In this illuminating collection of essays, Rybczynski (Emeritus, Architecture/Univ. of Pennsylvania; How Architecture Works, 2013, etc.) documents the wide-ranging effects of the men who built America in the 20th century.
The title of the book is misleading, as the author explores our lives in homes, small towns, cities, and gardens, in addition to our shopping habits. The movement into and then out of the cities spawned the highway and transportation systems that enabled urban sprawl. Rybczynski puts names to the people who drove America’s growth, beginning with Fracis Turner, who ran the National Highway Program from 1954. Marshall McLuhan’s Law of Technological Second Lives suggested the importance of reusing obsolete city spaces—a good example of urban preservation is San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square—but not all attempts to rehab unused buildings are successful. The architects whom the author calls the “Show Dogs” are winning competitions for big city museums, music venues, and libraries. Such buildings as Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, I.M. Pei’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and Sydney’s Opera House are the sought-after icons that have succeeded in bolstering their economies and bringing in tourists. Rybczynski doesn’t limit himself to architects; he also shows the vast change in landscape architecture in the 19th century under Frederick Law Olmsted. There’s an excellent piece on Arup, the structural engineering firm that Pritzker Prize winners (the Nobel Prize for architects) turn to more than any other. This all-encompassing book includes essays on post–9/11 security designs, individual homes, planned communities, and more. Rybczynski doesn’t leave out the masters, either; he examines Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Andrea Palladio, the incomparable Renaissance genius whose work continues to produce endless permutations.
A superb book for those interested in architectural history, written in an easygoing style by a man with encyclopedic knowledge and an obvious great love for building.