graphic designers of her generation, has a new book that conveys the rich, complex feelings she has for the process of map making itself. As she writes in the introduction, “I began painting maps to invent my own complicated narrative about the way I see and feel about the world. I wanted to list what I know about a place from memory, from impressions, from media, and from general information overload. They are paintings of distortions.” Read the full review.

The New American Landscape: Leading Voices on the Future of Sustainable Gardening by Thomas Christopher (Editor) (Timber Press, 2011)
Instead of exacerbating environmental issues, gardeners must harness the many ecosystem services provided by natural systems and design gardens that support and strengthen local ecologies. This how-to guide clearly demonstrates how gardeners’ sustainable practices can positively shape our shared enviroment. Read the full review.

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier by Edward L. Glaeser (Penguin Press, 2011)
“Edward Glaeser is one of the world’s most brilliant economists, and Triumph of the City is a masterpiece. Seamlessly combining economics and history, he explains why cities are ‘our species’ greatest invention.’ This beautifully written book makes clear how cities have not only survived but thrived, even as modern technology has seemingly made one’s physical location less important.” – Steven D. Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics, professor of economics at the University of Chicago.

The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World by Carl Safina (Henry Holt & Co, 2011)
From the Booklist review: “From his home base, this celebrated scientist and activist travels to places where the impact of climate change and environmental abuse is starkly evident. With the spiral of a year as his structure and with what Einstein termed the ‘circle of compassion’ as his moral compass, MacArthur and Guggenheim fellow Safina illuminates the wondrous intricacy and interconnectedness of life in a book of beautifully modulated patterns and gracefully stated imperatives.”

Other notable books in 2011:

The Agile City: Building Well-being and Wealth in an Era in Climate Change by James Russell (Island Press, 2011) Read full review.
Gateway: Visions for an Urban National Park
by Alexander Brash (editor), Jaime Hand (editor), Kate Orff (editor) (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011) Read full review.
Pulled: A Catalog of Screen Printing by Mike Perry (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011) Read full review.
Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-carbon World by Catherine Tumber (The MIT Press)
Urban Green: Architecture for the Future by Neil Chambers (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011) Read an interview.

In addition, check out a few other best book lists: Planetizen offers their top 10 planning books for 2011. The University of Cambridge compiled a list of the top 50 books on sustainability.

Lastly, these “painstakingly hand-printed” t-shirts of some great U.S. cities by City Fabric aren’t books but they make great presents.

Image credit: Montacelli Press

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