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The Biography of a Building Hardcover – October 24, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; First Edition edition (October 24, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500342768
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500342763
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,534,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“[The artist’s] latest….about the Norman Foster-designed Sainsbury Center in England.” (The Philadelphia Enquirer)

About the Author

Witold Rybczynski was born in Edinburgh, raised in London, and attended schools in England and Canada. He studied architecture at McGill University, where he also taught for twenty years. He is currently the Martin and Margy Meyerson Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania.

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

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By James B. Garrison on October 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read many books by this author and find his most engaging books relate to his own experiences and observations. His writing is clear and informative, but doesn't really come alive until it becomes personal. This book recounts the development, construction and use the the Sainsbury Center at the University of East Anglia, an important early work by Norman Foster. The story begins well before there was an idea for a building when Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury (Bob and Lisa in the book) began collecting art. The author goes into great length about the collection, the Sainsbury's and how this resulted in a building and subsequent addition, also by Foster. He never gets bogged down in too much architectural or construction detail, and manages to convey a complete story from the clients', architects' and University's viewpoints. It is not so much the biography of a building as much as a recitation about a long and productive relationship between patrons and an architect. The building is but one of many characters.

While the book does not aim to be a critical review or dissertation on the High Tech movement in modern architecture, the approach of "nothing but the facts" about the design process and building leaves this reader not completely satisfied. The author is well known for his favorable opinions toward traditional design and it seems that despite a warm client/designer relationship, the mechanistic quality of this building leaves him, and ultimately the reader, cold.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Witold Rybczynski tells the story of how a very rich couple in Great Britain collected a vast array of art and then commissioned the architect Norman Foster to build a building to house the collection. The resulting architecture is widely recognized for being original, appropriate to the use, and elegant to experience. The story is also a humanistic story that tells of the personalities involved, their methods of arriving at congenial design agreements, and how the building itself proved adaptable to changes and, in time, expansion. Mr. Rybczynski had the opportunity for extensive interaction with the client, the architect, and many other of the persons most involved in the creation of this award-winning architect. I came away from reading the book with increased understanding and admiration for the people involved in the building and most particularly for Mr. Rybczynski, who was solicited to write this book and rose to the multiple challenges inherent in the commission with finesse and integrity.
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