City Hall, written by Arthur Drooker, is a pleasant surprise. While architecture is one of my favorite topics, for some reason I don’t often read books that talk about it. Given the quality I found within the pages of CH, it’s something I’ll have to rectify asap.
You see, I love classical architecture, okay? Modernism can be good–I have this puzzling fascination with brutalism, say–but it doesn’t hold a candle to classical. There’s a solid, timeless beauty with buildings like the New York City Hall or the Philadelphia City Hall; I wish I had enough walls to frame a staircase detail, the design of a railing.
Long story short, if you like architecture, then you’re in for a treat.
City Hall is the first book to feature striking contemporary images of the most architecturally significant city halls in the United States. This diverse collection includes New York, the oldest; Philadelphia, once the tallest building in the world; and Boston, the first major brutalist building in the United States. Organized chronologically, the book traces the evolution of American civic architecture from the early 19th century to the present day and represents diverse styles such as Federalist, art deco, and modern. Architects, current and former mayors, historians, and preservationists tell the story about how each city hall came to be, what it says about its city, and why it’s important architecturally. City Hall spotlights these often under-appreciated civic buildings and affirms architecture’s unique power to express democratic ideals and inspire civic engagement.
Cover: Oh, wow. Look at the detailing on that dome! What an amazing shot.
- The highest praise I can sing to CH is about its captivating prose. Arthur, you’ve got a way with words and it shows. It’s not easy to engage a reader when you’re talking about city halls but you did anyway, weaving together the simple elegance of your writing with info about the historical and cultural background of those buildings. More than once I stopped to compare the text with pictures, looking for the tilt of an inverted pyramid or the shade of green of corrugated steel. Everything’s so vivid. Bravo!
- There are few photos, maybe fewer than I’d like, but they’re curated and good. The care put in picking and choosing every single one of them transpires from the pages. I got to see rotundas and brise soleil, a stained-glass skylight, columns, and a rooftop garden. By the way, it’s a real shame that said garden is closed to the public.
- I never stopped to consider the reasoning behind the construction of a building. It’s there, it fits some purpose, end of the story. The 15 city halls featured in this book fulfill a particular need, need that is talked about at length. Learning the hows, then whens, and the whys has been interesting, even more so because I wasn’t familiar with any of them before. Big kudos to American majors; I’m a bit envious XD
- Cincinnati. The stained glass art is magnificent.
- Philadelphia, the statue of William Penn. Did you see the detailing? Too bad it’s been surpassed in height by a building that’s ugly as sin.
- San Jose. Modernist, but I like it because of the glasswork of the dome.
- As I already mentioned, I would have loved to see more pictures.
4 stars on GR. Great job, Arthur!