Do you sometimes forget where the Romanesque ends and the Renaissance begins? Do you ever confuse Constructivism with Deconstructivism? Never heard of an ogee roof? You’re probably not alone.
Architectural Styles: A Visual Guide can help fill in some of those gaps. By no means an encyclopedic reference book, it is instead a handy guide when your memory lapses. Written by Margaret Fletcher, a professor of architecture at Auburn University, it is illustrated with hundreds of hand drawings by Robbie Polley. Distinct periods from ancient times to the present day are represented by a number of buildings. Key features of each “style” are outlined, from the organic ornament of Art Nouveau to the symmetry of Palladianism.
For those of you who have a better grasp of architectural history, it may be a fun exercise to challenge what buildings were included, and excluded, particularly as the book enters the 20th century. Le Corbusier, for instance, is well represented with three buildings—the Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, La Tourette near Lyon, and the Carpenter Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts—filed under Brutalism. His Chapel of Notre-Dame du Haut at Ronchamp (1955), on the other hand, which is fairly contemporary with the other three, is included under Modernism, a chapter that starts with the 1926 Bauhaus Building in Dessau and includes Louis Kahn’s Phillips Exeter Academy Library (1972). Quite the range.
The more recent past gets more muddled, further evidence of the sometimes problematic nature of such categorizations. David Adjaye’s Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., seems an odd neighbor to Zaha Hadid’s sweeping Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan, in the pages devoted to parametric design. And, while the book’s drawings are a welcome sight in our digital age, the black-and-white images are perhaps not the best way to illustrate the “playful character and use of color” the author lists as key features of Postmodernism.
Buildings from Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, and Asia are in there, but outside of Egypt and one Art Deco building in Capetown, the African continent is largely ignored. One chapter is devoted to early and Classical architecture in India, but there is not a single stepwell—a big miss.
The Elements of Modern Architecture: Understanding Contemporary Buildings is another recent book to help decode structures built since 1950. There are just a handful of overlaps with the previous publication—Frank Lloyd Wright’s and Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim museums among them. First published in 2014, this revised and expanded version features five additional buildings—including the Harbin Opera House by MAD Architects (2015): as with the other buildings in this volume, its site, structure, construction, and interiors are dissected, again mainly through hand drawings and diagrams, to give a reasonably deep analysis—one that seeks to improve the reader’s visual and architectural literacy without a reliance on designating building style. But, ultimately, as the authors explain, “for architecture, nothing replaces physical reality.” Experiencing a building in person—now, that’s something you’re not likely to forget.