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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Adventures in ancient religious monuments, mostly, 3 May 2008
This review is from: Dan Cruickshank's Adventures in Architecture [DVD] (DVD)
This series has been badly titled, to my mind. It is not so much "Adventures in Architecture" as "Mostly Visits to Historical Religious sites" with Dan Cruckshank. Dan dashes around the world, wearing his hat and scarf, saying `golly' a lot, generally being over-awed by some large, ancient religious buildings and shrines and occasionally acting a little bit brusquely, or awkwardly toward his hosts - generally through lots of bowing and saying "very good" to people speaking languages at him that he clearly has no understanding of.

Sometimes, Dan himself seems to completely forget what the series is called - easy to do given the content - and gets involved in a Hindu festival or visits an old Indian woman in her `dying chamber' in Varanesi. The thing is, Dan's an historian, not an architect, so you get a fair bit of history and not a lot of architectural comment. His love of the past is particularly evidenced in his visit to Dresden where he commends the faithful reconstruction of the historic centre destroyed by Allied bombing in WW2, replacing some `inappropriate' - to use his description - Modernist buildings which have emerged since the end of the war. A true engagement with architecture would be less automatically dismissive of Modern architecture when pitted against ancient monuments.

Another attack on Modernism comes when Dan visits Brasilia and witnesses the inequality there. There are a few comments how "most people don't like Modernism". I get the impression that Dan may be being a little anachronistic here, but that's not surprising, he's getting on himself in years, and he's an historian. I would have hoped Dan would have recognised that urban planning is a tough nut to crack, and even his beloved ancient sites are so loved and habituated because of the passage of 1,000s of years.

It is disappointing that the series did not give more time to secular architecture or non-monumental architecture - the world is full of fantastic vernacular architecture which, if Dan is unwilling to engage with the contemporary, he could have brought some of his insight into the background to everyday, folk architecture which can be just as engaging, or often more so - than a ruined temple or a remote Siberian church.

My final gripe is also relating to the title of each episodes - Beauty, Death, Paradise, Disaster, Connections - again, all very loose and nebulous and arguably frequently interchangeable given the content of each show. Its almost like the crew went around the world, filmed some interesting stuff, then had a brainstorm at the BBC afterwards to decide which footage should go into which episode and thereby fashion a series out of it, rather than consciously thinking up decent themes in advance and then actually going out and finding the most appropriate material for that episode. It could have benefitted from more coherence.

Against this, there are some wonderful visits to buildings you would never likely get to see inside, and the occasional non-religious visit -San Francisco with City Hall on Springs, the new bridge with its sacrificial steel `fuses". And the visit to the remote minaret in Afghanistan is something else! After a lot of monumental religious focus in the first three or four episodes, the series does seem to be evolving into a broader view of architecture for its final two episodes, so its worth sticking with. 7/10
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 May 2008 10:22:08 BDT
HTC Carr says:
Dan is an architectural historian. He's an expert on architectural history. It's a bit harsh to continually say he's merely a historian and has nothing to do with architecture.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 May 2008 11:30:04 BDT
jrhartley says:
The point is that an architectural historian is a subset of 'historian', not a subset of 'architect', hence the emphasis on historical, religious, monumental architecture. I'll grant Dan that the series does improve from episode 5 or 6 inasmuch as he starts to pick up on the vernacular and non-sacred space, but I still feel that the titles for each episode are an after-thought and that they did just film lots of stuff around the world and then struggled to find a structure in a brain-storming afterwards.
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