Thirteen Ways: Theoretical Investigations in Architecture

Robert Harbison, Author, Robert Harrison, Author
Robert Harbison, Author, Robert Harrison, Author MIT Press (MA) $20 (205p) ISBN 978-0-262-08256-3
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-262-58170-7
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With every new publication on architecture, students hope for a worthwhile piece of scholarship to set against the last two decades' proliferation of superficial theorizing. Harbison's study, however, is not it. The author claims to have attempted a formally poetic narrative (hence the Stevensian title) that would locate his thoughts on ""the slippery hybrid, architecture."" Unfortunately, Harbison seems to have slipped straight over the surface of his subject, discussing a vast number of architectural works under 10 rubrics (sculpture, machines, the body, landscape, models, ideas, politics, the shared, subjectivity, memory) with no regard for the centuries, styles or continents that separate the works--and with too few (10) illustrations. The book will confuse anyone not versed in architectural history: no external narrative emerges from the many examples Harbison so briefly describes, and in the end there is no personal narrative (poetic or otherwise) to link his reflections. In this study's most obvious and important precursor, Scientific Autobiography, Aldo Rossi poignantly weaves his reflections on art and architecture into more personal experiences to create an engaging self-portrait and an explanation of the motivations behind his architecture. But Harbison is rather dismissive of Rossi's book and of his buildings as well, calling them ""places in which something is missing."" The description, inappropriate when applied to the work of a true poet-theorist such as Rossi, better describes Harbison's own effort. (May.)
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