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The Seduction of Place: The City in the Twenty-first Century Hardcover – September 19, 2000


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The subtitle to this, the tenth book by architecture professor (and lively writer) Joseph Rykwert--namely, "The City in the Twenty-First Century and Beyond"--is a whopping misnomer. It is only in the final chapter that Rykwert pays attention (and briskly, even then) to urban developments of recent years and to what we might expect in the 100 years to come. What this book really is, despite what its subtitlers intended, is at once a broad-ranging and satisfyingly detailed social history of some of the great cities of the modern world (mostly the Western one, with a marked emphasis on the two cities Rykwert calls home--New York and London--plus Paris) and an inquiry into how well they have served the material and spiritual lives of the people who inhabit them.

Ranging comfortably and coherently back and forth between the Old World and the New, Rykwert begins with the Industrial Revolution, its factories, the throngs of poor country people that flooded the cities to work in them, and the subsequent 150-year challenge faced by urban centers to house, transport, and entertain these throngs cheaply, space-consciously, and hygienically. But Seduction of Place is not so much a people's history of the city as it is a vibrantly researched and chronicled play-by-play of the big public--and some private--works of the major metropolises. The book also tackles the luminaries--including Haussmann, Olmstead and Vaux, L'Enfant, and Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand (who pioneered the enduring school of axial planning at Paris' Ecole Polytechnique)--whose names are often uttered in the same breath as the parks, boulevards, and edifices they brought to life.

Social critics like Tocqueville, Marx, Engels, Fourier, and Ruskin are just as well-represented here, however, ably providing the basis for Rykwert's persistent question of what cities ought to be and how responses to that have diverged and evolved over the years, apart from what they have become, for better or ill, and how they got that way. Even though the book takes a more or less familiar course through the 20th century--from the emergence of subways, skyscrapers, and modernism through postwar urban planning, suburban sprawl, and subsequent urban decay and attempts at renewal--Rykwert knows when to dart away from well-known people, places, and things to chronicle the planning of lesser-known English "New Towns" or of distinctly 20th-century cities like New Delhi, Islamabad, Australia's Canberra, and--rather famously--Brasilia, the ultimate "zoned" city.

The final chapter pays the requisite nod to the postmodernist implications of, for example, Celebration, Florida, (Disney's controversial new spin on the "company town") but is really distinguished by Rykwert's startlingly on-the-mark reading of how such wildly popular mega-museums as the new international Guggenheim franchise (with Gehry's Bilbao "branch" currently eclipsing Wright's New York "flagship") have come to best personify the encroachment of corporate globalization in the urban civic realm. It is a fitting conclusion for a book that manages so gracefully to wed an engrossing history of urban growth with the deeper intellectual, cultural, and ethical questions it raises--the very questions that the speculators, preservationists, and "ordinary citizens" will still have to answer in creating and sustaining the great cities of the 21st century. --Timothy Murphy

From Publishers Weekly

The city is at the center of the modern world: whether we live in one or not, they affect our lives through commerce, culture and civitas. In this complexly argued, beautifully written and provocative meditation on the nature of cities, Rykerk (The Idea of a Town) investigates the intricate relationships between the individual and the urban. By examining the historical development of citiesAfrom the invention of the water lock in mid-15th-century Italy that helped facilitate water transport, to the founding of U.S. utopian communities, such as New Harmony in the early 18th century, to the expansion of Manhattan into a grid of streets in the mid-19th centuryAhe explores how cities grew to meet human needs, analyzing which needs remain unfulfilled. In full command of a wide range of knowledge, Rykwerk blithely moves from a discussion of how the aesthetics of John Ruskin and William Morris dovetailed with the political theories of Engles to how changes in tourism affected urban planning and development. These large themes match the "grandiloquence" of those great cities and the role they played in the development of the last three centuries. At the book's end, Rykwerk discusses how contemporary cities can be made more congenial, drawing upon examples such as the role of the car in modern China, the urban theories and activist agenda of Jane Jacobs and the place of museums in the urbanscape. Rykwerk uses nuance, practicality and foresight to show how, through "little plans" composed of "sobriety and effective actions," cities can be useful and wholesome to those who inhabit them. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 283 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (September 19, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375400486
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375400483
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,266,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Joseph Rykwert's new book is perhaps his most radical, although he elaborates on themes that have preoccupied him for more than 4 decades. Never has he so emphatically stated his conviction that the cities we desire can become the cities we have, but only if we take hold of our capacity to effect meaningful reform. Rykwert's position is particularly encouraging and insightful at a time when most of us perceive the built environment as the result of abstract and impersonal economic and political forces seemingly beyond any individual influence. Rykwert's stance is a challenge to architect's, urban designers, planners and other citizens who cannot imagine an alternative between revolution and acquiescence other than surrender to conditions as they are. Such inertia is countered by Rykwert, as are rationalist and quantitative approaches to the city, with affirmation of the city as a fundamental setting of and for human will, dreams, and desire. It follows then, according to Rykwert, that any successful making and re-making of cities depends on a set of rational principles that are flexible enough to accomodate chance, elaboration, and improvisation. Features Rykwert believes can become the special qualities of contemporary and future cities (if they are not eradicated). Rykwert's consideration of the city investigates the full-range of attempts to make cities places of and for people; a thread he pursues from ancient cities, to the revolutions of 1848 to the Seattle demonstrations in 1999 in opposition to the World Trade Organization. It is for these reasons, and many others, that Rykwert's book is a must-read for all lovers of cities and perhaps especially for all those who don't yet love them.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rom on August 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
Never judge a book by its cover, or its title. Alluring as it sounds, Seduction of Place has nothing to do with place but rather endless facts about architecture and urbanism from two centuries ago. In a nutshell, this book reads like a frustratingly drab encyclopedic entry with 3 pages of photos.

You'll get the sense that something is amiss after reading the first 25 pages about the Industrial Revolution. The relevance of urban growth and new manufacturing techniques is clear enough, but describing who invented what and when is hardly helpful in understanding `place.' Starting from the first chapter, you'll be presented with a dizzying array of minor historical tangents of names, cities, academic/political trends, and suddenly be transported to something new altogether like a discourse on styles. For example the 4th chapter, "Lived Space and Virtual Space," covers architectural and urban trends in early Soviet Russia, communist China, then skips to the UN building in New York and finally finishes on Disney Land. There are a few paragraphs about reliance on virtual devices, including facts like: "sexual intercourse -for instance- may be achieved over long distances." This is one of many examples of sentences appearing out of nowhere, much like the conclusion to the third chapter which skips from a critique of the box-like World Trade centers to graffiti on empty street walls. If you are interested in modernism's failure at the street level, simply go to Jane Jacobs for a detailed and empirical account of how New York's "place" eroded.

Rykwert rattles off most of the European Utopias and historical interpretations but never goes beyond the surface. Lonely Planet does a better job with Paris, London, Chicago, D.C., Brasilia, and New York.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As a long-time reader and appreciator of Rykwert, I was disappointed in this one. Somehow the task defeats defeats him -- but, then. it's defeated a lot of people. The story of the modern city and how to help it evolve is far too entangled in nasty politics to be amenable to Rywert's sincerity and scholarship.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Rykwert is extremely knowledgeable regarding architecture and western civilization in general. The book holds my interest in spite of its length and technical slant.
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