Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bauhaus: Profiles in Architecture and Design

Princeton Architectural. Oct. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9781616899516. pap. $27.95. ARCH
Since 1980, UK expat Janet Abrams has crossed the Atlantic countless times to observe the arts and design scene, first for the outsider monthly Blueprint, and later for The Independent, Punch, and the New York Times. Collected here are 26 narrative essays, all of manageably moderate length, all from 1982–2006. Readers are thus teletransported into an architectural design zeitgeist surrounding the turn of the last millennium: postmodernism rejected, “Starchitects” rising, and everyone a critic (notably Prince Charles, who memorably labeled a National Gallery addition a “monstrous carbuncle”). Internationalism flourished, with digital tools making it easier to design in one continent and build on another. We meet craftspeople and technocrats—with de rigueur appearances by biggies like Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, and Philip Johnson—and laudably, eight women among an otherwise hypermasculine domain. Abrams’s style is appealingly waggish—one admiring portrait begins with “Andree Putman has a habit of losing things...”—and largely from a pre-internet time, when tar pits of jargon like “built environment” were happily less common. In bemoaning how nowadays building designs seem to be determined more by algorithms than inspiration, this retrospective carries a torch of justifiable nostalgia.
VERDICT Long-form, tangy treats for all observers.
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