The Twentieth Century Society

Review: Architecture in the Twentieth Century

by Peter Gossel and Gabriele Leuthauser (Taschen, 608pp, £27.99)

Reviewed by Sarah Bolwell

This February saw the public opening of Renzo Piano’s infamous Shard, described by English Heritage as ‘a spike through the heart of historic London’. Call it what you will – elitist, phallocentric, self-indulgent –  Europe’s tallest building is built of steel and glass, the materials in which modernist architecture has its roots. The opening chapter of this book, ‘Of Iron Giants and Glass Virgins’, firmly establishes its foundations in the industrial age. The latest edition also brings the story of twentieth century architecture up to date, with the ‘globalised and networked culture’ of the internet era. It is thus a celebration of the past which also ignites a passion to preserve the best of our twentieth century architectural landscape.

Both Peter Gossel and Gabriele Leuthauser come from backgrounds of exhibition display and design, and there is certainly an air of the spectacle about the book. The carefully curated images take precedence over the extensive and detailed text. Thematic chapters highlight the vagarious and often volatile story of architecture in the twentieth century, rejecting the sometimes tediously teleological accounts of similar books while still clinging to chronology as its backbone. The individuals, partnerships and nuances that help make the story so compelling are examined in detail, and the giants of modernism are also covered in a biographical appendix.

This generously illustrated volume draws on a vast pictorial library. Photographs, computerised renderings, drawings and floor-plans are thoughtfully arranged so that readers can make their own comparisons, and this erudite use of image distances it from clichéd coffee-table books. Gossel and Leuthauser’s comprehensive survey avoids nostalgia while providing a rich source of reference for both students and architecture enthusiasts.

Published May 2013