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First Works

Chronicling the eponymous exhibition from earlier this year at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, First Works: Emerging Architectural Experimentation of the 1960s and 1970s presents 20 projects from today’s most influential architects.

first works book

The monograph covers a two-decade temporal crossroads when modernism’s past masters were passing away and a new generation sought to establish itself with a respectful distance from its predecessors. The collected works lack a common aesthetic—projects range from Alvaro Siza’s Leça Swimming Pools designed directly into a coastal wall in Portugal to a London fireworks “performance” orchestrated by Bernard Tschumi. Examined together, though, they represent an architectural era, according to editor Brett Steele, “of bright colors and loud soundtracks serving up the image of an abrupt cultural break with previous orthodoxies.” Unencumbered by name recognition or expectations established by a lifetime of work, now-famous folks like Robert Venturi and Zaha Hadid completed projects to little fanfare.

All of the commissions are illustrated with original sketches, plans, photos, and briefs. The Retreat in Pill Creek, a hideaway in Cornwall, UK, was designed by Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, then of Team 4, in 1963. It’s a small-scale, low-profile offering from the future fathers of high-tech architecture. In hindsight, however, Foster explains that the “gazebo with a commanding view” hints at structures later explored in his larger Great Glasshouse at Middleton and Frankfurt Athletics Stadium.

First Works is a retrospective with a keen eye to what’s next, and it aims to answer the question of how it’s possible to begin anew. However architects transform our built environment, everyone has to start somewhere.

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