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Rooftop Architecture: Building on an elevated surface By Ed Melet and Eric Vreedenburgh, Nai Publishers. 2004.

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It is interesting to see experimental forms of, and techniques in, urban architecture and it is undoubtedly true, evidenced by this book (as well as Sean Topham's books on mobile and inflatable architecture), that real experimentation takes place outside the UK.

The second interesting thing to come out of this book is the matter-of-fact presentation of the city - as in City Flights (AJ 31.5.01) - and of what many British commentators might call its 'intractable' problems. The authors do not indulge in a negative view of the city, nor sanctify the notion of urban memory, suggesting instead that the 'historic centre outlived its usefulness long ago' and that 'the pressure of permanent transformation is like a natural process of evolution'. While they give a little too much credence to Castell's 'Network Society', they do render the city as a site of human intervention rather than a precious object to be preserved. It is, they say, 'the people, not the location that count? [and it] is precisely the idealising of the past that erases memory and destroys historical development'.

Rooftop development is here promoted as 'a vehicle for urban renewal'. But, again, the authors are at pains to suggest that this is not some defensive, compaction model that they are promoting. Instead, they constantly refer to the symbiotic - as opposed to the parasitical - use of developing the roof line: these additions enhance the significance of the original building on which they perch and do not simply use it as a plot to build off.

The final target of the book is industrialised construction. The notion that industrial, component-based, functional modules often ignore the necessary humanity of house building, is well worth saying. 'After all, ' they say, 'a house is not a house unless it is occupied? the urge to categorise in terms of function and efficiency for the industrial production of homes results in an enormous impoverishment and levelling of the pleasure of home.' Their solution is for more advanced, prefabricated units with customised potential.

In general, the schemes are ingenious, the photographs do them justice, and the introduction is very well argued. Although there is a need for more explanatory text on each scheme, this is an enjoyable, inspiring read.

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