"OBSESSION IS THE SINGLE MOST wasteful human activity," Norman Mailer once said in an interview with the fabulously named Divina Infusino for the in-flight magazine of American Airlines. "With an obsession you keep coming back and back and back to the same question and never get an answer." That might be an unfair summation of architect Edward R. Ford's career, though it gets pretty close to indicating what may have happened with his latest book, The Architectural Detail.
Since 1990, Ford has published four books which hint at a theme: The Details of Modern Architecture (1990); The Details of Modern Architecture: Volume 2 (1996); Five Houses, Ten Details (2009); and now The Architectural Detail. The first two are noted tomes, required reading for understanding modern architecture. These serious books are replete with hundreds of hand-drawn details from noteworthy buildings and, should you desire to stash them in your check-in luggage while flying, they will require precisely one fourth of your allowed baggage weight. The third is from the Writing Matters series, published by Princeton Architectural Press, and it pulls us further down the rabbit hole as Ford presents a dizzying array of design options and details for what turns out to be not five houses but one: his own. Ford's obsession is such that even his home, the space that shapes and surrounds his daily life, becomes a relentless design project exploring the idea of the detail, complete with quirky steel joints and a built-in, exterior glass table.
The study of details is Ford's life's work, and one would expect a book titled The Architectural Detail to be something of a magnum opus. Nevertheless, there is something odd about an architect encapsulating his life's work not in a building, nor even in the design of architectural details but in a book. I could imagine a similar dissonance if Philip Glass sat down and decided to pop out a masterpiece and, instead of beginning to tap away at a piano, he began to tap away at a computer keyboard in order to produce a book titled "The Musical Note."