In "Spectacular Vernacular: London's 100 Most Extraordinary Buildings," David Long takes the reader through central London to discover its least known, yet extraordinary buildings. As disclosed in the book's introduction, the author aims at attracting both London visitors and longtime residents' attention to some of the least celebrated buildings and structures of the English Capital.
In the words of the author, “the lack of an urban master plan … means that in London … the chief glory lies … in its many historic and often highly individual buildings.” This does not mean, however, that all the structures in this book are state of the art architectural realizations; even if some buildings feature extravagant features, many of them have a rather lower profile and discreet appearance -while others are even considered failures.
The book is subdivided into ten chapters categorizing the describing structures according to their function. Each chapter contains a selection of six to fifteen buildings. These range from private residences and clubs to military structures, public facilities, guildhalls, and buried transportation infrastructure. Whether these structures are overlooked because of familiarity or simply out of neglect, they all share either exceptional architectural features or an interesting history. As a matter of fact, all the buildings chosen by David Long are havens of history. And whether they date back to middle ages or to our contemporary era, each one of them tells a part of the history of London and Londoners and brings a new understanding to readers of some known and lesser known British traditions.
Some of the buildings in this book are still in use, others are abandoned, but most have gone through a series of renovations, rehabilitation, and repurposing. Most of them are also not accessible to the public or accessible only upon special requests and on special occasions. David Long is, therefore, handing readers in this book a special opportunity to discover some of London’s hidden gems through his highly visual descriptive writing style and a very keen attention to detail. To illustrate each description, the two-page to three-page texts are followed by one or two black and white pictures that put the reader in context.
The extensive use of anecdotes and Long’s subtle English humor makes this book an easy and flowing read. I’ve never been to London and this book really made me think about planning a trip to the renowned English capital. I know then that, when I do, I will definitely be taking “Spectacular Vernacular” along.
Do you use architecture or history books as travel guides? Are there any special ones that you would recommend? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
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