Where Do You Live: A New Look At Old Houses is a book about architecture, and one with a difference. It is the first published book by design writer Mary Phelan, and it consists of six comprehensive essays, each dealing with an element that goes into creating our urban, built environment. In The Still Centre Phelan explores how the phenomenon of home buying and selling has produced populations that are in constant flux, and how this threatens our notion of community. Our communities exist only because groups of people settled and created the built environments out of which grew our towns and cities.
The Classic Portico is more broadly architectural. Phelan looks at our yearning for `branded' buildings, ie, those with classical orders. She questions why building references laid down by the ancients are still in vogue today, and encapsulates the concept of the `mythical place', a theme that runs right through the book. The Real Reality is more psychological; questioning the fantasies we have about living in the suburbs, how they originated and why 20% of Britons want to live there today.
Modernism: Dream or Nightmare? could be called Phelan's `brave new world' essay, in which she explores the history of modernism in architecture, where it failed, where it has succeeded and why it is here to stay. An examination of urban architecture is unthinkable without attention to public places. In Open Spaces, Phelan explores this issue, questioning the disdain we have for public areas in contrast to our reverence of private ownership. She questions the impact of constant surveillance upon our lives and looks at the effect that attempts to curb urban motoring have upon the lives of women. In The Future, Phelan scrutinises the uneasy relationship that `green' housing has always had with modish living, and conjectures how the home of the future might look. Throughout the book, which is written in a witty and voluble style, Phelan refers to historic works of art and literature, encouraging the reader to try to see why their house was built the way that it was.
She does not offer answers to the many dilemmas posed by contemporary living. Rather, she raises questions. In attempting to answer them, the issues explored will encourage the reader to look beyond and above their home as simply an `investment', or than just a series of interiors to renovate and decorate. Homeowners, students, builders, bedsit dwellers and lovers of architecture will all want to read Where do you live: A New Look at Old Houses.