Now reading

Book Review of "Architecture without Architects: A Short...

Book Review of "Architecture without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture" by Bernard Rudosky

Without the usual fashion cycles of period architecture, vernacular architecture remains, as always, “immutable, indeed, unimprovable, since it serves its purpose to perfection” –  or so Bernard Rudofsky, author of “Architecture Without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture,” believes. Rudofsky’s brief foray into non-pedigreed architecture takes us across time and space, highlighting some of

Head article image

Without the usual fashion cycles of period architecture, vernacular architecture remains, as always, “immutable, indeed, unimprovable, since it serves its purpose to perfection” -  or so Bernard Rudofsky, author of "Architecture Without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture," believes. Rudofsky’s brief foray into non-pedigreed architecture takes us across time and space, highlighting some of the world’s most abundantly unappreciated architectural works. 

A wide array of architectural styles is presented pictorially and accompanied by candid language, allowing the reader to be whisked away into the unknown world of architecture without architects. The heavy reliance upon photographs is not aided by the light descriptions, or by the black-and-white nature of the photographs; yet, there is something to be said for the simplicity of the form, the casual presentation of casual architecture.

The forms presented in "Architecture Without Architects" span the globe, beginning with amphitheaters in Muyu-uray, Peru. These terrace amphitheaters were home to approximately 60,000 people, with terraces about six-feet high and 23-feet wide - a truly monumental dwelling. Next, come “homes for the dead,” an interesting array of cemeteries, some of which were later converted into dwellings; troglodytic architectural forms, which are crude yet durable and versatile housing chambers, often carved into the earth. One of the more interesting housing types was a baobab tree that was carved into a dwelling. The section on primeval forms showcases the volcanic forms of the Anatolian valley in Turkey, which are teepee-esque formations hollowed out for habitation.

Architecture without Architects; Old stone houses rest May 5, 2013, as they have for centuries in the city of Uchisar, Turkey. Uchisar is a city that lies in the Cappadocia region of Turkey and is popular tourist location for world travelers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Phelps/Released)

The book slowly zooms out to whole towns built upon rocks fallen from cliffs in Sudan, organically formed villages and hillside metropolises in Italy and Spain, and the geometric shapes of African cities. The author describes a photo of Zanzibar as “almost pointillistic,” but the image evoked the thought of stem cells to me – perhaps a sign that city building is engrained in our deepest being as humans. The vast majority of the architecture pictured in these photos is primitive, beckoning back hundreds if not thousands of years. But the book suddenly turns to the arcades of Europe – repetitive, beautiful structures home to communities and often set around narrow cobblestone streets or plazas.

Though Rudofsky highlights a great many varieties of architecture and aspects thereof, the book generally hops from one subject to the next without any transition. This is exacerbated by the lack of written content in the book, which would have been the mortar between the photographic bricks. The human aspect that created this architecture in the first place, the very reason for being compelled to appreciate architecture and cities, is missing. I do not mean to say that this book is incomplete – on the contrary, its very nature, the global scope, the vast amount of time it covers, may be its hindrance. "Architecture Without Architects" could be broken into many volumes, each covering a specific architectural piece in a survey, which may do more justice to the topic of the beautiful buildings and cities created without the pomp and pedigree inherent in the world of contemporary architecture.

Do you live in a city where architecture without architects presents itself daily? What are some local forms of architecture that were not created by pedigreed architects? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below. 

The Global Grid gave away four free copies of this book to four lucky people. Be sure to never miss one of our reviews. Follow #TheGlobalGridReads for our reviews and join our Goodreads group for opportunities to win free books in the future.
Credits: Creative Commons images courtesy of Pixabay and U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Daniel Phelps. Updated December 6, 2017.

By purchasing "Architecture Without Architects" using the links on this page, you'll be supporting The Global Grid. A small portion of the sales come back to us to support our work and book reviews like this.

Intern photo

James is a graduate student in Urban and Environmental Planning at Arizona State University. Growing up in a small, sprawling town in Arizona, James became attracted to the field of planning and design by taking a critical look at his surroundings, a...

Tuesdays, in your inbox.

Weekly local urbanist news and jobs. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!