Ten Great Buildings and the People They Made
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A lively combination of scholarship, cultural history and sharp-tongued social commentary about our buildings—what we use them for and what they reveal about their designers and about us.

Wilkinson, who has lectured on the history of architecture at various academic venues in England, Germany and China, begins with a simple hut—surely the first human habitation—and ends with a “curvaceous footbridge” in Rio de Janeiro. In between are his investigations and ruminations about specific sorts of architecture developed for specific purposes—for the powerful, for religion, commemoration, entertainment, work, medicine and others. In each section, the author focuses on a specific structure, provides its history, tells us about its designer (when this is known) and describes its evolution and/or fate. But Wilkinson does much more than this. He also riffs on aspects of the building, its architect or purpose that he finds most compelling, and he manages to animate readers in the process. In some cases, he will probably anger some readers. He is manifestly liberal and humanitarian in his political views, so terms like “religious wing nuts,” broadsides at Ayn Rand and descriptions of buildings (Henry Ford’s factories) that are like machines “for squeezing the maximum profit from the workers inside” will not endear him to some of his readers—though they will certainly delight others. The author includes a fascinating chapter about Le Corbusier and his passion for a house designed by Eileen Gray—a house much damaged, writes Wilkinson, by Le Corbusier’s murals (added later). His is a sad portrait of the house’s decline and its very slow restoration. The author punctuates his text with bright, varied allusions to Hawthorne, the Marx Brothers, Wagner, Nero, Brueghel and the 1959 “kitchen debate” between Khrushchev and Nixon.

A scholarly but swiftly flowing text that glistens with attitude.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-62040-629-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2014


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