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Pattern Recognition in Review

Pattern Recognition is the debut monograph from New York based architecture practice Leven Betts. Not to be confused with the William Gibson novel of the same name, this Pattern Recognition opens with a "letter" from Michael Sorkin that, despite its tendency to come across as a bit pedantic, makes a good point in identifying the titular idea. "Pattern Recognition" implies an thoughtful self-awareness of the architects' work, and not a post-rationalization of what they've done. It is both a way of understanding the world and a method of analyzing their own process.

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In their mostly pretense-free introductory essay, David Leven and Stella Betts very clearly describe what architecture means to them, drawing connections between a cornfield seen from the window seat of a 747 at 30,000 feet and the various scales of design inherent in the architectural process. It's not about pinning down a "style" or a "signature," but zooming in and out to find commonalities and patterns to anchor their work into its specific context; it's about how context informs architecture, but also how architecture could improve the context. Their optimistic understanding of the relationship between architecture and nature is a refreshing alternative to the looming Parametricism of architects like Zaha Hadid.

This logic, this understanding of scale and context, is made very clear in their description of their work. Take, for example, the CC01 house, which appeared in Dwell way back in September 2006. Leven Betts began with an anaylysis of the surrounding landscape of farmland and rolling hills. The architects used these man-made "lines that hug topography" to inform the organizational strategy and material selection of the CC01 House. But the book doesn't just cover upstate New York homes. The diverse scope of the work presented includes everything from lobbies and art gallery renovations to their ambitious proposal for "Wetlands City," a Gulf Coast urbanism designed for New Orleans East in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The overall affect is like a Google Map of ideas that illustrates the successfulness of their method as its seen employed at different scales.

The book succeeds because Leven Betts applied their design beliefs to the presentation of their own work. Besides the obligatory money-shot architecture photos, the monograph includes multiple renderings, construction details, collages, floor plans, and elaborate exploded axonometric drawings. Each project is illustrated in a way that allows the reader to understand how the building is assembled and how it relates to the site - in short, they attempt to explain what it's like to actually experience the building. Oddly, considering the emphasis on process, the only thing we don't see enough of is the early stages of design: sketches, analysis and early site photos. By avoiding dogma and embracing rigorous analysis and creative thinking, Leven Betts have created their own unique style that is playfully referred to as the "informal formal."

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