Architecture has been on my mind lately, so what’s better than a book with a review of the development of architecture throughout the ages?
While this is a bit if the expansion of the usual remit of the Roman history side of this blog, I know many of you appreciate related topics like food history and other periods. Considering shelter — a basic human need — is right there with food, architecture contributes a lot to the “sense of place” that goes into writing and world-building. Hope you enjoy — let me know in the comments!
What to Expect
Expect a high-level description of some notable architectural movements from the stone age to modern days. Focus is on Western monumental architecture, with some diversions to other geographies and styles. Some chapters deal with notable architects throughout history (from Vitruvius, through Palladio, to modernists like Frank Lloyd Wright and the post-modernist Frank Gehry. Some additional chapters focus on specific architectural elements, like arches and supports.
What I liked
Besides the subject matter itself, the books does do a good job of introducing the major streams of architecture, how each rose in response to those which came before (like all art), and the people and technology that moved it forward along the ages. It’s a primer, a jumping board from which you can go further to learn more. Rather than being a disjointed or overly detailed review of architectural features, it shows the evolution of the practice throughout history.
What to be aware of
The book is very high-level. Each of the chapters deserves a book (or bookshelf) of its own to cover it. While expected from a ‘101’ type book, there were other issues that bear keeping in mind.
first and foremost, is that while there are some illustrations and photographs, they’re not nearly enough. As the cliché goes, a picture is worth a thousand words – and when discussing a visual medium like architecture, it’s a must.I read it on the kindle, so I ended up going to Wikipedia a lot. I do it often to explore topics in more depth, but I expected a better baseline information.
Other issues are the Western/monuments centricity. There are a handful of chapters on the architecture styles of non-Western cultures, from Native American to Buddhist, but really they are so perfunctory and superficial they feel like they’ve been added just to tick the box.
Even when dealing with European architecture, the book focuses almost entirely on Churches. One would think that in pre-modern times all there was were either huts or cathedrals. There isn’t enough information on where most people lived (domestic buildings).
Despite the caveats above, the book does a credible job of what it aims to do – an orientation of architecture history for the interested layperson. Get your copy here.
Enjoying the reviews, but wondering why I (and Felix) care about historical detail so much? Glad you asked! Felix is the protagonist of the Togas, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of a paranormal detective on the background of ancient Rome.
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