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10th Sep 2022

Architect Africa Online

Africa's Leading Architecture Aggregator


Richard Saul Wurman

A Richard Saul Wurman & Jack Dangermond publication, July 2017Hardcover | 10-1/4 x 10 inches | 708 pages | English | ISBN: 978-1939621696 | $75.00


This is a book for people to dip into, as they would walk in and out of the room of a dinner party and embrace their interests. Before Information Architecture, before the rules on how to organize information, before you learn grammar, before you work hard at expanding your vocabulary and go through the exercises of parallel meanings of things as using a Thesaurus and as one writes papers in class, before any learning one must understand. Understanding Understanding precedes the whole process of learning, of giving yourself permission to understand the formations of facts, data, stories, pictures, words, conversations that allow you to understand. This book could be called A Celebration of Conversation or Musings with my Mentors. It is about the fantasy of being the dumbest person in the room and being able to identify all the myriad connections of how others think, talk, explain and visualize. The following is a collection of many of the most interesting idiosyncratic paths of understanding that lead to creation.

Richard Saul Wurman has written, designed and published 90 books on wildly divergent topics. Two of these are The Notebooks and Drawings of Louis I. Kahn (1962) and What Will Be Has Always Been (1986), a seminal collection of Kahn’s words. … Wurman created and chaired the TED conference from 1984 thru 2002, the TEDMED conference from 1995 to 2010, as well as the e.g. and WWW conference. Wurman lives in Golden Beach, FL with his wife, novelist Gloria Nagy, and their yellow lab Jacob.


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Recently I had a great conversation with Richard Saul Wurman about The Notebooks and Drawings of Louis I. Kahn, the 1962 book he made when working in the Philadelphia office of Kahn; I transcribed parts of our talk for World-Architects. Four days from now is the deadline for a Kickstarter to print a facsimile of the book that is considered the first monograph on Kahn and is the first of around ninety books made by Wurman. (I’m a backer, and it needs around 375 more backers for the all-or-nothing project to be funded — I really hope it happens.) UnderstandingUnderstanding is one of Wurman’s last books, a summary of the books he made, the projects he started, the conversations he had, and the people who inspired him. As such, it is a big book, with 10-inch-square pages and more than 700 pages, a weight of 7 pounds, and a hefty cover price. Wurman was nice enough to send me a copy after our talk, but there’s so much in the book I’ve only been able to digest small portions of it.
One of the first pieces in the book — number 4 among the 54 boldly numbered chapters — is devoted to Kahn. “Musings With My Mentor” consists of Wurman’s recollections of Kahn (“I think about him every day, even when I don’t think about him”), much of it familiar from my talk with Wurman, followed by Kahn’s own words, taken from the hard-to-find Notebooks and Drawings and the equally scarce and expensive What Will Be Has Always Been that he published about 25 years later. This chapter is more words than anything, with just one photograph and one drawing but no views of the books themselves. That is not the case elsewhere in UnderstandingUnderstanding, where photographs of the insides of some of Wurman’s many books take up a lot of the page. There’s Olympic Access, one of the first of his enormously popular Access guidebooks; Twin Peaks, the one Access I’d buy if I stumbled across it in a used bookstore; Our Man-Made Environment Book Seven, which I did come across in a used bookstore but failed to snag; and the USAtlas, among other map books he’s known for.

Wurman called himself an “information architect” before such a term existed. His passion has been helping people understand how the world works by clearly explaining things in books with words and images, and in spoken words with the TED Talks and other conferences he created. UnderstandingUnderstanding is more meta, examining how Wurman understands things and how others he admires understand things in their own unique ways. Being a book lover, I’m more interested in Wurman’s presentation of his books, like those mentioned above, then the conferences or the external contributions that are also in abundance. I’d rather peer inside some of his books that I don’t have in my library (that’s most of them) than look at portraits of people who spoke at his conferences, for instance, or read the words Stefan Sagmeister scribbled across similar portraits. I stubbornly believe that books are one of the best ways of conveying information, something Wurman no doubt believes, or we would not have made so many. So I recommend UnderstandingUnderstanding for its book parts. Others may not agree, but the book is so so big there’s something in it for everyone.

Tip: Those who really want a copy of UnderstandingUnderstanding should bypass the referral links above and visit the website of Understanding Group, which is selling it for $1.00 plus shipping.

* Syndicated content from A Daily Dose of Architecture Books.


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