It is one of those almost coffee-table books, but one that you can still hold in your hands without breaking them under its weight. I am not sure I would agree this is the history of architecture exactly, but it definitely involves a hundred buildings. The thing that instantly made me jealous (and possibly a little bit negative about the book) is that Cruickshank has seen all of those buildings live. After a bit of consideration I did the only right thing – I counted how many I saw, to keep you reading (or scrolling down faster) I will reveal the magic number at the end of this post.
In the introduction Cruickshank wonders about what architecture actually is and how it functions in societies, which had me foreseeing a book with lovely pictures and also some more in-depth analysis. I was wrong, well maybe not completely wrong – the photos are lovely and the text is not completely pointless. I guess what I expected was a concise argument as to why those hundred buildings above all others represent architecture most completely. I got none of that, the descriptions of specific buildings feel disjointed, one does not lead to the next in any sort of logical fashion (either as a continuation or rejection of the previous ideas). The geographical selection also makes little sense, all ancient buildings being from the East (Far and Middle), but all 20th century ones being from the West. It seems very limited thinking, just reconfirming old schema.
Apart from the continuity of the argument I also lacked more consistent approach to the role of architecture in society and in different cultures. I probably am not the target audience of this book, treating architecture a bit more personally, but for a casual reader I don’t think it would be interesting enough, again the spice of social context that makes the text easy to relate to was lacking. There is possibility that I take architecture too personally, because for me it is the only art that in our current world still has to be subject to buyer’s requirements and remain true to its function. I do think some of the best art was actually made to order, to serve a function, but after the 19th century revolution in painting and sculpture architecture is the only art that remains limited by its function and buyer, which makes it the most challenging one in my opinion. I feel it is often this tension between architects vision, investor’s expectations and functional requirements that unlocks creativity in the best of architects. I’m rambling…
To sum up a lot of nice photos, text can be skimmed. I saw nineteen out the hundred buildings (actually after my yesterday’s trip to Dulwich Picture Gallery, inspired by this book, the number goes up to twenty), most of them in Italy and UK and I found few more I have to see in London itself.