by Colin Davies. Laurence King, September 2017. 500 p. ill. ISBN 9781786270566 (h/c), $80.00.
Reviewed January 2018
Colin Davies’ ambitious and thorough reexamination of twentieth-century architectural history is an informative survey. Organized as a chronological series of lectures in thirty-three chapters, A New History of Modern Architecture reevaluates the canon of architectural history and contemporizes the discussion by including the twenty-first century. Acknowledging earlier works by Banham, Hitchcock, and Pevsner, the former editor and professor of architectural history at London Metropolitan University has developed a broader international framework than his predecessors, and his picture researcher, Claire Gouldstone, must be lauded for her efforts locating consistently high quality images.
Laurence King editorial director Philip Cooper commissioned the book in order to fill a need. Alan Colquhoun and William J.R. Curtis’ earlier works were becoming dated, and the publisher envisioned a new survey that would appeal equally to students and architecture aficionados. Teeming with contemporary color photographs, archival images and plans, the book may be read in a linear fashion or randomly plucked based on personal interest. Surprises abound. The book incorporates canonical works, such as the Bauhaus Building and Fallingwater, but is also punctuated with new inclusions, such as Hugo Häring’s cow-shed at Gut Garkau and Charlotte Perriand’s collaborations with the Jeannerets and Jean Prouvé. Condensed biographies, typological and stylistic analyses, geographical and technological assessments are facilely interwoven, grounded in architectural theory or contextualist interpretation when Davies perceives relevance.
While many will question his justification statement laden introduction, moralizing biographical inclusions, assertions of history’s agency in determining architectural significance, and strict delineation between “architecture” and “building,” there is much to be commended. Davies employs an engaging writing style and demonstrates an expansive knowledge of twentieth and twenty-first century architecture, architectural theory, and design history. Those teaching architectural fundamentals and history courses may find this a legitimate replacement for Curtis’ Modern Architecture Since 1900 or Colquhoun’s Modern Architecture, and casual readers may benefit from Davies’ instructive overviews of major architects, styles, and technological developments.
The book terminates with a concise bibliography that may direct readers to more in-depth analyses, a perfunctory index, and picture credits. The reviewer recommends this book for incorporation into both public and academic library collections and to anyone seeking a one-volume illustrated reference to architecture’s last 131 years.