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.
Main Author
Witold Rybczynski (author)
First edition
Item Description
Includes index.
Physical Description
viii, 319 pages ; 22 cm
  • Part 1. The Way We Live Today
  • Mysteries of the Mall
  • Godfathers of Sprawl
  • Big-City Amenities, Trees. High-Tech Jobs. Cappuccino. Retirement Paradise. Nose Rings
  • Designs for Escape
  • Tomorrowland
  • Thoughts on Home
  • Part 2. 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 3. 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 Bigger Small Buildings
  • Palladio in the Rough
  • Part 4. Place Makers
  • The Master
  • Corbu
  • Why Wright Endures
  • Call Arup
  • Mr. Success
  • The Unfettered Ecelctic
  • A Humble Architect
  • The Zen Master
  • The Smart Man from Hollywood
  • Afterword and Acknowledgments
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

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.--Day Ong, Amye Copyright 2015 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Reviewed by Anthony Paletta Rybczynski'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.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

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 spacesa good example of urban preservation is San Francisco's Ghirardelli Squarebut 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. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.