Learn from Looking: How Observation Inspires Innovation

Charlie Szoradi

Publisher: iUniverse Pages: 396 Price: (paperback) $25.95 ISBN: 9781532006555 Reviewed: June, 2017 Author Website: Visit »

Architect and entrepreneur Charlie Szoradi shares informed, practical ideas about sustainable design and construction in this thoughtful book – part memoir, part call to action, and part self-promotion for his Pennsylvania-based LED lighting company.

As a well-heeled kid growing up in 1970s Washington, D.C., Szoradi describes being taught by his playful, creative parents to focus, observe, and problem-solve. As an adult, he applied those lessons in frequent travels worldwide, recording his observations in a unique way, learned in graduate school. There, a visiting professor introduced students to 11 ½”  x 3 ¾” books of blank paper from Japan, which unfolded like an accordion to nearly eight feet long. Szoradi used one book per trip to sketch things he observed, on a continuous sheet.

His reproductions of about 40 of the sketchbooks form the backbone of this book. The reproductions are vivid but frustratingly small, as the pages of Learn From Looking are just 6 inches across. He also prints more than 150 satisfying close-ups of his drawings, almost all of which highlight some sustainable building practice.

In one book, for example, he depicts the Renaissance-style Vienna Opera House through a web of nearby cable car cables. He explains how Vienna’s layered urban planning promotes efficiency, safety and pedestrian-vehicle integration. That segues to sketches of traditional Hungarian chairs, carved with great detail. Szoradi points out that they get repaired for generations before probably becoming firewood.

Szoradi argues that economic growth and environmental sustainability can coexist, and his rallying cry is “reduce, reuse, recycle – and rethink.” Pleasantly non-ideological, he advocates low-tech practices like passive solar as well as high-tech solutions like solar photovoltaic panels.

Although the book can be repetitive and some explanations of building techniques will baffle non-builders, the author nicely integrates facts with his opinions in this well-organized book. It will educate and inspire designers, builders, teachers and urban planners to slow down, look more carefully, and think more critically, just as the author intends.

Also available in hardcover.

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