American space; The organizational complex: architecture, media, and corporate space – Reviews – Book Review

American space; The organizational complex: architecture, media, and corporate space – Reviews – Book Review – Brief Review

Edward Robbins


By Reinhold Martin, London: MIT Press. 2003. [pounds sterling]26.50

In his book on the work of Eero Saarinen for General Motors, IBM and Bell Labs and the office buildings of SOM, Reinhold Martin has provided an enlightening and insightful analysis of the way architecture came to serve what we now call the ‘military-industrial complex’ and the growing belief in the importance of media in defining contemporary socio-political organization. Martin reveals through analyses of the work of cybernetic theorists like Norbert Wiener, the theoretical considerations of the image in the work of Gyorgy Kepes, and the sociological discussions surrounding corporate organization and work, the important ways in which these discourses influenced and in turn were influenced by the architecture of Saarinen and SOM.

Martin sets out an illuminating analysis of how the architectural aesthetics and programmes of Saarinen and SOM, especially through the use of the curtain wall and internal design of the buildings, express as well as actually structure corporate institutions and how they helped to forge the new corporate and organizational culture of the 1950s and ’60s through the crucible of architectural design. The description and analysis of the buildings is a model of clear analytical thinking and contributes not only to our understanding of that important period in American design but also advances our sensitivity to the relation of architecture to its political and cultural context.

It is a bit disappointing, therefore, that such a basically sound project is surrounded by an unfortunate penchant, so common today, to overtheorize through recurring references to contemporary postmodernist and poststructuralist theory and to conflate them with theoretical discussions of the period under review. It is unclear how this theorizing enhances what is already such a sound piece of work. Perplexing as well is why Martin, while clearly connecting the architecture to the ideas and social developments he discusses, goes further to imply that the designs of Saarinen and SOM were functionally essential to the ‘military-industrial’ project. Other buildings and other designs also served this project and the socio-political organization it envisioned.

Notwithstanding the at times overdetermined theorizing and unfortunate essentialism, this is an excellent contribution to the field.

COPYRIGHT 2003 EMAP Architecture

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group