by Webb Howell, Fine Books & Collections magazine.
The history of architecture is perhaps also the history of human evolution. The process of taking note of form and function is, in essence, a kind of survival of the fittest that is applied to structures. Architecture is the marriage of art, design, and engineering. It is subject to cultural biases, availability of materials, and the limits of imagination.
The ancient Seven Wonders of the World, one of the earliest “Best of…” lists, largely recognized achievements in architecture. Dating to 150 BC, when Greek poet Antipater of Sidon wrote of the “wall of lofty Babylon” and the “house of Artemis,” even the two statues among the seven are perhaps there as much because of their achievements in size as any other characteristic. The “new” Seven Wonders of the World also celebrate architectural achievement, and their election created quite a stir of interest and debate recently—if nothing else, people acknowledge that they care very much about these things.
Nations and neighborhoods are defined by their architecture—indeed, it is architecture that often translates ideologies into form. George Washington not only commanded the Federal Army, he also commanded the construction of the Federal City. It was he who selected Pierre L'Enfant to design the city, and while Thomas Jefferson had ideas of his own, Washington was largely responsible for pushing aside old Europe for the fresh, new face of an American government.
More locally, travels in any region provide a glimpse of architecture that fits with an environment and a period of time. As the needs of people change, so changes their architecture.
No less than the homage paid to ideologies, architecture is also used to pay homage to individuals—oftentimes, to the architect himself. In what could seemingly be an endless list of achievement immortalized in stone and mortar, architecture is the recognition of choice for those we value most.
To collect books on architecture is to cut a swath of the book collecting world so large as to hardly be able to make sense of it. As architecture gets divided into categories of Greek, Roman, Renaissance, Neoclassical, Revival, Beaux Arts, Modern, and more, so does the opportunity to collect. Collections can also be divided by architect, era, location, and form. The collecting opportunities are expansive. Here are some possibilities:
The Works in Architecture
Robert and James Adam’s The Works in Architecture is one of the truly magnificent books on eighteenth century English architecture and considered by many to be a foundation of any library on architecture. The Adam brothers showed "the novelty and variety" of their designs, which defined the Adam style and the era. Many plates are incredibly selective, focusing on partial designs and allowing the viewer to provide the missing elements with imagination.
History of Architecture
Sir Banister Fletcher’s sweeping overview of architectural history was first published in 1896 and is now in its 20th edition. Sir Banister wrote that, “The study of architecture opens up the enjoyment of buildings with an appreciation of their purpose, meaning, and charm.” This one work can take you almost anywhere.