100 Ideas that Changed Architecture by Richard Weston
Laurence King Publishing, 2011
Paperback, 216 pages
Laurence King Publishing's 100 Ideas series has to date covered fashion and architecture, with soon-to-be-released titles tackling film and graphic design. It is a simple format: chronicle the most important influences on an art/design field with one idea per spread, 100 total. I'm surprised it hasn't been done before (I don't think it has). It serves to reflectively look at the state of contemporary architecture, in the case of Richard Weston's contribution to the series, and straddles the line between history and theory by tracing architecture in a roughly chronological order and by focusing on the ideas that have shaped it. Yet the book is more history than theory because, as the author asserts in his introduction, an "architectural idea" is not necessarily one that is philosophical or theoretical, since all creations exist as ideas before realization. Therefore the 100 ideas encompass building elements, materials, technologies, styles, as well as the occasional theoretical concept.
With each idea given one spread, just under half is devoted to Weston's description, the rest is taken over by illustrations -- photographs mainly -- and these dominate the book visually and in terms of how one understands the ideas. Weston is a capable architectural writer and historian -- evidenced by his monograph on Alvar Aalto -- but the size and quantity of the illustrations means the choice of subject works to influence one's consideration of an idea. For example, "Form Follows Function" discusses Pugin, Sullivan, Mies, Le Corbusier, and Aalto, but the illustrations are limited solely to the last; this might indicate a personal preference on the author's part but it also implies that the expression of function in form is strongest in Aalto's Paimio Sanatorium or a similar building. Regardless, this reliance on large illustrations (most ideas have one large photo or drawing with one or two smaller ones) works towards making the book accessible to a larger audience and offering the potential for multiple readings, be it the full text, illustrations and captions, or a combination thereof.
A minor quibble is the means of cross-referencing ideas, good in theory but not in practice: ideas found elsewhere are highlighted in bold text, but since they are in roughly chronological order, not alphabetical, and since the ideas in the index refer to various locations in the book, it's quite difficult to find another idea when it is referenced. An alphabetical list for reference would easily remedy this and offer yet another way of reading the book -- a "choose your own adventure" through the ideas based on relevance.