Sustainable design is the hallmark of every project that emerges from the Brooks + Scarpa office and they deservedly won the 2014 National Design Award in Architecture. They’ve enriched the LA cityscape with schools, offices, affordable apartments, and parking structures. Each pushes the envelope, challenging conventional aesthetic standards, planners, and special interests. Colorado Court, a complex of 44 low-income apartments, was commissioned by the Community Corporation of Santa Monica with full backing from the City Council. Solar panels that clad the facades generate 90 per cent of the building’s energy needs, but the architects had to fight for approvals and battle Edison to achieve their goals.

A foreword by Thomas Fisher, former editorial director of Progressive Architecture, castigates the typical architectural monograph as eye candy– pretty pictures and neutral descriptions–while applauding the emphasis on process and multiple perspectives in this volume. It’s a fair comment and particularly appropriate to the earthy, unpretentious work of this firm. The narrative focuses on a handful of buildings that illustrate recurring themes, and Rothman has elicited enlightening comments from a broad spectrum of designers, fabricators, clients, and users. But the text is far too wordy and s-p-a-c-e-d o-u-t with pages of one-sentence paragraphs and one-word sentences. It begins to read like a primer for dyslexic students. Fisher blames architects for their inability to explain the how and why of what they are doing and resorting to jargon. But Lawrence Scarpa is unusually articulate and could probably have done a better job of communicating his ideas and experiences than the author of this monograph.

Ordinary and Extraordinary: Brooks + Scarpa. Tibby Rothman (Gulf Pacific Press, $39.95)

Michael Webb

Author: Michael Webb

Michael Webb Hon. AIA/LA has authored more than twenty books on architecture and design, most recently Moving Around: A Lifetime of Wandering, Architects’ Houses, and Building Community: New Apartment Architecture, while contributing essays to many more. He is also a regular contributor to leading journals in the United States and Europe. Growing up in London, he was an editor at The Times and Country Life, before moving to the US, where he directed film programs for the AFI and curated a Smithsonian exhibition on Hollywood.