Key Houses of the Twentieth Century: Plans, Sections and Elevations By Colin Davies.Laurence King, 2006.240pp. £28.00
The path that Colin Davies' book follows is clear if wellworn. After a short general introductory essay by the author, there is a double-page spread on each key house - 106 of them in total - with photos and background text on one sheet and line drawings on the other.
Davies supplies further reading references on the 20thcentury house in general, and on each architect and some houses in particular. To complete the journey, a CD featuring all the drawings is appended.
The text is relaxed and accessible, if anecdotal. It acts as a simple introduction to each architect and to the architectural approach that each house embodies. The house selection is refreshing, from the well known to less familar gems such as Lina Bo Bardi's Glass House of 1950.
Inevitably, everyone will find a personal favourite that is missing from the selection: for me the exclusion of 1982's Stone House by Herzog & de Meuron is really surprising, given the practice's impact on current architectural thought.
If, however, as its publisher claims, the book is a resource for students of architecture, it lacks the necessary critical rigour. The real value of a volume like this is comparative research and reection - a methodology embodied in the great History of Architecture by Banister Fletcher. The contribution that Key Houses of the Twentieth Century could make is in its condensation of trends and attitudes, not only of house design but of architectural ideas in general. These are not just the key houses of the 20th century but the key architects, and as such they represent and illustrate in a manageable form the breadth and richness of architectural approach.
Frustratingly, much of the work has been done. The drawings are clear and readable but they are not at the same scale within the book, making quick visual comparison difficult. There are also great inconsistencies in the extent of information provided: the Case Study House by Craig Ellwood has only a oor plan whereas others also feature a section and even an elevation. Some houses have site plans, others not; it varies from one example to another.
If we compare Key Houses of the Twentieth Century with other recent handbooks, such as Andrea Deplazes'Constructing Architecture (AJ 20.10.05), a volume of extraordinary breadth and scholarship, it seems like a first draft.
If, in the future, the book was repackaged with consistent information, more photographs and with each house reproduced at the same scale - and if it was printed on craft paper almost like a sketchbook, so it became a volume to make notes on, make comparisons, and review the way a plan unfolds - then it would make a very useful addition to the studio indeed.
Neil Gillespie is an architect in Edinburgh and studio tutor at Edinburgh College of Art