Review Of "Katsura: Imperial Villa" By A. Isozaki

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This handsome book on the 17th-century Kyoto palace is the English version of the Italian edition from two years ago, which is more or less an amplified and repackaged revision of Isozaki's own 1987 monograph The Katsura Villa (CH, Oct'87). The bulk of the book consists of more than 250 pages of photographs by Yoshiharu Matsumura--new, but hardly better than Yasuhiro Ishimoto's in the earlier book--they are accompanied by excellent measured drawings of all the compound's buildings, but at the expense of useful isometrics. The main text is Isozaki's now somewhat tired antimodernist thesis that Katsura is a "contingent, confused, ambiguous, over-layered, and opaque" mannerist design; and he appends a rhetorical no-but-yes argument on tea master Kobori Enshu's authorship of the villa. To further boost his thesis, the book reprints three venerable classics of modernist interpretation: essays by Walter Gropius and Kenzo Tange (from their pioneering 1960 book Katsura), and by Bruno Taut (his little known sketch-diary introduced by Manfred Speidel). The book will be useful for those who don't know the earlier books but a bit redundant for those who do. Still, it is comprehensive and beautiful, the next best thing to being there. Summing Up: Optional. Lower-level undergraduates through graduate students, practitioners, and general readers.


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