The Birkhauser construction books are a source of never-ending information, that grows larger every year. Some may criticize the fact that authors and themes are too German-oriented, understandable for a Basel-Berlin located publisher. But truth is, in my opinion, that if Birkhauser did not exist, we would miss it - and a lot!
There are many more books there apart from construction. In architecture the list is long and with some big names (Le Corbusier complete works to name just one). But that doesn't make Birkhauser unique: their uniqueness in the world publishing scene is their capacity to push the best known specialists in construction to write, to draw and to expand the knowledge of world readers - in spite of the German touch, or maybe because of it?
A friend has brought to my attention a book from 2010, titled 'Open | Close. Windows, doors, gates, loggias, filters' This is the first book of a collection called Scale. The second book of the series will be released shortly, 'Enclose I Build'. According to the Editors' foreword, 'The Scale series (...) provides illustrations at various different scales and with various degrees of abstraction, wich demonstrate the interrelation of space, design and construction' Judging by the first book of the collection, I would say that the degree of abstraction is a bit too high, and the technical scale is somehow lost in translation.
Open | Close examines architectural openings, from idea to implementation. The authors did not see the need to have a Contents page, which I see as a bad decision, so here it goes: Introduction - Windows - Filters - Doors and gates - Case studies - Appendix. I was intrigued because Loggias, one of the promises of the title, are not a chapter: in fact, loggia is a word almost non-existing along the book, apart from the title. A real pity.
The Introduction is poetic to say the least. Issues covered here range from 'Atmosphere' to 'Passageway, threshold and entrance' to 'Spatial openings and intermediate spaces' to 'Ambience and materials'. Luckily it's not too long. The second chapter, Windows, is the longest and at least to me the most disappointing. Aluminium windows and plastic windows share one page of the chapter. Enough. Window hardware (that is, fittings and the like) deals with old drill-in hinges, cremones and espagnolettes used in ancient timber windows, but tilt and turn fittings (covering 85% of all windows installed in Germany, as we learn) don't have a simple illustration or a technical description. Another pity.
The third chapter, Filters, covers sun and glare control systems, shutters, blinds, curtains and screens. To say 'covers' is a figure of speech: it runs short and passing through all these points. Chapter four is devoted to Doors and gates. Again: fire rated doors and emergency exits (both) can be dealt with in one page, one page meaning a short column of text and one big sketch. Chapter 5 brings us nine Case studies. We had been promised at the Introduction that the examples would be both practical and generally applicable. Maybe, but at least that's not the case with the conversion of the Moritzburg castle in Halle, by Nieto Sobejano. The project is one of the more interesting ones, the problem is that no openings are brought to our attention apart from one small section of a skylight in a nice roof construction - clearly not an opening in itself.
The book ends with an Appendix that includes several tables and information pages. If your project is in Germany and you don't speak German, it will be of help. There is a list of standards, most of them DIN and EN but not complete and maybe not too reliable either. DIN EN 12208, dealing with watertightness of windows and doors, comes under the heading 'Doors - Thermal insulation'. Would you say DIN EN 14351-1, the product standard for windows and external doors, the standard on which CE mark for windows is given, should be in the list, maybe under the heading 'Windows - Planning in general'? You got it: it's not there - nor anywhere else, but you can enjoy DIN 107 instead, titled 'Left and right designation in construction engineering'. A pity once again.
Then there is an 'Associations and manufacturers list'. All associations are German. No problem with that, but couldn't the authors (three architects from TU Darmstadt) do some Google digging and add the equivalent British, French and maybe US counterparts? Manufacturers are from... yes. Reynaers is in the list because they have an address in Gladbeck. Technal is not in the list - OK, too French. But Wicona, a great supplier from Ulm providing aluminium window systems all around Europe, is not in the list either! Why?
My friend paid 49,90€ for this book. I arrived too late to tell him that he should have invested less than half that quantity in buying another Birkhauser book, a much humbler one: Facade Apertures from the Basics series. Its cost? 12,90€. The amount of valuable information? Quite the same, with less nice colour images for sure. This - having arrived late with my advice - is the biggest pity indeed.