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Everyone knows what modern architecture looks like, but few understand how this revolutionary new form of building emerged little more than a century ago or what its aesthetic, social, even spiritual aspirations were. Through illuminating studies of the leading men and women who forever changed our built environment, veteran architecture critic Martin Filler offers fresh insights into this unprecedented cultural transformation. From Louis Sullivan, father of the skyscraper, to Frank Gehry, magician of post-millennial museum, Filler emphasizes how their force of personality has had a decisive effect on everything from how we inhabit our homes to how we shape our cities.
Why was the sudden shift in architectural fashion that wrecked the career of the Scottish designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh not enough to destroy the indomitable spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright, who rose from adversity to become America’s greatest architect? Why was Philip Johnson, “dean of American architecture” during the 1980s, so haunted by the superior talent of this less-fortunate contemporary Louis Kahn that he could barely utter his name even at the peak of his own success? How did Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s dictum “Less is more” give way to Robert Venturi’s “Less is a bore”?
Surveying such current urban design sagas as the reconstruction of Ground Zero and the reunification of Berlin, Filler also trains his sharp eye on some of the biggest names in architecture today, puncturing more than one overinflated reputation while identifying the true masters who are now building for the ages.
"Made up of essays that originally appeared in the New York Review of Books, this work is a wonderful introduction to 20th-century architecture. Filler focuses each chapter on a single architect or firm, discussing their place in the history of architecture as well as some of their most important works. For some architects, particularly those who have become synonymous with high-profile projects—such as Frank Gehry or Richard Meier—Filler uses a single signature building to shed light on the architect by reading its structure and features as representative of their style. For others—such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright—design philosophy is his focus: Filler demonstrates how their aesthetic vision shaped everything they created, from furniture and fixtures to residences and office buildings. The result is magnificent from start to finish. Filler writes elegant prose that captures the feeling of these buildings in a way that makes the illustrations almost unnecessary. He also discusses architecture in a way that will be both satisfying to specialists or practitioners and accessible to nonspecialists. No matter the level of previous experience with architecture, anyone with an interest in the subject will find Filler's work rewarding."
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)