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THE LOOK OF ARCHITECTURE

Witold Rybczynski, Author . Oxford $22 (144p) ISBN 978-0-19-513443-8

With his refusal to hide behind the jargon and hype endemic to the profession, and his ability to puncture its pretensions without mean-spiritedness, Rybczynski (Home: A Short History of an Idea) has become a leading writer on architecture. This concise survey of style in architecture is derived from three lectures the author gave in the New York Public Library, and the intimate, conversational tone he adopts manages to convey a lot of information in a very agreeable way. Indeed, Rybczynski's emphasis on style is itself provocative in a profession that has traditionally given such considerations short shrift. ("Style is like a feather in a woman's cap, nothing more," he finds Le Corbusier observing.) Add to this Rybczynski's referencing of interior design and fashion, and one has a book as iconoclastic as it is readable. Another great strength of the book is its delightfully discursive set pieces, including one on the buildings around Bryant Park—this will have visitors to New York clutching this trim and portable book as they peer upwards at the rich mosaic of buildings so beautifully contextualized within. The range of the book is impressively wide, with many less familiar buildings (the Canadian Parliament buildings, the solidly elegant cottages of Alan Greenberg) given due consideration, and recent superstars such as Frank Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim crisply observed. The author's deeply informed enthusiasm is infectious, and his removal of architectural writing from an airily theoretical discourse to the realm of practical experience is empowering for the lay reader. We all have to live in buildings, after all. (July)

Reviewed on: 06/18/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
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