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Architectural curate's egg.


Edited by Andrew Ballantyne. Oxford: Blackwell. 2003. [pounds sterling]50 (paperback [pounds sterling]16.99)

It is hard to see what the eight essays in this book have in common. The tendency of the avant-garde to lapse into academic orthodoxy; the psychological roots of Alvar Aalto's creativity (and bad behaviour); the religious overtones of The Fountainhead; sustainable houses; American houses; what Georges Bataille would have said about Gordon Matta-Clark's sculpture if he had ever encountered it; a so-called 'RAF' establishment that was handed over to the American military in 1951 without any formal agreement (either that or the lease has been lost and everybody has forgotten what it said); and the Englishness of the concept of 'townscape' as promoted in pages of the Architectural Review in the 1950s and '60s: the subjects could hardly be more varied.

Neither could the disciplinary approaches, from straightforward historical surveys, like Elizabeth Cromley's over-structured plod through 150 years of American domestic architecture, to Stephen Walker's hyper-intellectual analysis of Bataille's concept of alteration, written in the autistic style favoured by a certain school of architectural theory. Quality is variable too. Gerard Loughlin's essay on Ayn Rand's famous novel mixes literature, cinema and architecture with dreams, religion and biography in an entertaining and believable interpretation. On the other hand, Sarah Menin's interpretation of Aalto's 'humane Modernism' is far-fetched. The fact that Aalto's mother died when he was eight might explain his bullying, his drunkenness and his cowardice, but it doesn't explain his architecture.

So why have these essays been bound between the same covers under that weak title, 'Architectures'? There might be a clue in the Notes on Contributors. All are academics and four of them teach or study at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. So this is not so much a book as an academic journal in book form. Its editor, Andrew Ballantyne, who also teaches at Newcastle, had the hardest assignment of all: to find a unifying theme. He doesn't succeed and I am not sure what his introduction is about, but it's still the best read in the book.
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Title Annotation:Architectures: Modernism and After
Author:Davies, Colin
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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