This is one more in that exquisite "Eyewitness Companions" series. Each volume--and boy do they cover a large ambit!--provides a literate entrée to some subject area, from beer to French wine to photography to. . . . This volume focuses on architecture. I can't say I know a lot about architecture, other than some basics. But that is one reason that this title intrigued me. These Are like little handbooks, not offering much depth, but providing a wide ranging (albeit shallow) review. And that's what I wanted in this instance.
The author, Jonathan Glancey, notes that he has selected buildings that, as far as possible, he has actually seen. That amounts, in his words, to nine out of ten mentioned. However, he includes certain buildings that he has not seen to avoid brickbats being hurled in his direction! What is architecture? He begins by quoting Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who is quoted as saying (Page 17) that architecture began "when two bricks were put together well." Glancey goes on to define the subject thus (Page 17): ". . .architecture is the self-conscious act of building: of building not just with common sense, but with artistry." As with other books in the series, the early parts of this volume provide context for an examination of real architectural creations. Background on the nature of architecture is provided. But, as with others in this series, it is the illustrations that form the heart of the book (at least for me).
The book begins at the beginning--with a section entitled "From Village to City." The focus is the ancient Middle East, from 5300-350 BCE. From the Ziggurat of Urnammu in Ur (of the Chaldees) to the Pyramid of Khufu in ancient Egypt. Then, majestic structures in the New World, from 300 BCE to 1550 CE, such as the Pyramid of the Sun, the Step Pyramid (in my home state of Illinois) in Cahokia. Then, the Classical World, covering Greece (e.g., the Parthenon) to Rome (e.g., Trajan's Column) to Byzantium (e.g., Hagia Sophia in today's Istanbul). What of the East? The Thai Buddha, Angkor Wat, the Great Wall of China. And architecture in the Islamic World, Persia, Medieval Europe (I wish that the Cathedral at Speyer has been included)--with the trio of glorious French cathedrals--Sainte Chapelle and Notre Dame in Paris and the cathedral in Chartres (with the wonderful "blue of Chartres" glassworks). And on through the Baroque to the modern world.
As always, one can quibble with what is included and what is excluded (note one of my comments above). Still, this is an enjoyable volume for amateurs like me to get better acquainted with the range of architectural treasures, knowing that this is only a sampling. I am a satisfied reader of this volume. I think that others will be pleased as well. This is not for experts, needless to say.