on 7 December 2009
This ambitious portrait of London has the best aspirations, but does not seem to know if it is trying to be a chatty historical run through of some of the city's highlights, or to provide a more focused, diagrammatic approach to understanding the capital. The selective historical account lacks a clear structure, so, on balance, it falls more into an informal, subjective view of the city. This can become frustrating when the author takes time to mention minutiae like the eggs atop the GMTV tower, whilst completely omitting major historical events that have contributed to London's patina.
The way in which the book falls between two stools may be, in part, due to its formatting - there are some interesting Farrell sketches and diagrams, some not-so-good stock photos of London, and a few too many images of Farrell projects which have little or nothing to do with London (Inchon Airport, Korea; Beijing South Station...). From the sleeve image, I had been hoping that they layers of London's rich history would have been exposed in a Rem Koolhaas / OMA style, with clever use of diagrams and graphics, and a total avoidance of wandering prose. Regrettably, the untrimmed text picks its way uncomfortably around this cacophony of images on the page, to which no attempt at colour matching or sympathetic layout appears to have been given. As a reader, you are left unsure whether the book should be treated as a serious text or something you would leave in the guest WC of your Chelsea flat for your visitors from out of town to peruse.
Throughout the book, Farrell reiterates the beauty and charm of London lies in its eclecticism, heterogeneity and organic development; so perhaps the clumsy formatting may have been intentional, a way of mirroring the city's absence of top-down planning? Overall - a good intention, not executed rigorously enough.
on 29 December 2009
Shaping London is the most original and illuminating book on London that I have ever read. It peels away the city's layers to reveal how London became the world's first metropolis and how its history provides the key both to understanding its infrastructual problems and to its prospective solutions. Along the way it is peppered with incredibly illuminating anecdotes and excellent illustrations, including some of Terry Farrell's own projects. Farrell may be well-known as one of Britain's greatest architects and urban-planners, but he also reveals himself to be a highly intelligent and warm writer, who is obviously deeply in love with London, warts and all.