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Structural inspiration

It is delightful that the Architectural Press has produced a second edition of Rowland Mainstone's Developments in Structural Form after a gap of 25 years, writes Bill Addis. It is the only book that has sought to collect together many of the noteworthy precedents from before architects and engineers existed, as well as more recent work, and to bring order to chaos in presenting them in a coherent and interesting way. Mainstone's book is not about architecture per se but about the technical skills that have been needed to create it.

The book is in four parts. First we meet various structural materials and the structural actions by which they can carry loads imposed upon them. Then come the structural elements - arch, vault, beam, tie, truss, shell - the building blocks which are the constructor's palette. The third part considers complete structures - the vernacular, buildings with wide- span roofs from before and since the industrial age, bridges, towers and high-rise buildings. Finally, an all-too-brief section looks at how man's understanding of structures and materials might have arisen and how it has developed during the last millennium into the day-to-day tools of the modern design engineer.

This is a comprehensive book. No significant aspect of structural form in the history of buildings and bridges has been overlooked. And while there is not enough space to delve deeply into large subjects, the inquisitive reader will nearly always find reference to another, more specialist source. The new edition is a little larger than the last to reflect recent developments, though the slightly fuzzy black-and-white images remain.

Like all good history it seeks threads then weaves them together. It is also personal and subjective. It is neither overly academic nor aimed directly at the professional needs of architect or engineer. Rather Mainstone informs and thereby strengthens the foundation for inspiration.

Bill Addis lectures and writes on building engineering design at Reading University

Developments in Structural Form. Rowland Mainstone. Architectural Press. 384pp. £59.95.

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