Thirteen Ways: Theoretical Investigations in Architecture

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MIT Press, 1998 - Architecture - 205 pages
In his latest book, Robert Harbison offers a novel interpretation of what architectural theory might look like. The title, like everything Harbison selects, is not what it seems at first glance. It is neither a misnomer for the book's ten chapters nor a reference to the investigation it contains, but rather an echo of Wallace Stevens's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." Like the poem, Harbison's work is a composite structure built of oblique meanings and astonishing shifts that add up to an engaging portrait--in this case a portrait of architecture in which use, symbol, and metaphor coexist.

The chapter titles indicate Harbison's themes, all of which bear parallel, implied, or tangential relations to architecture: Sculpture, Machines, the Body, Landscape, Models, Ideas, Politics, the Sacred, Subjectivity, and Memory. The journey through the chapters is roughly a journey from the physical to the metaphysical, a journey that is at once poetic, technical, and philosophical. As in his previous books, Harbison examines his subjects with as few preconceptions as possible, taking familiar concepts and stripping away all associations until they become strange, producing ideas that are refreshing and new for architecture. Again as in his previous books, Harbison has produced a visually stirring text with minimal illustrations, implying the superiority of language over image. His narrative moves rapidly between different centuries, between the center and the edge, between buildings and things that resemble buildings in one or more ways--dioramas, paintings, natural formations, and human institutions. The book straddles theground between the intellect and the senses, leading the reader beyond the realm of theory and practice into the universe of the imagination, where "space" is experienced as something touched, seen, and thought.

"The Graham Foundation/MIT Press Series in Contemporary Architectural Discourse"


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I wish I was clever enough to find 13 reasons to read this book, however it only takes one. It is the single most important that one can read to critically investigate the environment(s) that we live ... Read full review

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About the author (1998)

Robert Harbison has lectured widely on architecture at the Museum of Modem Art in New York, the University of Toronto, Stanford University, Cornell University, and the Architectural Association, London. His previous books include Eccentric Spaces, Deliberate Regression, and Pharaoh's Dream.

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