Mysteries of the mall And other essays

Witold Rybczynski

Book - 2015

"A deep exploration of modern life that examines our cities, public places, and homes."--Provided by publisher.

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New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2015.
First edition
Item Description
Includes index.
Physical Description
viii, 319 pages ; 22 cm
Main Author
Witold Rybczynski (author)
  • Part one: the way we live today. Mysteries of the mall ; Godfathers of sprawl ; Big-city amenities. Trees. High-tech jobs. Cappucino. Retirement paradise. Nose rings ; Designs for escape ; Thoughts on Home
  • Part two: our urban condition. Tocqueville, urban critic ; We're all Venetians now ; Downtown ; Bauhaus blunders ; Downsizing cities ; The fifth city ; Bollard burg ; New York's rumpus room ; Why we need Olmsted again
  • Part three: the art of building. A distinguished failure ; Show dogs ; When buildings try too hard ; The unreal America ; The story king ; A good public building ; A blight at the opera ; Sounds as good as it looks ; The biggest small buildings ; Palladio in the rough
  • Part four: place makers. The master ; Corbu ; Why Wright endures ; Call Arup ; Mr. Success ; The unfettered eclectic ; A humble architect ; The Zen master ; The smart man from Hollywood.
Review by Booklist Reviews

In addition to his much-lauded books, including How Architecture Works (2013), Rybczynski has published more than 350 essays since his last collection came out in the early '90s. This new compilation culls from that multitude 35 crisp essays in which he analyzes the architectural merits of food courts in suburban malls with the same evenhanded lucidity that he uses to assess Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Rybczynski's manner of writing mirrors his architectural taste: erudite and approachable. One barely needs an interest in architecture to be captivated by the first half of this collection, in which he both manages to discuss in detail the appallingly failed design of public-housing projects such as Chicago's Cabrini-Green, and to narrate a trip through the construction of Walt Disney World's first master-planned town, dubbed "Celebration." In the second half, which delves more deeply into the architecture world, Rybczynski decrees that "time, not prize-giving juries, is the ultimate judge of a building's worth." The same is true with these essays—and time shows they have worn quite well. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Reviewed by Anthony PalettaRybczynski's latest essay collection, a sharp culling of his previously published work, may seem at first glance like a World's Shortest Books entry (how many mysteries have you found at the Gap?), but the best detectives find much in overlooked corners, and this, as usual, is Rybczinski's work here. An eloquent critic with a range of interests as broad as his voluminous published work, Rybczynski is unusually willing to go sleuthing into the architecture and design of the everyday.A strong interest in the lived experience of architecture—not its aseptic uninhabited condition—undergirds the essays in the volume, whether concerning museum "starchitecture" or Disneyland. The titular essay explores the work of John Brinckerhoff Jackson, a theorist heterodox in his enthusiasm for the built suburban environment and a notion of vernacular architecture sympathetic to actual vernacular conditions—namely postwar suburban growth. Rybczynski notes, "Few of my architect friends share my interest in food courts." Many espouse notions about form following function, but few seem interested in spaces where function radically defines form, namely that food court. In an essay on homes, Rybczynski offers perceptive and praiseful accounts of premier 20th century residential construction, but is bold enough to answer the question, "Do many experimental houses make good homes?" with "Many don't." He mulls over the varied functions of a performance space in a review of the Opéra Bastille in Paris; acoustics and sightlines take obvious precedence but the function of lobbies and interactivity with the city also receive significant attention. Rybczynski's perennial personal enthusiasms crop up: there's an essay on Central Park, one on Palladio, another on Wright. Other essays shine light on more unfamiliar names: Bing Thom's supple Canadian work and the eclectic small-scale builder-architect George Holt, in Charleston, S.C. Rybczynski is not so much of a contrarian to ignore or dislike larger names: Le Corbusier and I.M. Pei are the focus of graceful accounts. The most interesting selections are on more esoteric topics. There's a superb piece on the nearly 70 years of unsung work that the engineering firm Arup has done to make countless iconic buildings actually stand. Another essay unspools the longer history, and current blight, of those bollards that have come to fence civic structures since 9/11.The prose sparkles: "When Richard Meier amplifies and extends the architectural elements that infuse his houses with a retro-modern charm into larger buildings, the effect can be deadening, like listening to a Chopin étude that never ends." In discussing Disney's planned community, Rybczynski quips, "the credits for the design of Celebration resemble a Hollywood screenplay." In his acknowledgements, Rybczynski notes he has written some 350 essays since his last collection, Looking Around (1992); this book features 34 of those works. Over the course of his career, Rybczynski has proven a deft guide to the work of countless architects; here, he is just as sage a curator of his own criticism. (Sept.)Anthony Paletta writes the Spaces column for the Wall Street Journal. [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A critical exploration of modern life in today's cities, public spaces and homes is presented through thirty-five essays on subjects ranging from shopping malls and Central Park to the Paris opera house.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A critical exploration of modern life in today's cities, public spaces and homes is presented through 35 essays on subjects ranging from shopping malls and Central Park to the Paris opera house and Disney's planned community of Celebrity.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A deep exploration of modern life that examines our cities, public places, and homesIn Mysteries of the Mall, Witold Rybczynski, the author of How Architecture Works, casts a seasoned critical eye on the modern scene. His subject is nothing less than the broad setting of our metropolitan world.In thirty-four discerning essays, Rybczynski ranges over topics as varied as shopping malls, Central Park, the Opéra Bastille, and America's shrinking cities. Along the way, he examines our post-9/11 obsession with security, the revival of the big-city library, the rise of college towns, our fascination with vacation homes, and Disney's planned community of Celebration. By looking at contemporary architects as diverse as Frank Gehry, Moshe Safdie, and Bing Thom, revisiting old masters such as Palladio, Le Corbusier, and Frank Lloyd Wright, and considering such unsung innovators as Stanley H. Durwood, the inventor of the cineplex, Rybczynski ponders the role of global metropolises in an age of tourism and reflects on what kinds of places attract us in the modern city.Mysteries of the Mall is required reading for anyone curious about the contemporary world and how it came to be the way it is.