Architect, historian, editor, landscape architect, and fashion designer Richard Weston is one of those indefatigable, suavely literate English polymaths who, among other accomplishments, has written studies of Alvar Aalto and Jørn Utzon. He also crafts books on impossibly broad topics like materials or the 20th-century house. Now, following Key Buildings in the Twentieth Century, he has tackled 100 Ideas That Changed Architecture.
Unlike another maddeningly useless book of lists or slickly packaged architecture lite, Weston's 100 Ideas is a rewarding and often-witty romp through the building arts of western civilization. Mercifully free of jargon and short on theory, the book's two-page spreads of definitions, stand-alone essays, and lavish photographs are more refresher course than introduction or definitive history. While most examples are well known, the book offers a fresh new way of seeing old chestnuts.
Covering certain themes, like construction, social innovation, spatial types, drawing techniques, and "idea-like ideas," Weston strips away a lot of scholarly baggage and gets to the heart of the matter about the making of buildings, from basics like the prosaic verities of bricks, doors, and the hearth, to structural frame, axonometric projection, and air conditioning. Along the way, he discusses Palladianism, the Gothic Revival, and the International Style, as well as concepts such as Complexity and Contradiction, Ornament is Crime, and Le Corbusier's five points. Most everything is here except New Urbanism and indoor plumbing.
100 Ideas That Changed Architecture is a bargain, even if just for the pictures. But it lends itself to random excursions amongst Weston's thought-provoking juxtapositions. Comparing the Pantheon with Buckminster Fuller's U.S. Pavilion at Montréal Expo (Dome) or Vitruvius with Modulor man (Proportion) might be expected. But how about the house of the Silver Wedding in Pompeii with Viñoly's Tokyo International Forum (Atrium), or Stonehenge and the Empire State Building (Column and Beam). Other similar examples abound: Alberti and Ebenezer Howard (Utopia), and zingers such as the Doge's Palace serving as the prime example of the decorated shed.
The book also succeeds because of the author's light tone and his inclusion of on-target quotes that illuminate the material. Weston borrows Aldo Van Eyck's "A door is a place made for an occasion," and, not least of all, his hero Aalto's plea for thoughtful fenestration, "When you are designing a window, imagine your girlfriend sitting inside looking out."