How architecture works A humanist's toolkit

Witold Rybczynski

Book - 2013

In "How Architecture Works," Witold Rybczynski, one of our best, most stylish critics and winner of the Vincent Scully Prize for his architectural writing, answers our most fundamental questions about how good--and not-so-good--buildings are designed and constructed. Introducing the reader to the rich and varied world of modern architecture, he takes us behind the scenes, revealing how architects as different as Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, and Robert A. M. Stern envision and create their... designs. He teaches us how to "read" plans, how buildings respond to their settings, and how the smallest detail--of a stair balustrade, for instance--can convey an architect's vision.

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Subjects
Published
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2013.
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
355 pages : illustrations 22 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9780374211745
0374211744
Main Author
Witold Rybczynski (-)
  • The idea
  • The setting
  • Site
  • Plan
  • Structure
  • Skin
  • Details
  • Style
  • The past
  • Taste.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* "Architecture, if it is any good, speaks to us all." With this maxim, the first of many clarifying observations in this conversational and invigorating treatise, Rybczynski deepens our understanding of all that goes into the design and construction of buildings. An architect, emeritus professor, and outstanding and prolific architectural writer, Rybczynski takes palpable pleasure in throwing open the doors to reveal the complex, often contradictory demands of architecture, illuminating "the practical as well as the aesthetic." His "toolkit" contains 10 fundamental topics, from ideas to structural matters, the difference between a building's setting and site, and the importance of such seemingly prosaic details as balustrades. As he instructs us in the implications of the fact that "new buildings almost always have old neighbors," for example, he describes how Frank Gehry dealt with this challenge in funky Venice Beach, and the diverse approaches taken by top architects competing to build the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and a new ballet-opera house in St. Petersburg. With fluent analysis of buildings by architects ranging from Louis Sullivan to Louis I. Kahn, Mies van der Rohe to Renzo Piano, a sweet absence of "isms," and an invaluable glossary, Rybczynski's expert, holistic, down-to-earth guide awakens us to architecture's profound humanness. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

Rybczynski (emer., Univ. of Pennsylvania) is well known for his engrossingly written books about architecture. This one presents a variety of topics that architects must address, and discusses what one should look for in a building--ranging from details of stair rails to their setting--that, when well done, will enhance one's experience with architecture. Architecture books for the general public usually have wonderful pictures and a banal text. This one is the opposite, with too few and too small photos and no glossy paper. Compensating for the deficiencies of the visual material are the lucid descriptions offered by the beautifully written text; the result is enjoyment aplenty. Architecture, the author explains, expresses the current culture; so does this book. Rybczynski's view is always of the building, rather than its place in the cityscape or rural setting. He does reveal tolerance for individualistic expression that appeals to the few, at the expense of contributing to the common good, but so be it. A list of sources, a glossary, and a very full index complete this pleasant, small, easy-to-hold book. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through graduate students, professionals, and general readers. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students; Professionals/Practitioners. C. W. Westfall University of Notre Dame Copyright 2014 American Library Association.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Prize-winning architectural writer and University of Pennsylvania emeritus professor Rybczynski (A Clearing in the Distance) follows in the spirit of Steen Eiler Rasmussen's classic Experiencing Architecture to supply an ideal layperson's handbook on the fundamentals of modern and contemporary architecture. Focusing on the functional and aesthetic considerations that define a building, and often calling upon his experience as an architect to illustrate major concepts, Rybczynski vividly explains particulars such as how to read architectural plans and how sunlight figures into designs, as well as discussing issues of style, history, and taste. While the book tends to address structure after structure at a speedy clip, the upshot is a commanding view of the field for beginners. An especially rich example is the walk-through of several designs submitted to the competition for the National Museum of African-American History and Culture: this not only illustrates how different architects respond to constraints, but also how such competitions function. Rybczynski is not a polemicist, but he effectively argues certain basic principles, and makes a cogent analogy to typography to show how the past always influences the present. Here, architecture is treated as craft executed with prudence and conviction. The author doesn't care much for theories, or buildings that fail to be practical, but welcomes "a variety of design approaches," all of which make him a model teacher. 140 b&w illus. (Oct.) [Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Provides tools to understanding the beauty, art, and function in architecture through descriptive visits to opera houses, museums, war memorials, and a private retreat.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

An award-winning writer and professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania provides tools to understanding the beauty, art and function in architecture through descriptive visits to opera houses, museums, war memorials and a private retreat. 20,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

An essential toolkit for understanding architecture as both art form and the setting for our everyday livesWe spend most of our days and nights in buildings, living and working and sometimes playing. Buildings often overawe us with their beauty. Architecture is both setting for our everyday lives and public art form—but it remains mysterious to most of us. In How Architecture Works, Witold Rybczynski, one of our best, most stylish critics and winner of the Vincent Scully Prize for his architectural writing, answers our most fundamental questions about how good—and not-so-good—buildings are designed and constructed. Introducing the reader to the rich and varied world of modern architecture, he takes us behind the scenes, revealing how architects as different as Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, and Robert A. M. Stern envision and create their designs. He teaches us how to "read" plans, how buildings respond to their settings, and how the smallest detail—of a stair balustrade, for instance—can convey an architect's vision. Ranging widely from a war memorial in London to an opera house in St. Petersburg, from the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., to a famous architect's private retreat in downtown Princeton, How Architecture Works, explains the central elements that make up good building design. It is an enlightening humanist's toolkit for thinking about the built environment and seeing it afresh. "Architecture, if it is any good, speaks to all of us," Rybczynski writes. This revelatory book is his grand tour of architecture today.