Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Secret Lives of Buildings

From the ruins of the Parthenon to the Vegas strip in thirteen stories
Edward Hollis

The thirteen stories in The Secret Lives of Buildings are somewhat uneven. The opener, about the Parthenon is marvelous. I never knew that the Parthenon had been converted to a church and then a mosque. I was vaguely aware that it had been bombarded, but now when or by whom.
fifth story in the book, The Santa Casa of Loreto is written as a nested series of fairy tales "Once upon a time . . ." each one told by someone in the enclosing tale. It became too confusing to me. I don't know whether there is a real building in there somewhere on not. The "Holy House", where the angel Gabriel visited Mary, kept floating from location to location. I skipped about half of that chapter.

Where Hollis stuck to real buildings he wrote fascinating stories about their transformation over time. Who knew that Notre Dame de Paris was completely restored in the nineteenth century to it's present appearance, using Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame as a guide? Although it is as historically accurate as could be done at the time, Notre Dame is really a kind of Disnyfication of a cathedral. Various French kings and cardinals had ruined it anyway, redecorating to suit their various whims. During the French Revolution it was badly damaged and much of the sculpture was smashed. Architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc recreated sculpture in the style of the original, as copied from examples in other French cathedrals during their restoration, which took from 1845 to 1870, fast by cathedral building standards.

The chapter on the Hulme Crescents in Manchester England was surprisingly engaging. The Hulme Crescents were a massive housing project for the poor of Manchester. Like the various "projects" in American cities, the Crescents became havens for crime and drugs. They also were the seed bed for punk music. They have that going for them, anyway.

I could have done without the chapter on Las Vegas, with it's comparison to Venice and proposals for a new Vegas built in Macao. Especially as Hollis seems to think that today's Venice, a tourist destination is just a fake as the one built in Las Vegas. At least Venice is old.

keywords: architecture

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for adding your write up to the Book Review Blog Carnival!


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