12 Books on Our Summer Reading List

The illustrious history of the humble Polaroid, an exploration of contemporary beauty, decorated design couple John and Catherine Pawson's long-awaited second cookbook—our summer reading list is as eclectic as it is wide-ranging. Here, the Surface editors round up their top releases.

The Alphabet of ART at Warby Parker 

Sporting a vibrant array of modern and vintage-inspired frames, Warby Parker continues to feed the public mania for modish eyewear with its latest book release. Fashioned on playful artistry, The Alphabet of ART snapshots the brand’s iconic collaborations over the past decade in celebration of its 11th anniversary and is available for purchase across all Warby Parker stores. Not only does this catalogue recount the creative firepower of the trailblazing disrupter, but it advances its philanthropic agency by donating all its proceeds to The Pupils Project—a homegrown initiative that provides free eye examinations and glasses to underserved children. With 352 pages layered with the works of over 100 artists, the compendium tours Warby Parker’s creative roots and harnesses its global artist roster to provide a treasure trove of eye-catching visuals that honors its host creatives and the entire brand philosophy. 

Reviviscence: A Bridge Over Genoa

Following the 2018 collapse of the Polcevera Viaduct (Ponte Morandi) in Genoa that killed 43 civilians, Reviviscence commemorates a story surrounding architectural tragedy. The original structure fell victim to a turbulent rainstorm, causing a 700-foot portion to crumble. Consequently, the Liguria district was subject to a yearlong state of emergency, analysis of the structural failure, and question of responsibility. Featuring interviews with capital members and photography by Andrea Botto, the title illustrates the demolition of the maiden viaduct in 2019 and documents the one-year renovation by titan architect Renzo Piano, who hails from the Italian city. To this end, Botto poignantly frames the Ponte Morandi’s tale of rebirth through a masterful fusion of aesthetic investigation and technical know-how.


Polaroid Now: The history and Future of Polaroid Photography

The humble Polaroid has etched its way into many venues (and hearts) around the world, ranging from college dorms and A-list parties to blue-chip galleries. With a dizzying arrangement of styles, the instant gratification of a Polaroid shot invites beginners and seasoned photographers alike to engage with the vintage-revival film on a global stage. Polaroid Now (Chronicle Chroma) acts as a comprehensive cheat-sheet detailing the exhaustive collection of aesthetics and geographies associated with the medium. Featuring scenes from the likes of Andy Warhol, David Hockney, and Chuck Close, the curated image selection chronicles the history of Polaroid imagery and namesake camera’s long-term evolution.


Flowering: The Autobiography of Judy Chicago

Flowering (Thames and Hudson) is the evocative autobiography of Judy Chicago, an empowered feminist, dynamic artist, and trailblazer of change within the largely male-dominated art world. The title chronicles her illustrious career and meteoric rise to prominence within an industry that often exercises causal prejudices, and documents how she carved out her path for success despite the odds. Featuring unpublished photographs of her most well-known pieces alongside a foreword by Gloria Steinem, the narrative pays homage to Chicago’s extensive portfolio of feminist art—not to mention her dynamite personality. Simply put, the Flowering is a page turner for creative readers passionate about change. 


Gio Ponti

“The most resistant element is not wood, is not stone, is not steel, is not glass,” Gio Ponti once said. “The most resistant element in building is art. Let’s make something very beautiful.” Taschen took this advice to heart when compiling this striking tome to the Italian architect’s work, which documents his approach to every design project in painstaking detail. Whether finessing the nitty-gritty particulars of a teaspoon or masterminding the more than 100 buildings he completed throughout his six-decade career, it becomes clear over 572 pages that Ponti applied the same level of conviction to everything he did. The most comprehensive account of his work to date, the prodigious volume features unpublished materials and candid imagery offering exciting new insight into both his well-known masterpieces and more obscure feats alike. 


Patented: 1,000 Design Patents (Phaidon)

Everyone consumes design in its finished form but rarely sees how exactly our favorite everyday products came to life. This one-of-a-kind collection of original patent documents sourced straight from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, offers more than a century of product and industrial design as told through 1,000 patents across a range of categories. Organized chronologically from 1900 to 2020, this unprecedented tome presents every sketch in a uniform aesthetic so each product—whether a Gibson guitar, traffic light, or record player—can be viewed equally. Dozens of the best-known names in design and architecture, as well as lesser-known inventors, all get their due, making for a compelling story of human ingenuity in the modern age.  


Leif Podhajsky: New Psychedelia

Leif Podhajsky may not be a household name, but his mind-altering artworks have helped usher in a resurgence in the popularity of psychedelics over the past decade. Credit the Australian visionary’s iconic album covers for the likes of Tame Impala, Lykke Li, Foals, and Bonobo, who enlisted Podhajsky’s synesthetic mind to pair their distinctive sounds with colors and visuals that dovetail together seamlessly. The reverberating, ethereal vocals of Tame Impala’s debut album Innerspeaker, for example, couldn’t exist anywhere else than within the hypnotic visual space of Podhajsky’s verdant landscape repeating into the horizon. The cover for Bonobo’s Cirrus recedes into a fantastical vanishing point, mirroring the album’s style of repetition and expansion. As Podhajsky describes in New Psychedelia’s (Thames & Hudson) introduction, “music becomes a pebble dropped into a pool of color” inside his mind, proving there’s much more to psychedelics than liquid light shows and magic mushrooms. 


The Stahl House: Case Study House #22: The Making of a Modernist Icon (Chronicle Charma)

Seated on the edge of glory, the Stahl House soars above the Hollywood district with its epic 270-degree panorama of Los Angeles. The famed midcentury home has gathered an esteemed reputation for its geometric design, spatial programming, and environmental relationship; the residence’s mimicry of the city’s orthogonal layout blends the two together, both entities acting as extensions of one another. Envisioned by owners Buck and Carlotta Stahl, designed by architect Pierre Koenig, and enshrined by photographer Julius Shulman, this architectural marvel became one of the most tangible embodiments of the American Dream. This autobiography of the glass-and-steel home shares the untold story of the Stahl family children and publishes the archives behind the construction of Koenig’s pièce de résistance. Additionally, the book sports editorial photography from media outlets that outsourced the property as a backdrop, stationing the Stahl House as a steadfast member of American culture and global architecture.


The New Beauty

As the conversation around beauty continues to evolve and shift away from the monotonous, draconian—especially for women—standards of the past, a new status quo centered on inclusivity, diversity, and identity is taking shape. The New Beauty (Gestalten) journals contemporary ideas of expression through the eyes of Kari Molvar, a New York Times wellness and beauty writer. In a nuanced analysis, Molvar tracks how cosmetics challenge gender, hairstyles cultivate a community, and skincare practices evolve into self-care rituals. This archive of the culture surrounding beauty ventures beyond a superficial exploration to study the industry through the lens of history, science, and media. 


Olivier Dwek: In the Light of Modernity

If Olivier Dwek’s interiors feel timeless, it’s because the Belgian architect has fine-tuned his approach to blending periods and works in novel and captivating combinations—for example, placing paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat near furniture by Charlotte Perriand or George Nakashima. While he credits design greats like Mies van der Rohe, Richard Meier, and John Pawson as highly influential, what sets Dwek’s 20-year-old firm apart is how his interiors juxtapose “unexpected elements that create surprises or add an extra dimension.” Nine of his projects comprise In the Light of Modernity (Rizzoli), which takes the reader on a journey across Europe, from Greek vacation homes to Parisian townhouses, and the world at large. Vibrant photographs showcase Dwek’s fascination with textures, lighting, symmetry, and merging of architectural elements. 


Neri&Hu Design and Research Office: Thresholds: Space, Time, and Practice

Since 2004, the Shanghai-based duo Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu have wowed the public with their spellbinding adaptive reuse projects that ignite a sense of wonder. In the new monograph, Neri&Hu Design and Research Office: Thresholds: Space, Time, and Practice (Thames and Hudson), the phenomenal hospitality, cultural, and private residence work of the practice Neri&Hu is presented in meticulous detail like never before. Through sketches, before-and-after imagery, and narrative-driven concept descriptions, readers are given an inside look at the painstaking process that goes into their commissions, which often involve unifying heritage buildings with contemporary interventions. Travel to an inverted fortress hotel, The Sukhothai, in hometown Shanghai; the Fuzhou Teahouse, an incredible melding of an ancient Hui-style residence within a modern shell; the lake-dotted Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat, a vacation getaway inside a reclaimed complex of brick passageways and courtyards; and others destinations where the studio has breathed new life into forgotten structures. Compiled together, Neri & Hu’s body of work proves again the old Jane Jacobs dictum that old spaces are great places for new ideas.   


(CLOCKWISE, FROM LEFT) Apricot frangipane tart. The barn dining room. Chocolate, prune and whiskey cake with cream. (Photography by Gilbert McCarragher.)

Home Farm Cooking

In Home Farm Cooking (Phaidon), husband-and-wife co-authors John and Catherine Pawson cast their minimalist English countryside retreat—a rehabbed 17th-century compound of barns, cottages, and stables—as the central character two decades after the couple’s first cookbook, the beloved Living and Eating, did the same with their London home. “In a way, it’s lifestyle. An awful expression, but it’s about cooking and eating at home,” says Catherine, an interior designer by trade who is the chef in the relationship. John, the architectural designer with momentous projects like the Design Museum of London and West Hollywood Edition to his name, handles the aesthetics. “The environment and the way you eat, how the table’s laid, the glass you drink out of—basic things like that make a difference, they’re all important.” Arranged by season, a collection of 100 bucolic recipes are buoyed by engaging photographic vignettes and short essays capturing the Pawson family’s life in The Cotswolds. “The recipes work, there’s a directness,” John says. Adds Catherine: “It’s very graphically clear. It’s my favorite cookbook and everything just works amazingly.” 


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