Architects often self depreciatingly claim to want picture books – but lack of engaging text tends to leave one feeling bereft of substance.  I love the intimacy of books, but they have to work hard in these times to earn space on a shelf. The good news is I’ve found a beautifully crafted book that skilfully balances meaningful text with carefully selected images, thoughtfully packaged in a hardback of manageable proportions.

Old Buildings/New Forms’ by Francoise Astorg Bollack and published in December 2013 by The Monacelli Press genuinely breaks new ground in the development of a critical framework by which schemes to existing buildings can be compared and contrasted. Bollack identifies five categories of conceptual approaches, illustrated by 28 international case studies. The concepts of  insertions, parasites, wraps, juxtapositions and weavings provide a common parlance for improved communication and understanding in assimilating design proposals and executions.

The contemporary genre of new projects with existing buildings is contextualised from concept art of the 1960s and 70s, and historic precedents back to Renaissance times. Far from bamboozlingly academic Bollack’s voice is clear and comprehensive and raises this typology of schemes proudly onto a legitimate pedestal.

The pages are wonderfully edited and impressively present the case studies with a range of images: photographs, plans and elevations, details, and perhaps the most successful, concept sketches. Schemes on existing buildings are notoriously challenging to communicate as they are often complex, layered with design decisions and stories. Here each building study utilises the form of information appropriate to the scheme.  This results in a non-dogmatic format, allowing individual expression, yet is reassuringly collective as a complete publication.

When looking to purchase a book my test criteria includes to want to live with it in the long term as it becomes part of my home. This book is a firm housemate.


Who should read it?: Architects; Planners; those working in building conservation; anyone with an interest in the development of existing buildings.

Format: hardback, colour printed