February 24 2014

Revive Traditional Architecture: A Book Review of “The Architecture of Community”

Traditional architecture steps out of the shadows of history to challenge today’s results of the modern building process. While critics may find a lot to disagree with in this book, Léon Krier presents a comprehensive treatise of architecture based on harmony and timeless proportions. No matter which side of the traditional versus modern debate you stand on, Krier’s The Architecture of Community is a must read, with a foreword by Howard A.M. Stern and the Last Word by James Kunslter (author of Too Much Magic).

Architecture of Community Cover Image

Krier demonstrates the lost language of architecture. His book explains the fundamental elements of the language of traditional architecture that were once a part of our collective understanding of the world. The use of fossil fuel based building materials, the loss of craftsmanship skills, and the wholesale dismissal of historic precedents by the architectural intelligentsia have all contributed to a widespread loss of architectural knowledge in today’s building culture. It is the author’s intent to revive the lost art of making authentic architecture and “architecturally tuning” it according to the context.

We need to dig at the roots of architecture. In The Architecture of Community, Krier expands on his theories from his 1998 book Architecture: Choice or Fate. He argues that our society should uncover the foundations of architecture so that today’s building culture can release new sprouts of renewal. The book is actually a collection of essays, sketches, illustrations, and photographs of Krier’s proposed built places and buildings from around the world.

It’s a children’s book for adults. One unique aspect of Léon Krier’s publications is his incredibly clear, almost childlike drawings. In these easy-to-understand and diagrammatical illustrations, he successfully condenses the vast and complex field of architecture and urbanism into basic building blocks. While usually difficult for architecture theorists to easily discuss the intricacies of our built environment, Krier advocates reviving an “authentic, traditional culture” to replace our prevailing building practice.

Krier's drawing of the composition of a proper city

Krier writes about architecture not of architecture. Since he breaks down architecture into basic building blocks, he is essentially giving recipes to create comfortable and cohesive places. Not a book that provides models for actual buildings, Krier focuses more on built ideas that have stood the test of time.

Krier's drawing of traditional vs modern

What do you think it would take to see a revival of authentic traditional architecture in your community?

The Architecture of Community is an Island Press publication. The Grid is giving away two FREE copies of the book. Make sure to go to Rafflecopter Giveaway so you can enter to win your free copy of The Architecture of Community!

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Jennifer Garcia

Born and raised in the Midwest, Jennifer García now enjoys the energy and quality of life that Miami has to offer. Professionally, she uses traditional architecture and principles of the New Urbanism as a Town Planner at Dover, Kohl & Partners. Based on careful research, she designs each project within the context of the local architectural language, distinct culture, and regional settlement patterns. She proudly holds a Master of Architecture from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Traveling has taught her to immerse herself into each place’s history, culture, traditions, and how they contribute to the range of urbanism and local vernacular. She also enjoys blogging as a local transit advocate for Transit Miami. Her daily bicycle commutes reinforce her belief in nurturing a living urbanism with livable streets.

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This entry was posted on Monday, February 24th, 2014 at 7:40 am and is filed under Architecture, Book Review. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


One Response to “Revive Traditional Architecture: A Book Review of “The Architecture of Community””

  1. Katherine Jones Says:

    Without reading the book I don’t necessarily feel qualified to comment on the full argument being made, however on the basis of the image depicting traditional vs. modern, I would take slight issue perhaps with the idea that in the traditional form always and necessarily stemmed from function. That kind of thinking suggests that there was no superfluous adornment in traditional architecture and that its form was also necessarily the best form for the particular content or function of the building. I think this is a somewhat simplistic view. However, I do agree to an extent with the argument that there were most likely, in the case of traditional architectural form, solid social, economic and aesthetic reasons for the forms chosen, whereas in the ‘historicismmodernism’ case, or maybe in ‘postmodern’ architecture generally, form is more often a pastiche and sometimes totally anti-thetical to the original intent or purpose of a form taken from traditional styles. To use an example, the form of a quaint, lumpy old cottage with a thatched roof arose out of the existing local materials, labour and tools at the time. It’s a form that is recognized as pleasing now, however since those materials, tools and methods are not being used locally, people desiring this form often import goods and labour to recreate it, which takes away from the purpose of it. So, to get to your question, what would it take to see a revival in traditional forms? I think the question should be, do we want a revival in traditional forms? At what cost? Assuming that there are in fact good reasons for wanting such a revival, for instance a reskilling of populations and the enabling of more thoughtful engagement with architecture and what it represents and means, as well as a move towards building a better future in which we consider the uses of a building and aim to design is such that it performs well, then I think what would bring on that revival is an investment in it, an encouragement of it by government, and quite possibly, some kind of crisis, such as the energy crisis which forces developers and architects to think more carefully about where their materials and labor come from.

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