History looms over architects. In few other professions is there such a defined canon of masterpieces, such a tradition of reviving old styles. Yet, as Richard Rogers and Philip Gumuchdjian observe in their forward to Architecture: The Whole Story, “architecture is surely one of the most optimistic art forms.” Each generation searches for “new utopias, new ideals” and finds inspiration “from all our innovations and all expressions of harmony and beauty,” they say. Architecture always looks forward, but does revisiting the past offer new inspiration? That tension is at the heart of this hefty tome: how to translate the richness of history into a tool for the present.
This is no history book in a traditional sense. With more than 1,000 illustrations and hundreds of entries on individual buildings, The Whole Story is a “look-book” of architectural history. Articles on particular buildings, each a double-page spread, sit between slightly longer chapters that discuss historical or regional styles such as Indian sacred architecture or Brutalism. The graphics are minimal, and a simplified timeline of historical events runs through these chapters. The single-building entries frequently feature one large photograph and smaller ones or drawings to explore the design's finer points. The vast majority of these images are of high quality; the few fuzzy or poorly color-balanced photos stand out. Each entry is written by one of 42 professors, lecturers, and architects, all experts in their field. The editor, Denna Jones, is an architecture and design writer in London. While Jones organizes the book's progression by historical eras and architectural styles, most curation melts away as we flip through the pleasantly digestible entries. But the book's breadth isn't its strong suit. Instead, it excels when its selection of architecture becomes strange and unfamiliar.