Five Formative Books

02-25-2007

Interboro was recently asked by Metropolis Magazine to name 5 books published within the last 25 years that have been formative to its practice. The piece never ran (Dwell ran a very similar story that very same month), but it was fun to think about. So Interboro’s response is presented below: 5 books published within the last 25 years that have been formative to Interboro’s practice by Interboro (Tobias Armborst, Daniel D’Oca, Georgeen Theodore) Interboro is a New York City-based research and design group. Its subject is the extraordinary, exciting complexity of the contemporary city, which it engages through writing, teaching, and professional practice. 1. Richard Rorty. Consequences of Pragmatism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982. Nonphilosopical antiphilosophy at its best! This collection of avuncular essays introduced us to the important idea that “truth is not the sort of thing one should expect to have a philosophically interesting theory about.” It was also through Rorty that we learned about the pragmatic anti-essentialism of William James and John Dewey. 2. Kenneth T. Jackson. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985. A bit too anti-suburban for our tastes, but we teach this book in our undergraduate classes because it’s an amazingly clear illustration of the contingency and constructed-ness of the built environment. It often makes you wonder what American cities would look and feel like without, say, the 1956 Federal Highway Act, or FHA mortgage financing. 3. John R. Logan and Harvey L. MolotchUrban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1987. By the way: the free market isn’t a cure-all and, despite the ideology of the “growth machine,” growth is only good for some people in some places sometimes. This might not sound like an intellectual bombshell, but this book makes the best, most concise argument we know of. Urban Fortunes is almost twenty years old, but it’s as brilliant and relevant as ever. 4. Bruno Latour. Aramis, or The Love of Technology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996. Taking posthumanism to the next level, Aramis offers an account of the planning of a PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) system in Paris from the perspective of the PRT system. But “in moving from humans to nonhumans, we do not move from social relations to cold technology.” This book made us rethink agency, action, and the relation between the human and the nonhuman. Weird and wonderful! 5. Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift. Cities: Reimagining the Urban. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002. It may be a bit academic, but it’s the best advocacy that exists of that other school of new urbanism: the less celebrated, non-dogmatic one that listens to the growing complexity of contemporary cities in an effort to reimagine what the urban is or could be at the beginning of the 21st century.

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