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How Architecture Works: A Humanist's Toolkit

3.66  ·  Rating Details ·  178 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
An essential toolkit for understanding architecture as both art form and the setting for our everyday lives

We spend most of our days and nights in buildings, living and working and sometimes playing. Buildings often overawe us with their beauty. Architecture is both setting for our everyday lives and public art form—but it remains mysterious to most of us.
In How Architect
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published October 8th 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Tim Evanson
Nov 20, 2013 Tim Evanson rated it liked it
Witold Rybczynski is rightly celebrated as an architect and professor who is bringing architecture to the people.

This book will, unfortunately, not enhance that reputation. Rybczynski's purpose with this book is two-fold: First, to provide the casual reader with an understanding of how the components of architecture come together to make a "good" or "bad" building. Second, to provide the casual reader with a sense of how to judge architecture in a humanist way.

Rybczynski only half-suceeds in his
Oct 28, 2013 Lydia rated it liked it
After reading 3 of Witold Rybczynski's 10 books, I definitely need to take a break. I now see that he can continue to write about architectural principles using examples from American architecture, longer than I will have the strength to read them. This books takes themes such as "site," "plan," "structure," "skin," and "details" and describes famous examples for each. I liked his book "The Most Beautiful House in the World." This one seems more formulaic.
Jeremy S
Oct 15, 2013 Jeremy S rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned, spacing
“Exactly what makes a building memorable is hard to pin down. It’s certainly not merely fulfilling a practical function-all buildings do that. Beauty? Architecture is an art, yet we rarely concentrate our attention on buildings as we do on plays, books, and paintings. Most architecture, a backdrop for our everyday lives, is experienced in bits and pieces-the glimpsed view of a distant spire, the intricacy of a wrought-iron railing, the soaring space of a railroad station waiting room. Sometimes
Patrycja Mazurek
Książka dla każdego. Nie tylko (a zwłaszcza nie tylko!) dla profesjonalistów.
Dec 13, 2013 Tuck rated it really liked it
rybczynski has an amazing ability to explain very complex ideas in easily understood prose and examples. in this 2013 title, one of many many on architecture and aimed i think to the novice and potential self-explorer, he breaks down buildings and architecture in to: The setting -- Site -- Plan -- Structure -- Skin -- Details -- Style -- The past -- Taste. his main thesis is that there are only two traditions in western arch.: classic and gothic, all others, like modern and post-modern were just ...more
May 28, 2014 Ellen rated it liked it
Shelves: thinking
"Our language and our way of seeing the world are influenced by our bodies, which have fronts and backs...Buildings likewise have identifiable faces (façades) and backs."

"Modern architects' attitudes toward figural details were influenced by Adolf Loos's famous 1908 essay, 'Ornament and Crime,' which advocated the banishment of all ornamental motifs from buildings. it was a Faustian bargain, for it produced buildings that lacked intimacy and the deeper level of experience - intellectual as well
Jan 12, 2014 Martha rated it liked it
If you don't have a background in architecture or art history, make sure you have the internet handy when you read this book. Rybczynski frequently references architects and buildings in this book, but doesn't always include background on who/what/why. The book helps to give some insight on architectural choices in some very notable buildings, and it does force you to think just a little bit differently about buildings. I enjoyed his discussion of the National Museum of African American History ...more
Oct 30, 2014 Michelle rated it it was ok
2 1/2 stars. This book REALLY needed color photos. As a non-architect person I found it a bit difficult to envision the author's descriptions of several of the architectural pieces he discusses and the small b&w photos really didn't help much. I also wasn't too keen on his organization of presentation here. Just seem kind of jostled and hard to follow by someone not familiar with several of the architects discussed. Perhaps someone more involved or familiar with this field of art would enjoy ...more
Apr 25, 2014 Du rated it really liked it
Shelves: planning
This isn't the first book to point out elements needed for architecture to be successful. It also isn't the first book to make a to ten list. The success of this book is the authors ability to take complex esoteric ideas and relate them in a pedestrian way.

He communicates in a mild mannered prose that isn't dumbed down. It is intelligent and useful, but conveyed so that the reader is compelled to think and understand the concepts easily and practically.
Jim Wilson
Mar 02, 2014 Jim Wilson rated it it was amazing
Like all of Rybczynski's books this is well written and well organized. He knows how to write about architecture and does it in such a way as to make it understood by the non-expert. Straightforward explanation of what to look for. Traditional and solid. Deals with such elemental concepts as Site, Plan, Structure, Skin, Details and Style.
Mar 13, 2016 Alex rated it really liked it
Really well-written and thorough overview on the current state of architecture, with a broad historical perspective. Covers elements of history, method, and features of buildings (both functional and aesthetic) with good use of frequent examples. Could have used *slightly* more definition of terms, but it's not the end of the world to have to google something.
Jan 24, 2014 M rated it liked it
Shelves: arts-music
This is a useful discussion of the elements in architectural design. It is aimed at the layperson and is easy to understand. There is a glossary, but I rarely had to refer to it because the author explains most of the technical terms within the main text.

I especially appreciated Rybczynski’s explanations of how different architects approach projects.
Jeff Stern
Mar 19, 2015 Jeff Stern rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great primer on architecture for the uninitiated. Rybczynski throws you into the fire, and I made good use of his provided glossary and the Internet while reading this whirlwind introduction to a field I've been crushing on recently.
Dec 10, 2013 Ninakix rated it it was amazing
A fascinating breakdown of how architects think about architecture. This will not only change the way you look at architecture, but it also gave me some much needed perspective on how to look at the visual design of the web. Generally I was just very inspired and fascinated by this book.
Jeff Stern
Jul 19, 2016 Jeff Stern rated it really liked it
Initially read this last year and read again (this time in Hardcover!) after taking a 6-week Architecture of New York course. Definitely appreciated and learned more from the book this time around, but was more attuned to its shortcomings (more pictures, more descriptions, more about "humanism").
May 01, 2016 Jon rated it liked it
Clearly intended more for the amateur or beginning architecture enthusiast, this was still a decent quick scan through some notable buildings by notable architects. Nothing particularly fascinating though and Rybczynski's biases were clearly evident throughout.
Susan Walker
Jul 17, 2015 Susan Walker rated it liked it
If you are interested in how good, and bad, buildings are built this is the book for you. The Author is a 2014 National Design Award winner. His books shows us how to read plans and compare how noted Architects work.
Aug 17, 2015 Russell rated it really liked it
Witold Rybczynski delivers, as always, an accessible discussion of the elements of architecture, and how they interoperate to create the desired qualities of great buildings. At its best in illustrating each element by explaining how it works, or does not, in particular buildings.
Feb 16, 2014 Rj rated it really liked it
A good discussion of architects and architecture. Rybczynski lays out the tools for discussing architecture and how architects understand their work and their profession.
Dec 02, 2016 Jane rated it liked it
learned more about theory
Jan 10, 2014 Linny rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I usually love his writing but without more photos or plans, this was not so useful. Good for overall ideas in certain periods but there's a lot of specific references.
John A
Feb 05, 2015 John A rated it really liked it
Rybczynski is a leisurely and informed guide through current architecture, giving you a better appreciation for both the big picture and the details that go into good architecture.
Kenzie Townsend
Jul 04, 2016 Kenzie Townsend rated it it was amazing
I learned so much from this book. It changed landscapes into something special.
Ron Bergquist
Mike N
Mike N rated it liked it
Dec 20, 2015
Sharon rated it really liked it
Jan 18, 2017
Ryan Maruyama
Ryan Maruyama rated it really liked it
Jun 26, 2016
Jacqueline Murphy
Jacqueline Murphy rated it it was amazing
Feb 23, 2014
Michael Hanley
Michael Hanley rated it it was amazing
Jan 20, 2014
Abdulrahman Bokhari
Abdulrahman Bokhari rated it it was amazing
Apr 24, 2016
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Witold Rybczynski was born in Edinburgh, of Polish parentage, raised in London, and attended Jesuit schools in England and Canada. He studied architecture at McGill University in Montreal, where he also taught for twenty years. He is currently the Martin and Margy Meyerson Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also co-edits the Wharton Real Estate Review. Rybczynski has ...more
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