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What We Are Reading This Month

Fragments of Wilderness City - Bryan Avery et al.
Featuring a collection of essays from Richard Weston, Josephy Rykwert, John Worthington, Matthew Teague, and Edwin Heathcote, plus contributions from the man himself, this new coffee-table quality book concentrates on the work of architect Bryan Avery from childhood to maturity.

Worthington's look at The Workplace provides case studies on Avery's approach to offices culminating in the successful renovation of No. 1 Neat House Place in Victoria, London, served up as a commercially successful example of how a sixties slab block can be turned into high-tech headquarters.

Elsewhere, the titular Fragments of Wilderness City by Avery himself runs through conceptual ideas of combining the values of the rural and the urban into successful masterplans.

The Practice of Modernism - John R. Gold.
The post-war period of Britain saw a massive programme of construction and regeneration stretching the length and breadth of Britain and driven by values of market socialism. Even today the amount of office, retail and residential built in Britain's towns and cities between 1945 and 1979 dwarves everything built since by the liberalised free market.

At the height of this building boom was Modernism which Gold dutifully charts from its initial rise, and ambitious roots that had almost unlimited budgets, to the rentakit later period where tower blocks were thrown up willy-nilly with little thought to quality. Disaster loomed for the dreams of Modernism with the prominent collapse of the brand new Ronan Point, with Post Modernism and Thatcherism finally putting it to death.

Of particular interest may be the developments in and around Elephant and Castle, Birmingham's Bullring, and Park Hill in Sheffield which are all extensively featured in this academically slanted tome.

Brunelleschi's Dome - Ross King.
This book is a brief read at 200 pages but nonetheless a fascinating story of how the great dome of Santa Maria del Fiore rose in Florence, rivalling in scale the greatest of Roman engineering and acting as what is a lasting symbol of the Italian Renaissance.

King takes a look not just at Brunelleschi, the ultimate architect of the scheme whose vision was at first decried by doubters as impossible, but a wealth of historical characters who were all brought together by the great construction programme in conspiracy and intrigue worthy of the Borgias.
The tale is made even more extraordinary by the small issue that Brunelleschi wasn't a trained architect or engineer, but a locksmith and jeweller who simply had a streak of genius.

Culminating in the construction and consecration, the smells and sounds of Florence and the great building site are brought vividly to life. Those familiar with such large-scale schemes may note just how little has changed today.