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Four Walls and a Roof

Four Walls and a Roof

The Complex Nature of a Simple Profession

Reinier de Graaf

ISBN 9780674976108

Publication date: 09/25/2017

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Architecture, we like to believe, is an elevated art form that shapes the world as it pleases. Four Walls and a Roof challenges this notion, presenting a candid account of what it is 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 suburban New York to the rubble of northern Iraq, from the corridors of wealth in London, Moscow, and Dubai to garbage-strewn wastelands that represent the demolished hopes of postwar social housing. We meet oligarchs determined to translate ambitions into concrete and steel, developers for whom architecture is mere investment, and the layers of politicians, bureaucrats, consultants, and mysterious hangers-on who lie between any architectural idea and the chance of its execution.

Four Walls and a Roof tells the story of a profession buffeted by external forces that determine—at least as much as individual inspiration—what architects design. Perhaps the most important myth debunked is success itself. To achieve anything, architects must serve the powers they strive to critique, finding themselves in a perpetual conflict of interest. Together, architects, developers, politicians, and consultants form an improvised world of contest and compromise that none alone can control.


  • 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.

    —The Economist


  • Reinier de Graaf is Partner at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Rotterdam.

Book Details

  • 528 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press