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BOOKS: Getting to grips with a pluralist world

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Contemporary World Architecture by Hugh Pearman. Phaidon, 1998. 511pp. £59.95

Hugh Pearman has been writing about architecture for the Sunday Times since 1986 - the longest continuous stint by any of the national correspondents. His judgement is generally reliable, to the point that even a critical review can have the happy consequence of potential clients beating a path to the architect's door. He is the nearest thing we have to an architectural Delia Smith. Pearman has also contributed to architectural life in a quite different (and constructive) way, sitting on the architecture panel of the Arts Council, and in particular promoting architectural awards: he was instrumental in the creation of the Stirling Prize, where his newspaper acts as main sponsor.

As you would expect, his book on the architecture of roughly the last three decades is fair-minded and inclusive. Split into 13 sections, this megaguide is arranged by building type. Each section comprises a longish essay by the author, who worked on the project for three years, and includes beautifully produced photographs and drawings. One could, of course, argue with the taxonomy: does one church design have more influence on schemes for other churches than quite different building types produced at the same time or in the same country? What are the connections between the architects and their teachers/professional colleagues beyond the building type itself? Shouldn't there be a bit more chronology? And a guide to the key figures would have made a useful addition to the good bibliography and index.

However, given the approach adopted, this book is satisfactorily thorough. Looking for lacunae in the index does not get you very far: it's pretty much all there, and the key buildings are all illustrated. Too substantial (literally, since it weighs 3.4 kilos) to be a coffee-table book, this is surely the most comprehensive guide we have to the recent history of architecture.

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