Book Review: Preserving the World's Great Cities

Preserving the World's Great Cities: The Destruction of the Historic Metropolis by Anthony M. Tung, published by Random House, 2002. Paperback, 480 pages. (Amazon)

As a member of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, Anthony Tung was exposed to the myriad of factors that influence and play a role in preservation, though he always felt that one could learn the most lessons from other places. So after nine years as a commissioner, he embarked on a journey to 22 cities to document each city's rise, physical manifestation, destruction and subsequent preservation process. Coming out of that trip, this book is an illuminating account of the ways different cultures view their past through preservation choices, as well as enlightening the reader to the effects of war, time, pollution, and other forces impacting buildings. From Mexico City to Kyoto, and 16 cities in-between, Tung recounts the events and choices that have led to each city's current state, such as Warsaw's thorough documentation of its center before and during German occupation and destruction, and the subsequent rebuilding to its Pre-WWII condition. Lessons learned from other places is definitely an accurate description of what Tung achieved. Each place is different and therefore requires different solutions, most creative, some better than others. Eventually the book makes us realize how little has been carried down from earlier generations, and how easy that could have been different. It gives us perspective on that which we build today and it will hopefully inform our's and future generations on how we treat the built environment.