An architect debuts with a look at 13 iconic structures, each of which has altered greatly as newer generations have honored different deities, despots and dreams.
Hollis (Interior Design/Edinburgh College of Art) begins with a rumination on Thomas Cole’s 1840 painting The Architect’s Dream and continually returns to it throughout this erudite series of connected essays. His other recurring reference is to the Parthenon, which has its own chapter but also serves as a polestar at which Hollis gazes before beginning each subsequent essay. Although the pieces appear somewhat similar—each begins with a brief meditation, and the lengths are approximately the same—they are mostly quite different in texture and tone. But the thesis remains constant: Buildings change, and they should change. Among the structures he discusses are the expected (the Parthenon, the Alhambra), the pleasant surprises (the Basilica of San Marco, Gloucester Cathedral, Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the Berlin Wall) and the unexpected (the Sans Souci in Potsdam, the Hulme Crescents, a massive public-housing project, now razed, in Manchester, England). Hollis moves gracefully through both buildings and historical periods with an impressive command of detail and a sometimes surprising sensitivity to the people involved. Occasionally he wanders into the minds of the principals—e.g., his re-creation of the American-Chinese negotiations over the possible construction in China of a casino with a Venetian theme. As Qian Qichen talks with Sheldon G. Adelson, Hollis imagines the Chinese leader thinking, “It feels good being able to manipulate the third-richest man in the United States with a twitch.” Among the most appealing essays are the ones dealing with Gloucester Cathedral—how a massive structure arose around the tomb of Edward II—and with alterations of Notre Dame that occurred because of demands by readers of Victor Hugo.
A strong, satisfying exploration of the history, beauty and wonder of Western architecture.