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Six Questions for William Stout

One of the many joys of the very small San Francisco neighborhood of Jackson Square—home of Dwell HQ—is the top-drawer William Stout Architectural Books, the city’s premiere spot for design books and magazines.  Located on Montgomery Street for the last 20 years, and in existence for over 30, Stout was founded by architect and unrepentant bibliophile William Stout.  He and I sat down this morning to discuss what’s on tap for William Stout Publishing—the small publishing arm of the company—why architecture books can be so damn unwieldy, and architect Stephen Holl’s rather suspect culinary skills.

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With 2008 coming to a close, which books of the last year have most impressed you?

You know I’m not in the bookstore as often as I used to be, but I’ve noticed a lot of Le Corbusier books this year, especially that big one from Phaidon, Le Corbusier Le Grand.  It’s well done, but it’s too big [it weighs 20 pounds].  For the size and the price it’s not too bad, but it’s stupid to make the book so big.  Taschen loves to make big books, and others have followed suit, but those books don’t need to be so big.  They’re too tough to handle.  There was also a nice book this year on a Morandi exhibit at the Met in New York. 

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So what’s on tap for you in 2009?

I have a new warehouse over in Richmond, California, and I’m in the very early stages of trying to figure out how to put together a research center for my writers.  I’ve got 2500 architecture monographs and another 1500 books of architectural theory.  We’re just figuring out how this is all going to work.

Could members of the public visit once it’s ready?

Well, I suppose if you called ahead and we made sure that I was there.  I have some really old and valuable books.  I wouldn’t want just anybody going through them.

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What can we expect from William Stout Publishers next year?

We’ll be doing a book on Dan Kiley and his writings.  He was a great modern landscape architect, better than Thomas Church, I’d say, a true modernist who did a lot of work with Eero Saarinen.  We’re doing another on Crombie Taylor, a history of his life.  And another that won’t be ready until the end of the year is about Gordon Drake, a Bay Area architect, maybe the most important of the 50s and 60s.  I have about 70 percent of his archive; most of the photos were taken by Julius Schulman.  Most of the books we do aren’t that popular. I haven’t been known to take on very successful titles.

You had a now rather famous architect helping out in the early days of your bookstore.

Stephen Holl and I were roommates up on Montgomery Street many years ago.  He didn’t have much work then and helped me open the store.  He used to work there.  We’ve been good friends ever since.  I just talked to him yesterday and I’m going to China soon to see some of his new buildings, the horizontal skyscraper.

Was he a nice roommate, a good cook maybe?

He doesn’t cook very well.  I’d call him an inventive cook, but I wouldn’t call him a good one.

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