A respected scholar examines the problems of contemporary cities in a wide-ranging history of urban planning and architecture.
In his interpretive history, Rykwert (Architecture/Univ. of Pennsylvania) attempts to shift the perspective from which cities are viewed. They are not, he argues, the organic outgrowth of un-nameable forces, but rather “a willed artifact, a human construct in which many conscious and unconscious factors played their part.” To this end, he dissects the development of planned and ancient cities from all over the globe, with a particular emphasis on Paris, London, and New York. Rykwert covers a lot of ground; he is as comfortable critiquing neoclassical facades as he is discussing utopian ideals for the city. At each point, however, he convincingly demonstrates the influence of larger schools of thought, and he lays great stress on the interconnected nature of much urban development (emphasizing that each new construction inevitably becomes an influential patch in the larger city quilt). His approach stands in happy contrast to much contemporary public-policy debate—which often considers urban problems (such as traffic and sprawl) as riddles to be solved in a vacuum. It is this misconception that Rykwert most wants to dispel. He is clearly aiming at a general audience—the last chapter is something of a call to arms for civic planning—although some parts of his argument may be too dense for those without an established interest in architecture or urban studies. In addition, the underlying thesis sometimes gets buried beneath the abundance of information offered, and it can be difficult to visualize the places Rykwert describes (especially for those unfamiliar with such far-flung cities as Canberra, Australia; Chandigarh, Pakistan; and Celebration, Florida).
Nevertheless, this is a highly accessible account of the evolution of cities, written clearly and with engaging insight. (16 pp. b&w illustrations)