ed. by Mark Taylor. Bloomsbury, April 2013. 4 vol. ISBN 9781847889294 (cl.), $990.00.
Reviewed September 2014
Stephen Spong, Cataloguing Librarian, Ontario College of Art and Design University, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Interior Design and Architecture: Critical and Primary Sources anthology is an extensive, four-volume collection of works dedicated, as the title suggests, to interior design and architecture. Its four volumes are dedicated to design awareness (volume one), sensory engagement (volume two), cinematic expectation (volume three), and public interaction (volume four), in what is intended to be a more thematic, rather than chronological, overview. It does, however, roughly cover the past two hundred years, with an emphasis on the twentieth century.
Despite the fact that not all of the source material is necessarily from academic sources, the overall composure and thrust of the text is aimed squarely at the post-secondary market – but that is not to say that it is exclusively dry and inapproachable. There is a rich vein of contemporary material that is drawn upon to highlight attitudes towards the interior – such as Christine Frederick's "The Labour Saving Kitchen" from Efficient Housekeeping: Scientific Management in the Home from 1915 – that is interspersed without comment amongst scholarly works. This juxtaposition works quite well, and provides a degree of narrative thrust that is often missing from such scholarly anthologies. With that being said, the collection is unquestionably academic, with extensive footnotes in the scholarly texts. A significant oversight, however, is the lack of an index – either in individual volumes or for the collection as a whole. This is definitely something that works against the collection as a reference work, as the density of the text – both physically and figuratively – ensure that it is not entirely approachable. An index would have helped it to go the extra mile to assist readers. While the collection is scholarly, it is not entirely clear who it is aimed at, as such anthologies are often the realm of textbooks – and if that is the case, it is mightily expensive for the student market. On the other hand, it is also difficult to see how an anthology that contains a great deal of previously published material would appeal to scholars in the field. If it is then intended as a reference work for libraries, the absence of an index is even more baffling.
When picking up one of the volumes and leafing through it, one of the things that strikes the reader immediately is the complete lack of illustration. This is a deliberate choice, as an explanatory note in the preface highlights, with the hassle of copyright identified as the culprit. The texts, therefore, have been edited to remove reference to images and figures. While there are practical and possibly even stylistic reasons for this omission, it weakens the collection - at least somewhat. While it may be true that the articles have been edited to omit reference to illustrations and figures, it is not unreasonable to infer that they may have been there for a reason in the first place. Short of a side-by-side comparison, it is impossible to say with certainty, but it is a possibility that lingers uncomfortably. This decision to omit illustrations goes some way to explaining the austerity of the binding, which is surprisingly modest for a set that has a list price of $990.00. Indeed, at a glance they could be mistaken for a year's production of a quarterly journal – both in size and appearance.
The Interior Design and Architecture: Critical and Primary Sources anthology is a curious beast. It is frequently fascinating - with many excellent individual articles that are part of an impeccably curated whole – and yet it is also strangely underwhelming. A number of corners have been cut in the production that undermine its effectiveness – the lack of illustrations and an index chief among them – that paired with its high cost, make it difficult to recommend to all but the most flush academic libraries.