Architecture Inside-Out: Understanding How Buildings Work
Written by John Zukowsky, Illustrated by Robbie Polley
Rizzoli, February 2018
Hardcover | 10 x 10 inches | 304 pages | English | ISBN: 978-0847861804 | $35.00
Taking readers behind architecture’s facades and finishes, this charmingly illustrated book explores how some of the most important buildings in the world were constructed. Specially commissioned isometric drawings present the essential structural elements of the world’s masterpiece buildings that are not visible to the naked eye. These illustrations are displayed alongside plans, details, and photographs, all of which are clear and accessible, yet accurate and elegant enough to satisfy the most discerning eye.
This fascinating book explores the thinking and expertise behind architects’ designs and offers a means by which to better understand buildings already visited as well as those on the must-see list. Selections range from domestic structures such as Frank Lloyd
Fallingwater and skyscrapers such as the Chrysler Building, to iconic classics such as the Louvre and Barcelona’s famed Sagrada Familia Cathedral. The buildings have been chosen for their importance and interest, their role in the development of architectural thinking, and the structural secrets that intricate 3-D drawings can reveal.
When I was child, some of my favorite books were ones that explained “how things work” through words and illustrations. A few of the titles I grew up with were put out by Reader’s Digest, a couple of which I still own. The best parts of these types of books are the cutaway illustrations of buildings and other constructions that enabled modern people to see, for instance, inside the Great Pyramid of Giza. These childhood books with x-ray-like illustrations come to mind when reading Architecture Inside-Out, which uses cutaway illustrations to explain fifty buildings, ranging from the Parthenon in Athens and the Colosseum in Rome to numerous structures this century, including the Reichstag in Berlin and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. Most of the buildings are iconic and have been written about in plenty of books already, but the combination of John Zukowsky’s words and Robbie Polley’s illustrations make this book different and especially helpful for architecture students or high school students thinking about going to architecture school.
The fifty buildings are separated into five chapters based on typology: Public Life, Monuments, Arts and Education, Living, and Worship. Each building gets two or three spreads, with photographs accompanying the words and drawings. Depending on the number of pages, the buildings have either one or two large illustrations by Polley, sometimes with details extracted from them to hone in on particular details and explain them further with captions. The cutaway isometrics and occasional perspective sections or exploded axonometric have the advantage of revealing a building’s structure, which is particularly helpful when it is hidden behind a ceiling or some other surface, as in Zaha Hadid’s London Aquatics Centre and Le Corbusier’s Notre-Dame-du-Haut Chapel. Polley, who draws by hand over base drawings from a computer (using a light box), admits that “sketching … any object makes you focus, look harder, and therefore better understand it.” For just that reason, I’d recommend that young readers do what I did with my childhood illustrations: trace Polley’s drawings with pencil or ink on trace paper. Looking at them is one thing, but drawing them — even as a copy — is to understand the meaning and representation of each line.
John Zukowsky is an architectural and design historian with more than four decades of experience. While curator of architecture for the Art Institute of Chicago from 1978 to 2004, he organized a number of award-winning exhibitions accompanied by major books. Robbie Polley is an architectural illustrator with more than twenty-five years of experience. His drawings have been featured in thirty books.