Eric Firley and Caroline Stahl
The Urban Towers Handbook
Eric Firley and Julie Gimbal
The Urban Masterplanning Handbook
Eric Firley and Katharina Grön
Starting with The Urban Housing Handbook in 2009 and followed by The Urban Towers Handbook in 2011 and The Urban Masterplanning Handbook in 2014, Wiley has published three well-researched and informative urban “handbooks” over the past six years. Eric Firley, a European-trained architect and urban designer and currently an assistant professor at the University of Miami School of Architecture, was a coauthor of the series and teamed with a different collaborator for each book. Each publication begins with a half-dozen pages of introductory text that outline the editorial decisions of Firley and his partner as well as place their choices within a larger intellectual discourse, both academic and professional. Most of the content in the books is focused on specific case studies organized into a classification system created by the authors. In all cases, the physical qualities of the larger urban context, rather than purely architectural considerations, shape the taxonomies. The focus on contextual relationships provides an opportunity for the authors to link the specific physical characteristics of the case studies to the structure of the development process. This focus, first established in The Urban Housing Handbook and further developed in the two subsequent books, sets this series apart from books that focus on types exclusively as organizational schema. As the most recent book in the series, The Urban Masterplanning Handbook advances this theme by including urban plans shaped by the underlying ownership structure and regulations as much as the authorship of individual architects.
In The Urban Housing Handbook, the first installment of the series, Eric Firley and Caroline Stahl organize the thirty case studies into four categories: courtyard housing, row houses, compounds, and apartment buildings. They assert that the street, the courtyard, and the dwelling constitute the structure of the city. Their bias for traditional housing types is mitigated by pairing each historical case study with a contemporary example. Despite these choices, Firley and Stahl are surprisingly skittish about their approach in the context of contemporary theory and practice: “Can contemporary schemes included be considered types, or is the current aim to produce a prototype that will keep its individualistic and singular qualities?” (p. 13). After claiming that they are not making any specific thesis or argument, thus “allowing readers to draw their own conclusions” (p. 10), they question relevance of type itself as part of the contemporary discourse.