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Sunday20 August 2017

Book review and competition: 50 Architects 50 Buildings - The buildings that inspire architects

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50 Architects 50 Buildings: The buildings that inspire architects

Pamela Buxton of BD | Twentieth Century Society | Batsford Books

£30 | 240pp

BD’s long-running Architects’ Inspirations series is one of the magazine’s best-loved features. Now the twentieth-century buildings have been brought together for the first time in a new book. Paul McGrath takes a look.

Books on architecture can be hard going but this one is a page-turner. Who would have thought asking a variety of respected architects what single building inspires them could be so riveting?

Is it because the question cannot be answered without considerable forethought. Or that an idiosyncratic commentary is more compelling than critical analysis.

Readers may be familiar with BD’s occasional Inspirations series over the years but putting them together in book form creates another dimension. When reading them in one go, patterns appear. You get personal anecdote. The, “I’ve referenced this aspect of the building in my own project for…” and the inescapable “private language” used by architects that the uninitiated might construe as twaddle. Part of the enjoyment is you never quite know what is coming next.

In the introduction, the director of the Twentieth Century Society, which is behind the project to turn the buildings from its century into a book, makes a bold claim that “modernism seems to be what excites today’s architects most”. While promoting modern architecture to a sceptical public is no bad thing, the book is inclined towards architects talking to other architects rather than a wider audience. Possibly to redress the balance, no plans or sections are included that might scare off the casual purchaser. Just pin-sharp photographs that fill the page which are essential if you are not familiar with a building.

Whether an architect or not, the insights are particularly informative. Even for buildings you thought you knew intimately. Like the joy in finding the secret door to a priest hole hidden in plain sight.

There are some irritations. Covert self-promotion is the most obvious. Another being that only a few contributors are suitably inspired by another living architect. It is hard to believe only dead architects produce exceptional buildings.

Hard-backed in cloth in a perfect square, this large book is a well-crafted object. It is a simple concept that communicates what architects do best on a number of levels. This quote sums up the book: “…you see something like this and are reminded of what architecture at the very highest level can achieve”.

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