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Banister Fletcher's A History of Architecture
Banister Fletcher's A History of Architecture
by Sir Banister Fletcher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £125.59

74 of 80 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Travesty, 20 Sept. 2001
I do not welcome this new edition, as it is a travesty of the original.
Let us not forget the correct full title of this seminal book: "A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method". Bannister Fletcher's achievement was to create a copious reference to thousands of the major architectural works of Western Europe, in scaled drawings, photographs and summary text, thus furnishing a means of comparison - that is the key word - of building with building, style with style, period with period. This is what gives the book its uniqueness. No-one has seriously attempted to emulate it.
The book is huge yet, for the sake of avoiding an ever heavier tome, the author restricted his scope to the architectural inheritance of the West. Even with this limitation the book is astonishing in its range and detail. Its exhaustive and periodic approach, though on the face of it simplistic and by today's standards unsophisticated, has nevertheless served generations of architects and architectural students well.
One has to look at the earliest editions of the book to appreciate this. My father, himself an architect, bought the 11th (1943) edition, published by Batsford, which he purchased in the '50s. Though battered and worn through constant use, the cloth cover still has its gold inlaid design, the airmail-light India paper, drawings and text stencil-clear. There is the "Tree of Architecture' which gives a snap-shot of the author's intentions: Part 1 'Historical Styles' deals with the mainstream of Western Architecture, from Early Christian to Architecture of the United States of America, and occupies 871 pages. Part 2, 'Non-Historical', deals with Architecture of the East - just 46 pages. In Part 1 'Modern English', which includes the 19th century, has a mere 20 pages. In 1943 one does not expect much on the Modern Movement but the fact that the whole Victorian inheritance is despatched in less than 13 pages is remarkable, and is not so much due to a failure to accord due weight as to a judicious decision to leave the task of selection for future generations. The period was deemed too close to the present. Modern editors do well to take note. To take this veritable Architects' Bible and plunder the contents at will, adding whole new sections at the expense of the original, investing it with a new and inappropriate ethos, is an act of barbarism of monstrous proportions. It is rather like that grotsque Gothic implant the mosque at Cordoba or, to quote a well known arbiter of taste, placing a "monstrous carbuncle ...."
My advice to students is not to buy this book. Rather, they should ...go to the library (a neglected art form these days) and look up one of the earlier editions. One I recommend is the 17th, which I own, published by Athlone in 1961 - it cost a mere £5 in 1973, if I remember correctly. A remarkable publication, 1366 pages of high-gloss paper, weighing a ton - expanding the original but retaining the original line drawings, tiny photographs (including those inimitable models of Gothic cathedrals), and condensed text. British nineteenth and twentieth century architecture now occupies 20 pages.
These days there are more than enough 'coffee-table' books, focusing on a single architect or period, with lavish photographs, yet lacking tools for comparison. There are also academic treatises a-plenty, pedalling esoteric viewpoints of an ephemeral and obsolescent kind. I regret that Bannister Fletcher's great work is now finally in danger of joining them, at the end of a long process of the progressive dilution of its contents. A metaphor for the decline of this once-great country, I fear.
This is sad indeed. The book deserves more than that. Like Pevsner's great 'Buildings of England' series, it is a work which stands out of time. The publishers have betrayed a priceless inheritance.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 12, 2011 5:27 PM BST

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7
Price: £6.99

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mixed feelings on these 2, 19 Sept. 2001
I have both these recordings on vinyl i.e. the originals, bought in the 1970s. The 5th certainly justifies the rave reviews, electrifying and all that, but of course it is one approach - Bohm's on DG is another equally valid. However, my main point is re. the 7th which to my mind is a very average recording, notably the second movement where Kleiber's tempo is too fast and the woodwind passages are stripped entirely of their dramatic content. Far better his father's classic recording on Decca Eclipse, which I also have.

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