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Architecture Criticism

How Architecture Works

A Humanist's Toolkit

by (author) Witold Rybczynski

Farrar Straus & Giroux
Initial publish date
Oct 2013
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2014
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2013
    List Price

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Out of print

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An essential toolkit for understanding architecture as both art form and the setting for our everyday lives
We spend most of our days and nights in buildings, living and working and sometimes playing. Buildings often overawe us with their beauty. Architecture is both setting for our everyday lives and public art form—but it remains mysterious to most of us.
InHow Architecture Works, Witold Rybczynski, one of our best, most stylish critics and winner of the Vincent Scully Prize for his architectural writing, answers our most fundamental questions about how good—and not-so-good—buildings are designed and constructed. Introducing the reader to the rich and varied world of modern architecture, he takes us behind the scenes, revealing how architects as different as Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, and Robert A. M. Stern envision and create their designs. He teaches us how to"read" plans, how buildings respond to their settings, and how the smallest detail—of a stair balustrade, for instance—can convey an architect's vision. Ranging widely from a war memorial in London to an opera house in St. Petersburg, from the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., to a famous architect's private retreat in downtown Princeton,How Architecture Works, explains the central elements that make up good building design. It is an enlightening humanist's toolkit for thinking about the built environment and seeing it afresh.
"Architecture, if it is any good, speaks to all of us," Rybczynski writes. This revelatory book is his grand tour of architecture today.

About the author


  • Long-listed, Marfield Prize Finalist
  • Long-listed, Best Books of the Year

Contributor Notes

Witold Rybczynski has written about architecture forThe New Yorker,The Atlantic,The New York Times, andSlate. Among his award-winning books areHome,The Most Beautiful House in the World, andA Clearing in the Distance, which won the J. Anthony Lukas Prize. He lives with his wife in Philadelphia, where he is the emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.How Architecture Works is his eighteenth book.

Editorial Reviews

“The book's chief pleasure may be that Rybczynski, ever the engaging and thoughtful writer, offers a wide-ranging tour of the glories and curiosities, old and new, in the field.” —Peter Whoriskey, The Washington Post
“The beautiful and the useful, in buildings as well as books, never becomes obsolete. Neither do writers like Rybczynski, who can teach us how to recognize and appreciate both.” —Laura Miller, Salon
“In this conversational and invigorating treatise, Rybczynski deepens our understanding of allthat goes into the design and construction of buildings . . . [This] expert, holistic, down-to-earth guide awakens us to architecture's profound humanness.” —Booklist
“[A] robust tour of architecture . . . Rybczynski is an artful conductor and learned hand who leaves much of the pleasure of architectural discovery to readers.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“A commanding view of the field . . . Here, architecture is treated as craft executed with prudence and conviction.” —Publishers' Weekly (starred review)

Other titles by Witold Rybczynski