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Drama in Architecture: Three Books that Defy Expectations

These choices are well off the beaten path but enjoyable in the views of the road least taken.

By Christian Bjone
December 19, 2017

With the holiday season upon us, there is the inevitable and numerous architectural book reviews to guide you to the perfect present for your favorite architect. Unfortunately, there is a new list of mind-numbing celebrity biographies about Maya Lin, Frank Gehry, Michael Graves, and, inevitably, Frank Lloyd Wright FLW (as a kids book). I would like to propose a set of unusual books that might defy expectations. They are all united by the theme of drama in architecture.


The first I recommend is anything from the “World Film Locations” series (distributed for Intellect Ltd. by University of Chicago Press), which spotlights one city per issue that documents, comments, and elaborates on the movies shot in that location. There are now 36 cities on the list. Many are the obvious big ones like Hong Kong, London, Rome, New York, and Berlin, and some that are not so obvious, like Cleveland, Malta, and Reykjavík. Surprisingly for a 100-page paperback written by academics in film theory, it is without technical jargon (or quotes from Gilles Deleuze). Unfortunately, it misses mentioning many of the architects of specific buildings used as film sets, and ignores Robert Venturi in the Las Vegas book. But it is a view of buildings and cities that will jolt anyone out their existing beliefs and prejudices.


The second book is a more traditional architecture book, but it also is so very eccentric that I could not put it down. The Drama of Space: Spatial Sequences and Compositions in Architecture (Birkhauser) by the German architect Holger Kleine is a work of fanatical obsession and love (very much an architect). It is basically a big picture book with four parts. The first documents the 18th-century Scuole Grandi, or union hall buildings in Venice. The second examines architecture organized around dramaturgical models. An excellent section analyzes 18 current buildings as examples, with my favorite little-known modern building: Peter Märkli’s small concrete art museum Museo La Congiunta in Ticino, Switzerland, looking like a cathedral for the Klingon Empire. In the last part, Kleine methodically qualifies and quantifies all the spatial experiences and processions shown in the third section. You have to admire the dedication of someone who can reduce the world to 95 theses.


The third book that I find bizarrely fascinating is the coffee table book by the actress Diane Keaton titled The House that PINTEREST Built (Rizzoli). It is common knowledge that many famous architects present their clients with “style books” that contain clippings and images of various styles for their multi-million-dollar residences. What Keaton has done in designing her new home is limit the use of an architect (DCM Design did construction documents) and go directly to the website PINTEREST, where anyone can PIN up images of their INTEREST. What could be more fascinating and frightening then seeing the future, where architects dissolve and disappear by the power of the World Wide Web! Appropriation in a counterfeit economy is inevitable. But cheer up – Keaton has excellent taste in selecting a wide range of modern and minimalist images and products.


These choices are all well off the beaten path but enjoyable in the views of the road least taken.



Christian Bjone is a New York City-based architect. His third book is Philip Johnson and His Mischief: Appropriation in Art and Architecture (Images Publishing).


Also by Bjone:


Return of the Broken Pediment
A review of three recent books involving the life of Philip Johnson.


Book Review: "Original Copies, Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China" by Bianca Bosker

A must-have for those who wish to see a design phenomenon and trend explained in a clear and concise manner without the pretentious tribal signifiers that so plague academic writers.

(click on pictures to enlarge)

Intellect Ltd.

“World Film Locations” series


"The Drama of Space: Spatial Sequences and Compositions in Architecture" by Holger Kleine


"The House that PINTEREST Built" by Diane Keaton