Feature: BWAF Bookshelf, August 2013

From the BWAF Bookshelf


From left: Piecing Together Los Angeles, Building Seagram, All Alone on the 68th Floor (credits below)

The August 2013 BWAF Bookshelf features a collection of critical and historical essays; a personal history of the construction of a major NYC landmark tower; and an inspiring account of how women in construction can have it all. This month’s books will stimulate you intellectually, visually, and emotionally. Books include: Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy ReaderBuilding Seagram, and All Alone on the 68th Floor: How One Woman Changed the Face of Construction.

Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader

edited and with an essay by Susan Morgan

(East of Borneo Books, 2012)

This volume is the first collection of writings by Esther McCoy (1904-1989), a keen literary stylist and attentive witness to the birth of midcentury modernist design. McCoy’s impressive writing life spanned sixty years and charted the progressive territory of American idealism. During the 1920s, she pursued her vocation as a writer and apprenticed with novelist Theodore Dreiser. In 1932, McCoy moved to Los Angeles where she wrote for literary journals, popular magazines and progressive broadsheets. Her short stories were awarded numerous prizes, featured in publications ranging from Harper’s Bazaar to The California Quarterly, and adapted for radio and television. After completing a wartime stint as an engineering draftsman at Douglas Aircraft, McCoy went to work as an architectural draftsman for R. M. Schindler. By 1945, her attentive writing had turned significantly to architecture and the design-driven optimism of postwar Los Angeles. Her essays appeared regularly in the Los Angeles TimesArts & Architecture, Zodiac, Progressive Architecture, and Architectural Forum, and her 1960 book Five California Architects has long been acknowledged as an indispensable classic.

From fiction for The New Yorker to her seminal essays on new architectural forms, McCoy articulated the concepts and vibrant character of West Coast modernism as it was being created. This essential volume includes out-of-print essays, articles, and short stories, as well as hitherto unpublished lectures, correspondence, and memoirs that together illuminate the breadth and complexity of McCoy’s groundbreaking work. An introductory essay by writer and anthology editor Susan Morgan provides a lucid conceptual framework for understanding the development and diversity of McCoy’s writing and the region that inspired it.


Building Seagram

Phyllis Lambert

(Yale University Press, 2013)

At twenty-seven years old, Phyllis Lambert, daughter of the Seagrams dynasty founder, steered the search for an architect for the company’s headquarters and chose Mies van der Rohe. Now considered one of the greatest icons of twentieth-century architecture, the Park Avenue tower emphasizes the beauty of structure and fine materials. In this personal and scholarly history, Lambert illuminates previously unpublished personal archives, company correspondence and photographs to tell the story of the building’s crucial contribution to the history of modern art and architectural culture.


All Alone on the 68th Floor: How One Woman Changed the Face of Construction

Barbara Res

(CreateSpace, 2013)

Barbara Res found her way into Engineering in college. Although she had the highest Mathematics grades in her school and excelled at Science, she was steered into a career of teaching because she was a girl. Rebelling against the conventional wisdom, she planned first to major in computers and then later picked engineering because of the challenge. She graduated in 1972 as one of three women in a class of 800 and entered the rough and tumble world of construction. All on the 68th Floor tells the story of Res’s journey, what she endured and accomplished. It also describes the process of building in a way that entertains and instructs. The book is chock full of anecdotes about the rich and famous who lived and shopped at the luxurious Trump Tower and presents a picture of Donald and Ivana Trump as builders, that the world has yet to see.

The author also talks about other projects, like the restoration of the Plaza Hotel and the development of the West side of Manhattan. Contracts and contractors, unions and government, politics and payoffs, all of the intrigue that goes into developing property, getting approvals, getting tenants and finally building skyscrapers. But the essence of the book is frankly feminism. It is a call to women to be themselves and do what ever job they think they can do, whatever they want to do and not allow stereotypes to influence them.

Excerpts of the descriptions were obtained from the publishers’ websites.
Photo Credits: Photos were obtained from publishers’ websites.

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