Picks and Pans Review: Pride of Place

updated 04/14/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/14/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Robert A.M. Stern

To architects, buildings are practically living things, beings with a sense of history, philosophy and aesthetics. This book, published in conjunction with a current PBS series on American architecture, occasionally belabors the abstract importance of concrete and steel, as if buildings were poems, not functional objects. Stern, a New York architect who hosts the TV series, seems grandiose when, for instance, he talks about the American "need...to weave an architectural mythology out of the facts and dreams of our national past." This would seem to be more his need than ours. That same passion for architecture, though, is also what often makes this an exciting book. Stern's accounts of American architects' attempts to blend classical styles into their own imaginations, while dealing with the practical considerations of construction, become little dramas. Jefferson's lifelong work on his Monticello home or Philip Johnson's series of nouveau skyscrapers, starting with Pennzoil Place in Houston in 1974, are examples. Stern also relieves some of the jargon of his trade with sharp anecdotes. He recalls that William Randolph Hearst, in planning the monster mansion San Simeon, first told his architects what he wanted was "sort of a Jappo-Swisso bungalow." Stern makes his personal opinions clear, too, describing New York's World Trade Center as "supremely mute," though conceding it does "succeed as a work of megalomaniacal minimalist sculpture." More than 300 photographs and sketches whet the appetite not only for a closer scrutiny of the buildings they depict but of buildings in general. (Houghton Mifflin, $34.95)

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