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KATHERINE SHONFIELD

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The culture secretary, Chris Smith, personifies the dominance of literary over visual culture in Great Britain today. An expert on the landscape of the Lake District, he is neither geographer nor landscape designer, but someone with a PhD specialising in the work of Wordsworth and others. This approach affects attempts to popularise and disseminate architecture on both radio and television. Programmes that have withstood it - such as Building Sites - have been marked out by their wooden, lacklustre format. The literary approach is of a piece with the value given to association and memory which marks public concern with things architectural. This value is particular to our own, largely benign, version of nationalism. But what we miss is a common passion for architecture as a new, beautiful and inspiring object. We have no Bilbao, no Opera House for Cardiff.

Italy, a country equally embedded in the past, denies this schism between the literary and the visual. The first in a new series of monographs is dedicated to Hadid; others to Fuksas, Behnisch and Koolhaas. They contain the seminal projects, illustrated with excellent colour photographs, each accompanied by salient plans, sections and elevations. Each monograph has an exciting introductory essay, passionately arguing for a particular reading of an architect's work.

So what? Well, they each cost less than a fiver. The full set of 20, published each year, costs under £70. They are sponsored by the Turin- Milan Motorway company. If such a venture existed in Britain they would be sold at Sainsbury's. If they had existed in Britain, the complacent visual ignorance which has coloured the Cardiff debacle would have maybe been a tad less tenable.

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