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BOOK

REVIEW

Country Houses Today By Jeremy Melvin.John Wiley, 2006.£34.99

Jeremy Melvin points out that this book is about houses in the country rather than country houses in the traditional sense.

He identifies new trends in rural domestic architecture which do not depend on the resources of an estate but on new breeds of architectural patron.

His conspectus is wide, both geographically and stylistically, and encompasses some 25 substantial houses, from the conservative to the challenging. While most are in Europe, he trawls as widely as Qingyun Ma's work in China and McAdam Architects' recent venture into Kazakhstan. There is a certain sense of contrivance about his thematic groupings:

Mountain, Forest, Ocean, Plain, Narrative. The last is particularly tricky, harbouring material as diverse as John Outram's 1980s-style Egyptian paean at Sphinx Hill to Lower Mill Estate, the former gravel pits near Cirencester being revitalised by the likes of Will Alsop and Piers Gough.

There is no question that Melvin is tapping into something of a current and expanding phenomenon.

I would have enjoyed more discussion of the iconography of his material - particularly on the interpretation of the rural 'retreat' as a negative reaction to the city as much as the expression of a desire for closer integration with nature. This book certainly offers a brisk walk through some engaging new rural houses, but bizarre omissions like Safdie's Corrour Lodge and many editorial infelicities reduce its validity.

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