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Clas­sic Col­umns: 40 Years of Writ­ing on Ar­chi­tec­ture Robert Adam (Cu­mu­lus, £38.50)

Does his­tory mat­ter in new ar­chi­tec­ture? What is the role of tra­di­tion in the mod­ern world? These ques­tions and many oth­ers are ex­plored in this new an­thol­ogy of writ­ings by Robert Adam (b.1948). se­lected and edited by Clive Aslet, the es­says are in­tro­duced with a fore­word by the philoso­pher sir Roger scru­ton.

Clas­si­cal ar­chi­tec­ture, in sir Roger’s words, is ‘a net­work of evolved so­lu­tions, which has adapted to the chang­ing in­ter­ests and oc­cu­pa­tions of peo­ple while re­spect­ing their un­chang­ing need for a shared set­tle­ment’. This is at the cen­tre of Mr Adam’s story.

As he’s not only an ar­chi­tect and the founder of the UK’S largest tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture prac­tice, but also an ur­ban­ist, master plan­ner and teacher, this book cov­ers many top­ics. From the con­tin­u­ing rel­e­vance of the Clas­si­cal tra­di­tion as a liv­ing lan­guage and the case for Clas­si­cal com­po­si­tion us­ing pro­por­tion, sym­me­try, ax­ial plan­ning and hi­er­ar­chy, he moves to sub­jects such as the en­ergy per­for­mance of glass wall struc­tures com­pared to that of dense wall struc­tures and the im­pact of glob­al­i­sa­tion. In a 1985 es­say The Ra­di­ance of the Past (the ti­tle bor­rowed from Pe­trarch), Mr Adam ex­plores the idea that West­ern ar­chi­tec­ture has a his­tory of al­most con­stant re­vival­ism.

His homage to the Clas­si­cally in­spired ‘sky­scrapers’ of 1920s Amer­ica is es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing in the light of the in­creas­ingly grim ca­coph­ony of Lon­don’s of­fer­ings to­day. A linking theme is the im­por­tance of tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture—and not just his­toric—to the fos­ter­ing of good com­mu­nity and iden­tity in towns and ci­ties. This is es­pe­cially rel­e­vant in the mod­ern city, where, Mr Adam ar­gues, the qual­ity of life is marred by ‘in­se­cu­rity and iso­la­tion… [and] beauty and com­mu­nity are in re­treat’.

There are the­o­ret­i­cal es­says and shorter quick-fire opin­ion pieces, ma­te­rial here for any in­tel­li­gent reader in­ter­ested in ar­chi­tec­ture. The range of writ­ings is im­pres­sive, es­pe­cially when you re­call that Mr Adam has al­ways been a busy ar­chi­tec­tural pro­fes­sional, prac­tis­ing what he preaches in built form. His tone is a mix­ture of the pro­fes­sor and the jour­nal­ist and his ar­gu­ment ro­bust, but the lan­guage al­ways em­i­nently clear. Jeremy Mus­son

A capric­cio com­posed of de­signs and frag­ments of de­signs by ADAM Ar­chi­tec­ture

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