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Monday, July 19, 2010

Book Review: Buildings Without Architects

Buildings Without Architects: A Global Guide to Everyday Architecture by John May, with consultant editor Anthony Reid
Rizzoli, 2010
Hardcover, 192 pages

The title of the latest book by writer John May immediately recalls the famous book by Bernard Rudofsky, Architecture Without Architects. Rudofsky's book, subtitled "A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture," surveyed vernacular architecture around the world via photography, some by the author, much of it from other sources. Initially published in 1964 as a companion to an exhibition of the same name at MoMA, the book is a visual feast, but its presentation and commentary by Rudofsky keep it squarely aimed at a formal appreciation of its subject. Later scholarship looked at construction and cultural aspects of vernacular buildings, not just form, most notably by Paul Oliver, who has written numerous titles on the "architecture of the people." John May's book follows in Oliver's footsteps, offering the reader and introductory guide and global tour of some of the 80% of buildings created without architects.
The majority of May's book is comprised of two-page spreads on individual building types (stepwells, tipis, yemen tower houses, etc.), grouped into geographical chapters. Each spread features a description, map highlighting where the buildings predominate, references, and most importantly two-color, easy-to-read drawings that range from perspectives and sections to cut-away axons, whatever it takes to explain the form and workings of each building. Lest anybody be left yearning for full-color photos of the different buildings in context, the "gallery of building media" that begins the book features such; unfortunately they are not cross-referenced with the entries that make up the bulk of the book. Calling itself introductory, the book is nevertheless thorough in the scope of buildings presented, making it a welcome addition to any library with titles by Rudofsky, Oliver, Lloyd Kahn, and the like. The book is particularly recommended for architects looking to design green buildings that do not rely upon technology for sustainability. Vernacular architecture can be seen as a repository of construction techniques and ways of life that may be removed from most Western societies, but they still offer lessons for those willing to pay attention.

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