A Financial Times Best Book of the Year
A Guardian Best Architecture Book of the Year
“Sharp, revealing, funny.”
“An original and even occasionally hilarious book about losing ideals and finding them again… [De Graaf] deftly shows that architecture cannot be better or more pure than the flawed humans who make it.”
Architecture, we like to believe, is an elevated art form that shapes the world as it pleases. Four Walls and a Roof turns this fiction on its head, offering a candid account of what it’s really like to work as an architect. Drawing on his own tragicomic experiences in the field, Reinier de Graaf reveals the world of contemporary architecture in vivid snapshots: from the corridors of wealth in London, Moscow, and Dubai to the demolished hopes of postwar social housing in New York and St. Louis. We meet ambitious oligarchs, developers for whom architecture is nothing more than an investment, and layers of bureaucrats, consultants, and mysterious hangers-on who lie between any architect’s idea and the chance of its execution.
“This is a book about power, money and influence, and architecture’s complete lack of any of them… Witty, insightful and funny, it is a (sometimes painful) dissection of a profession that thinks it is still in control.”
“This is the most stimulating book on architecture and its practice that I have read for years.”
Something of a revelation…[De Graaf] has produced an original and even occasionally hilarious book about losing ideals and finding them again…He deftly shows that architecture cannot be better or more pure than the flawed humans who make it.
[It] tells the stories that tend to get left out of official histories, but which actually shape our physical environment…De Graaf’s book is sharp, revealing, funny, drily passionate and not always encouraging.
This is a book about power, money and influence, and architecture’s complete lack of any of them. It is a book not about architecture’s successes but about its failures. Witty, insightful and funny, it is a (sometimes painful) dissection of a profession that thinks it is still in control.
De Graaf is an excellent, witty and perceptive essayist. The heart of the book is a series of astonishing accounts of the protracted—and as it turns out, all doomed—sagas to get big urban projects approved and built in London (just pre-crash), Moscow (just pre-Putin), the Emirates (just pre-oil slump), and Kurdistan (just pre-Isis). The way de Graaf builds up to each (in hindsight) inevitable disappointment is masterly…He emerges as an unlikely, deeply skeptical architectural Everyman.
This is the most stimulating book on architecture and its practice that I have read for years. Not only is de Graaf a good anecdotalist (his hilarious account of a long-winded and fruitless masterplanning competition in Russia should be turned into a film), but a perceptive analyst of how architecture represents, or connects with, wider political and economic movements and trends.
Takes an idiosyncratic look at architectural history and dissects contemporary practice—from the quotidian (and sometimes comic) frustrations to the occasional triumphs and memorable failures.
Provocative…De Graaf has no fixed method. But the impressive extent and depth of his knowledge persistently inform his meditations, which take in many subjects. His mood is invariable. He is constantly and exhilaratingly cynical…Because he displays such candor—albeit polished candor, and such a perfectly gauged lack of tact—it is easy to forget that de Graaf is an architect, an insider, part of the system he dissects…De Graaf is likely to remain an architect for decades to come. In those circumstances, his enthusiasm for biting the hand that feeds him is admirably risky.
A refreshingly accessible, honest portrayal of a quixotic field from someone within the most successful architecture firm in the world today… One of the most intelligent, candid discussions on architecture I have read to date. Thus, Four Walls and a Roof offers an entertaining, penetrating, and much needed primer on the current state of the profession and the contemporary global forces influencing the built environment. A must-read list for architects, planners, and urban designers alike.
Reinier de Graaf paints an honest picture of what it is like to work as an architect today…[He] provides engaging stories about the banal, everyday reality of working for an acclaimed firm. These vivid, uncompromising narratives are contextualized with shrewd essays about architecture’s lost ideals, its false pretentions, and utter dependence on forces far more powerful than design.
Ruthlessly honest about what it is like to work at architecture and wickedly cynical about how power works in our current economy, Reinier de Graaf’s vantage point from a top architectural firm doesn’t make him crow of success but, rather, pushes us architects, for better or worse, to keep fighting the good fight. Reading Four Walls and a Roof will make you laugh, cry, and so identify.
The title of this book, provided by an innocent enquirer, has provoked Reinier de Graaf into a shrewd, lucid, and engaging survey of the architecture and building scene. He seems to have been everywhere and listened to anyone who is—or has been—active and influential in building and planning, from Prince Charles to Buckminster Fuller. Yet he has also managed to direct attention to some neglected personalities, past and present—Ernst Neufert, Lucien Kroll. You will not find a better guide to planning, building, and architecture of the last half-century!
This is a terrific book. It weaves together reflections on design, history, politics, and economics in a seamless and illuminating manner, offering a kaleidoscopic portrait of the state of architecture and its recent history. The writing is delightful, always irreverent, and at times exceedingly funny.
- 528 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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