Makers of Modern Architecture, Volume III: From Antoni Gaudí to Maya Lin
New York Review Books, September 2018
Hardcover | 5-3/4 x 8-1/2 inches | 336 pages | 40 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1681373027 | $29.95
Martin Filler’s “contribution to both architecture criticism and general readers’ understanding is invaluable,” according to Publishers Weekly. This latest installment in his acclaimed Makers of Modern Architecture series again demonstrates his unparalleled skill in explaining the revolutionary changes that have reshaped the built environment over the past century and a half. These studies of more than two dozen master builders–women and men, celebrated and obscure, idealists and opportunists–range from the environmental pioneer Frederick Law Olmsted and the mystical eccentric Antoni Gaudí to the present-day visionaries Frank Gehry and Maya Lin.
Filler’s broad knowledge embraces everything from the glittering Viennese luxury of Josef Hoffmann to the heavy-duty construction
the New Brutalists, from the low-cost postwar suburbs of the Levitt Brothers to today’s super-tall condo towers on Manhattan’s Billionaire’s Row. Sometimes the interplay of social and political forces leads to dark results, as with Hitler’s favorite architect, Albert Speer, and interior designer, Gerdy Troost. More often, though, heroic figures including Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Kahn, and Lina Bo Bardi offer uplifting inspiration for the future of the one art form we all live with—and in—every day.
The most that anybody who write about books could ask for is that their review sparks the reader to go out (or click) and buy the book. In just about all cases the critic is unaware of such an outcome, but I’ll admit that Martin Filler’s piece on Lynne Sagalynn’s Power at Ground Zero prompted me to buy her weighty tome on the “Politics, Money, and the Remaking of Lower Manhattan.” His 2017 review of the book was combined with two other books on Ground Zero and the subsequent redevelopment of the World Trade Center site, but most of his words were devoted to Sagalyn’s thorough account rather than Judith Dupré’s biography of One World Trade Center or Jay D. Aronson’s Who Owns the Dead? The Science and Politics of Death at Ground Zero.
Filler’s WTC piece is one of 19 essays from the New York Review of Books that have been assembled into the third volume of his Makers of Modern Architecture series. Like the two predecessors, the essays take the name of the main personality — usually an architect — involved on the project rather than the book they were originally published about. (While I can’t say if this applies to all of the essays in the book, it is interesting to note that they are ordered by the subject’s date of birth rather then by their date of publication in NYRB.) Hence, the article with Sagalyn’s book is titled in Volume III as “David Childs / Santiago Calatrava,” they being the architects of One World Trade Center and the PATH Terminal, respectively, the most attention-getting aspects of WTC. This simple shift from book to architect would appear to elevate the myth of the lone genius but Filler tries to head us off at the pass, if you will, writing in the introduction: “However much a principal architect might drive the process, … it is hugely misleading to perpetuate persistent stereotypes of the individual genius.” While the Table of Contents implies such a stereotype, Filler’s criticism is more balanced, aware of the the intricate networks of people needed to design and construct a building, and astute at reassessing the careers of architects as he digests books about them.
Martin Filler was born in 1948 and received degrees in Art History from Columbia. Nearly 1,100 of his writings have been published in more than thirty-five journals, magazines, and newspapers in the US, Europe, and Japan during his five-decade career. Since 1985 his essays on modern architecture have appeared regularly in The New York Review of Books.