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Home: A Short History of an Idea Paperback – July 7, 1987

4.5 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this study of the evolution of domestic living, McGill University architecture professor Rybczynski traces the material and cultural influences that have helped shape our notions of comfort. PW recommended this "intriguing" book.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In a loosely configured essay, Rybczynski (Architecture, McGill Univ.) discusses the idea of comfort and the Western cultural attitudes that have shaped it since the end of the middle ages. Rather than dealing with the technical aspects of architecture, he reviews such cultural variables as intimacy and privacy, domesticity, ease, and ideas about light, air, and efficiency as they have changed over time. Essentially Rybczynski makes a plea for the primacy of cultural ideals as a basis for creating psychologically comfortable homes. Though he is selective in his history and examples, this is a worthwhile counterweight to the all-too-common technical practices of modern architects. Recommended. Jack Perry Brown, Ryerson & Burnham Libs., Art Inst. of Chicago
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (July 7, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140102310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140102314
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #328,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Witold Rybczynski has written about architecture and urbanism for The New York Times, Time, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker. He is the author of the critically-acclaimed book Home and the award-winning A Clearing in the Distance. His latest book is The Biography of a Building. The recipient of the National Building Museum's 2007 Vincent Scully Prize, he lives with his wife in Philadelphia, where he is emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.
Read his blog at http://www.witoldrybczynski.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I love this book. I love the topic, analyzing the humble dwellingplace for its universals. I love the way he has organized by those very topics rather than by the detail of historic era or functional object. "Home" liberates the whole topic to a level whidh allows the reader to consider what all people have in common for their needs and ambitions, and it inspires such optimism for it demonstrates how resourceful people naturally are. The reader feels so much more aware of mindless routines and can delight in the choices of continuing what is habit or deliberately designing a new tradition. For this reason I like using the book with middle school and high school students. It is too long for the time allowed in the school calendar, but it suits a jigsaw approach of different groups of students studying one of the conceptual chapters and applying the insights to their own lives. The reading level is challenging but appropriate if students are not expected to read too much of it in too short a time. This is one of those treasured volumes that suits the purest progressive tradition of education: it is based on authentic experience which helps students find meaning in their real lives here and now, all the while stretching their capacity to see logic in the world. A nice companion to it is "House" by Tracey Kidder for its similarly direct and quiet manner of discussing the decisions people make, alone and collaboratively, to improve their living situation. Like "Cod", this book should be the way students learn history: focused on a recognizable topic and connecting years and years of interaction between people as it describes the everyday personal consequences of innovation and competition. 'Home: a short history of an idea" needs more than five stars, and it needs to be widely available to schoolchildren, perhaps by individual chapter.
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Format: Paperback
This book is an exploration into the meaning of the word "comfort" and its place in the home. Rybczynski begins the volume with an examination of the Sixteenth Century painting by Durer "Saint Jerome in His Study". He describes each of the objects and furnishings visible in the paining in turn, noting that they are not particularly conducive to comfort or reflective of individuality. Rybczynski goes on to describe how this painting may be representative of the era in which it was painted, how houses at the time had many occupants and were spaces where people lived communally, but not necessarily as a family in the present sense of the term. He argues that in the Sixteenth Century, the nuclear family as a residential unit was non-existent, since children were sent away to live and work with others at a young age, and households always included many unrelated servants or apprentices. It was only later, as the concept of the nuclear family became more established that the need for privacy came to the fore, and private and public spaces began to be differentiated within the house. Later developments in technology, especially plumbing, ventilation, and lighting also came to influence housing design. One of the themes of the book is how the field of interior design has often been faced with the conflict between what looks good and what feels good. Rybcynski stresses that often the style of a design wins out, leaving the residents with the very least in comfort (to the point of having to carry their toothbrushes to and from the bathroom for lack of proper storage there, for instance).Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
I first read this book 14 years ago and it changed my life. This book is a must for anyone buying or building a home. You will never look at a house in the same way again, and you will appreciate good and functional design as never before . Your understanding and excitment at the things that make a house a pleasant home will be enhanced more by this book that any academic or popular text on the subject that I have seen or read. The author weaves together the historcal and social aspects, as well as design, in an intriguing tale. This is truly absorbing reading, you will not want to put it down. It is plainly and simply, very well writen. Rybczyski speaks as one of us.
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Format: Paperback
Rybczynski's elegant prose makes "Home: A Short History" a perfect fireside companion -- not least because he'll make you think about why you positioned your most comfy chair beside the fireplace, how your nice halogen reading light has transformed your evening hours, and whether you'd ever have even been permitted to sit down at the court of a French king.
If Tom Wolfe's "From Bauhaus to Our House" is a savage indictment of modern architecture, Rybczynski's book is no less disappointed but even more careful to show how far back in history architects went astray from the guiding principle of 'how to keep humans comfortable'. Till I read Rybczynski, I hadn't realized that 19th century women were more concerned with the sensible flow of activity from room to room in a house, and more interested in time/labor saving innovations such as electricity, than were the architects of the time: they were still preoccupied with the regularity of the façade rather than the sensible use of space inside the home.
In fact, I'd add a third book to add to your fireside reading about the home and its development in modern times: "A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder", by Michael Pollan. (His meeting with the unlucky souls who live in a Peter Eisenmann home is worth the price of admission...)
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