In honor of #Archtober, NYC’s month-long celebration of architecture and design, Barbara Miller Lane took the time to share with us her “top ten” architecture titles. Lane is the author of Houses for a New World: Builders and Buyers in American Suburbs. Often dismissed as “little boxes, made of ticky-tacky,” the tract houses of America’s postwar suburbs represent the twentieth century’s most successful experiment in mass housing. Lane’s is the first comprehensive history.
Pioneers of the Modern Movement from William Morris to Walter Gropius
Writing in exile from his native Germany, this future giant among twentieth century architectural historians traced the influences of the English Arts and Crafts movement in Germany, and saw the movement as culminating in the famous Bauhaus led by Walter Gropius. Pevsner thus wedded the history of major buildings to the broader history of design (as revealed in furniture, wall paper, textiles, ironwork, print making and painting). He described the Bauhaus in Germany as the culmination of “modern” movements in all the arts. Pevsner inspired many works on the history of design, and he also brought to the attention of architectural historians everywhere the importance of modern Germany in the development of modern architecture. Beautifully written and illustrated.
The Shingle Style and the Stick Style:
Architectural Theory and Design from Downing to the Origins of Wright
In this classic study, as in his earlier work of 1955 (The Shingle Style: Architectural Theory and Design from Richardson to the Origins of Wright), Scully modified the patterns of American architectural history writing to include the history of innovative wooden buildings (mostly residences) of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Scully identified a broad movement in American domestic architecture, one that stemmed from rustic and rural origins in American culture. He also traced the influence in the U. S. of important British architects such as Norman Shaw. Scully introduced into the mainstream of American architectural history writing a new canon of architects, men and firms like Bruce Price, Wilson Eyre, Peabody & Stearns, and McKim, Meade and White.
A History of Architecture:
Settings and Rituals
For far too long, the history of architecture was regarded as the story of a few great masters, and their few great masterpieces. Kostof’s 1985 book signaled a broad change in writing about the history of architecture. Now, buildings were to be seen as embedded in their environments—in the streets and street patterns that surrounded them, and also in their intellectual, economic, religious and social contexts. Buildings, Kostof argued, were part of cities, so that the history of architecture must also include the history of urban form. The story of architecture also, Kostof said, reached beyond Western Europe and the United States to include most other areas of the world. A brilliant and unusually readable book that can be enjoyed by students, teachers at all levels, and casual readers.
The History of Residential Hotels in the United States
If architectural history is to deal with residential design, then we need to know about all residential design, not just the design of free-standing houses for wealthy patrons. Living Downtown examines one collective version of residential architecture, the residential hotel, a frequent place to live for American urban dwellers in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, during a period of rapid urbanization. Groth discusses a wide range of types, from luxury hotels, used by wealthy families who still maintained homes in the country, all the way along the social spectrum to the boarding houses used by workers in urban enterprises. Groth brings to bear on this topic a strong knowledge of urban society and economics, while providing masterful analyses of the entire range of housing plans. The design of residential hotels, though such dwellings are out of favor now, offers many lessons for the urban housing of the future.
Dianne Harris ed.
Between 1945 and about 1965, the American urban landscape was transformed by great swathes of new “tract houses”, built outside the old cities and containing radically new house designs. To the extent that Americans have known much about the architecture and planning of these suburbs, they have known the name of the Levitt Brothers, builders of “Levittowns” in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But until very recently, even the Levitts have been remarkably neglected by serious scholars. In this path-breaking work on Levittown, Pennsylvania, the authors trace the history of design as manifested in street patterns, house types, house plans and furnishings, as well as social issues such as the sense of community among the occupants, and the town’s path toward racial integration. A good beginning to what I hope will be a new era in writing about American domestic architecture.
The Food Axis:
Cooking, Eating, and the Architecture of American Houses
Elizabeth C. Cromley
Cromley is a major writer about the typologies of American residential design—about the history of bedrooms, for example, and the history of apartment dwellings. In The Food Axis, she turns to cooking and eating, central functions of everyday life. But she finds that cooking and eating also depend, in their location and the designs that serve them, on the provision and storage of foodstuffs. Cromley deals with the whole of American history, an ambitious focus. The book is full of wonderful insights about the history of dining rooms, kitchens, and food storage areas. A must for those interested in the everyday functions of buildings.
Hitler at Home
Even though buildings are often products of a broad intellectual and social context, sometimes political power plays a dominant role in building design. This is most often the case in buildings designed for autocrats, for kings and dictators. Adolf Hitler had, it can be argued, absolute power in Germany from 1933 to 1945, and he commissioned many buildings. He was himself an architect manqué. There are a number of books that deal with Hitler’s building program in its entirely, but none until Hitler at Home deals with Hitler’s own residences. Drawing on many archives, including the papers of Gerdy Troost, an interior designer and the wife of Hitler’s first official architect, Stratigakos shows how Hitler’s preferences for his own dwellings blended a rather modern attitude to design with a rustic nostalgia and a kind of heavy abstemiousness, all qualities that he sought to display as indicative of his character as Leader of the Nazi state. A major work of scholarship.
Houses without Names:
Architectural Nomenclature and the Classification of America’s Common Houses
Thomas E. Hubka
Thomas Hubka shows us almost all of America’s typical house types, categorizes them, and explains how to read the plans from the exterior. American domestic architecture has been greatly neglected by architectural historians, except for those houses designed by “great architects” or designed for “great families”. Hubka’s book makes a giant step forward in our understanding our visual environment.
Looking Beyond the Icons:
Midcentury Architecture, Landscape, and Urbanism
In this collection of persuasive writings, Richard Longstreth urges American architectural and urban historians to pay more attention to mid-century building and landscape design. New forms of shopping centers, new kinds of community buildings, new types of buildings for business, and above all, “extraordinary” new kinds of suburbs, are the focus of the author’s essays. The book represents an important shift of emphasis from “the icons”, that is, from the “masters of modern architecture” emphasis of many architectural historians, and from the focus on earlier periods by many historians of planning. Longstreth sees landscape as the “central defining component of post-World War II development.”
The Strait Gate:
Thresholds and Power in Western History
Doors are the thresholds between public space and private or semi-private space. As such, they are sites of power: the power to admit or bar entry, the power to permit or prevent exit. According to Daniel Jütte, door-design has therefore accumulated strong symbolic meanings in every society. This erudite book focuses on the “early modern” period (c. 1400-1800), but it has broad implications for the architectural history of other periods in history and for non-Western societies. It inspires architectural historians to think more carefully about passageways—about buildings as penetrable from the street and streets as accessible from the surrounding buildings. The author plans a sequel on windows.
Barbara Miller Lane is Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emeritus in the Humanities and Research Professor in Growth and Structure of Cities at Bryn Mawr College. Her books include Architecture and Politics in Germany, 1918–1945, National Romanticism and Modern Architecture, Housing and Dwelling, and Houses for a New World.