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Curbed Gift Guide: For Your Book-Loving Family Members

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As part of Curbed's first-ever gift guide, architecture critic Alexandra Lange offers up her suggestions of nine architecture books for your readerly relatives.

For your ornery but secretly supportive uncleFor the couple who announced "We're pregnant!" at ThanksgivingFor your sister who buys every adult coloring bookFor your brother who still won't ask for directionsFor your friend with a terrible websiteFor your mother who filled her new apart- ment with beigeFor your niece who just moved to the cityFor your nephew whose parents just told him they're movingFor your wanderlusty self

Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston
by Mark Pasnik, Michael Kubo and Chris Grimley
$50 at The Monacelli Press

He's the one who always twits you about liking that old hulk downtown, or forwards stories from the local paper about postwar buildings meeting the wrecking ball. But in quieter holiday moments, he'll admit that he always liked walking through the sky-high atrium to renew his driver's license, or that he never understood why they replaced the orange carpet. Behind the bush-hammered facades of many Brutalist buildings lie interiors that are washed with daylight, painted intense colors, or marked by neon waves. "Heroic" rebrands the concrete architecture built in Boston between 1960 and 1976 and, through a series of historical essays, interviews with architects and building profiles, digs into the intentions behind this oft-reviled period. The smartly-illustrated building profiles are among the most revelatory, showing intricate spaces hidden under concrete skins. Among my favorites: Cambridge Seven's New England Aquarium (1962-69), with its central tank wrapped in a concrete ramp and those lit-up waves on the wall; Sert, Jackson & Associates's Peabody Terrace (1962-64), a humane community of high- and low-rise residential buildings for married students, arranged around courtyards and with a view of the Charles; and (of course) the Design Research Building (Benjamin Thompson & Associates, 1968-70), four floors of floor-to-ceiling glass that made Brattle Street into a bazaar. Who's the hulk now?

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Swedish Wooden Toys
edited by Amy Ogata and Susan Weber
$65 at Bard Graduate Center / Yale University Press

They are about to receive a boatload of the pastel and the plastic, so why not give them a push toward design for children that has stood the test of time? This catalog—which accompanies an excellent exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center through January 17—sets the standard for bright, intuitive design both in the cheerful objects on its pages and the playful graphics (including wood grain endpapers) by Barbara Glauber. Essays by a variety of scholars explain the origins of the Swedish toy industry and then delve into specific categories. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on dollhouses, which in Sweden tend to resemble cabinets of coveted objects in miniature, like 3D Pinterest arrays, and the one on BRIO, whose toys and ideas about what children find fun have proved to be remarkably resilient over the decades. A vintage BRIO train set looks remarkably similar to the one you can buy at IKEA, though of infinitely better quality. I was struck throughout by how modernist toys serve as inspiration for many of today's most popular apps, seeing a direct line between BRIO's 1946 Labyrinth game, in which a steel marble is sent through a wooden maze, and the digital architectural puzzles of Monument Valley. Little Dylan will thank you one day.

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Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957
edited by Helen Molesworth
$75 at Yale University Press

She bought them, yes, but in every one she's colored a single page, moving restlessly from Enchanted Forests to Fantastic Cities and from botanicals to Altair designs in search of the calm the cover promised. Don't let her despair! This book, the catalog to an exhibition at the ICA in Boston through January 2016, is enough to shake anyone out of a visual funk. Black Mountain, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, was one of those tiny places with an outsize effect on American art. Teachers and students included Anni and Josef Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Ruth Asawa, Robert Motherwell, and Gwendolyn and Jacob Knight Lawrence. Works made by all of the above feature in the book, but its the student projects that are inspirational. After many a museum shows of genius, it's emboldening to see a set of Albers-led exercises in color or material, everyone trying something new together. Black Mountain was not an art school, but a liberal arts school, which meant no one specialized. The genius part might emerge later. As founder John Rice wrote, "There is something of the artist in everyone and the development of this talent, however small, carrying with it a severe discipline of its own, results in the students becoming more sensitive to order in the world and within himself…" Maybe your sister needs to pack herself off to the mountains, or maybe she just needs to start playing with colored paper. Black Mountain is an excellent state of mind to visit.

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Lance Wyman: The Monograph
by Lance Wyman
£60.00 at Unit Editions

Does he not see the sign? Is he too busy making fun of Ms. GPS's pronunciation? Does he argue with your interpretation of the arrows? Let Lance Wyman make it really simple for him. Wyman is best known for the graphics he designed, with a five-person team, for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, the boldest work ever conceived for an international sporting event. There, rather than translate everything into three languages, the wayfinding spoke without words, via visual icons. In the decades since, Wyman has continued to create picture languages for transportation (the metros of both Mexico City and Washington, DC) and institutions (the zoos of both DC and Minnesota), as well as many, many place-making marks. This first monograph on Wyman's work includes an interview with the designer, critical essays, and an encyclopedic array of the buoyant, inventive work. You might get immersed in Lance Wyman's world, but you won't get lost.

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How To
by Michael Bierut
$50 at Harper Design

You might need to tread carefully here. If his firm just threw a lot of money into responsive type, save this book for next year. But if he keeps complaining about how it needs a refresh, and it looks so dated, and he doesn't know what to do-oooo, here's your gift. As the subtitle says, Pentagram partner Bierut, designer of graphics for the New York Times and the New York Jets, BAM, MAD, MIT and Governors Island, walks you through how type can "sell things, explain things, make things look better, make people laugh, make people cry…" – well, maybe that part's not relevant. I read this book and saw The Martian within a matter of days, and now I think Matt Damon should play Bierut: He believes there is a design solution to every problem, and that he will find it. The book shows a generous set of those solutions, complete with hand-drawn sketches and false starts, all explained in Bierut's equally no-nonsense writing. My favorites are featured in the chapter "How to disorient an architect": The all-type, fabulously weird posters Bierut has made for the Yale School of Architecture for the past 15 years. Unless your friend works for the DOT, he probably can't hire Bierut, but after reading "How to" he will feel ready to make the change.

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Making Design
designed by Irma Boom
$45 at Cooper Hewitt

You sort of want to shake her and say, "Live a little!" (Bad idea.) Instead, consider the gift of a pair of Alexander Girard Split Checker throw pillows and this 900-page book, which contains images of 1,100 objects in the Cooper Hewitt collection arranged by Boom, the mad scientist of book design. She's arranged the items not by country or date or material or type, but by visual rhyme, assembling Frank Gehry's Bubbles cardboard chaise lounge with Nicolette Brunklaus's Blonde curtains and Herbert Bayer's Olivetti poster (waves) or the Nest thermostat with Henry Dreyfuss's Big Ben alarm clock and a couple of 18th century portrait miniatures (circles). Everything's identified on page, and short essays by museum curators fill in the blanks, so this isn't some sort of Tumblr credit-free free-for-all. Nonetheless, one can feel her pleasure in throwing these beautiful things up in the air and seeing what speaks to what across the centuries. It's a lesson we all need to learn when arranging our houses: quality relates to quality, and you should never settle for beige.

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A subscription to Dirty Furniture
edited by Anna Bates and Elizabeth Glickfeld
£55 at Dirty Furniture

Moving to the big city is when you tend to buy disposable goods, cheap chic and cheap furniture. Save your young relative from landfill regret with strategic advice (find a uniform, buy vintage) and a subscription to this limited-run magazine, which bears a similar astringent relationship to the glut of products promoted by design media. Tagline: "when design leaves the showroom." Each issue is devoted to a specific piece of furniture, #1 was Sofa, #2 Table, #3 Toilet and so on, ending up in Bed. But the stories take a panoramic and critical view of the making, role-playing, histories and destruction of said piece. I loved Sam Jacob's take on the sofas of long-running sitcoms in #1, and Glickfeld's history of fake wood in #2 to which (full disclosure) I also contributed an essay on the power table. Rest assured my mother would never let me write about WCs, so it won't be a regular thing. With just six issues, and a publication timeline across years, Dirty Furniture won't pile up unread and will look stylish on her thrifted coffee table.

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by Carson Ellis
$16.99 at Candlewick Press

Who says only villains live in modern houses? In Carson Ellis's dreamily illustrated book, houses and their residents come in all shapes and sizes, from the hard-edge pragmatism of a Japanese businessman in his gemlike contemporary abode, to a babushka's kitchen touched with Russian florals. It doesn't make as obvious a play for baby architects as Iggy Peck or Rosie Revere but, like 2012 bestseller Extra Yarn, imparts a subtle maker-friendly message. There's enough fantasy to keep kids guessing, prompting their sleepy brains to make connections to other books on their shelves, but the real life message–that homes are what you make of them–comes through loud and clear.

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African Modernism: The Architecture of Independence
edited by Manuel Herz, photographs by Iwan Baan and Alexia Webster
$72 at Park Books

I have only been to Africa once, and to climb a mountain, not look at buildings. But this lavishly photographed introduction to post-independence architecture in Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and Zambia provoked an instantaneous desire to return. As Herz notes in the introduction, he and his co-authors "witness[ed] an amazing wealth of architectural works that are hardly known to people outside of the respective countries." Amazing is no understatement, nor is his follow on that the Foire Internationale de Dakar FIDAK exhibition center is "one of the architectural masterpieces of its time." That Senegalese project, designed by Lamoreux, Marin and Bonamy in 1974 to house a trade fair, organizes a large flat site via a series of miniature peaks: triangular roofs of varying sizes that pop out of an organizing horizontal plinth. Some of the triangular ends are made into screens with sections of cement pipe, others are ornamented with stone mosaic murals. A few of the vistas beneath the triangles wouldn't be out of place in a science fiction movie, or a Paul Rudolph project of the same era. And that's just one building. The book includes dozens more projects, most of which were designed, by necessity, by foreigners – the first school of architecture in sub-Saharan Africa was created in Ghana in 1957, that country's year of independence -- but which are nonetheless symbols of African self-rule and the adaptation of modernism to specific countries and climates. What better way to learn those specifics than on the ground?

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· Curbed Gift Guide: 193 Ideas for Everyone On Your List [Curbed]
· Holiday Gift Guide [Curbed]