We Are What We Build
by Michael J. Crosbie
Book Review: The Culture of Building by Howard Davis. Oxford University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-1951-1294-6.
It's not often that a book appears with the potential to fundamentally change the way we think about the built world. The Culture of Building by Howard Davis is such a book.
Davis, who is a professor of architecture at the University of Oregon, writes about the built world (with its two billion buildings, he estimates), and how it got the way it is.
But unlike many academics, Davis is no arm-chair observer. He has practiced as an architect, traveled broadly in his study of building culture, and been involved in the design and construction of projects around the world.
The book is filled with both beautiful and gritty photos of people building and the places they produce. It also includes historical photos, drawings, and engravings showing building cultures of the past.
Best of all, Davis does not write like an academic. His ideas are clear, intelligent, and substantial, and he writes about them in a refreshing, penetrating, and enlightening way that brings together many themes: the roles of the various players, how they operate in the "real world," what are the historical underpinnings of the culture of building, and how we might change it.
Davis's goal is nothing less than a "unified theory" of architecture and construction, a book that finally explains it all — design, codes, contracts, style, technology, finance, place-making, education — and how they interrelate.
Panelized house construction (Donald Corner, architect), Eugene, Oregon, 1991.
Photo: Donald Corner
Building construction near Columbus Circle, June 16, 1897.
Photo: Museum of the City of New York
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