The metropolis is the place for the absent-minded masses in a frozen state of conformity, as Benjamin puts it, an architecture “consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction.” However, for Hays, critical architecture opposes being merely an instrument of culture or an autonomous form to become a persuasive source of knowledge that sharpens reality’s consciousness. 

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Alice in the Cities, directed by Wim Wenders_©

This collection of books proves an architectural theory and practice continually redefining itself to “resist the authority of culture, stand against the generality of habit and the particularity of nostalgic memory, and still have a very precise intention.”

1. In Praise of Shadows

Junichiro Tanizaki, 1933

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In Praise of Shadows_©

The enchanting masterpiece imprints an idea of imperfect perfection on the imagination. Both a poetic and practical reflection that distinguishes the unique Japanese culture from the industrialized Western culture. 

The former finds beauty in the silent and subtle shadows, while the latter in the bright and revealing. Junichiro Tanizaki reminisces on the layered tones of shadows and their patterns to reveal an aesthetic tradition confronted with change and the relentless influences of the Western world. 

2. The Architecture of the City

Aldo Rossi, 1966

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The Architecture of the City_©

Following Vitruvius, Alberti and Palladio’s humanistic writings, Aldo Rossi’s postmodern work The Architecture of the City becomes a transcendental evolution of Italian architectural theory tradition. 

The critical reflection on modern architecture’s reductive methods reshapes the understanding of the city as both an archaeological artefact and an autonomous structure. In this case, history and typology become crucial components in the process of revealing the city’s complex meaning as a collective memory artefact. 

3. Learning from Las Vegas

Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, 1972

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Learning from Las Vegas_©

Learning from Las Vegas dares to approach the Strip’s built environment through its own eclectic language. A paragon example of architecture beyond style, one made of form, signs and symbols to communicate its contents. 

In the most controversial segment, the authors recur to potent rhetorical language to criticize Modern architecture, its “heroic and original” approach against an “ugly and ordinary” one in which the city grows upon the decision of the masses. Polemical in its core for its aesthetic foundation, the work caused a stir upon its publication. 

Surely, a manifesto that states how “Las Vegas is to the Strip what Rome is to the Piazza” can polarise the architecture community, still and all, arising a critical conversation about how we read the city. 

4. Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development

Manfredo Tafuri, 1973

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Architecture and Utopia_©

There is no denying Manfredo Tafuri’s ability to stir up controversy, either as a remarkable architectural history figure or a miscomprehended one. Architecture and Utopia intends to raise critical consciousness in the influence of capitalist economic growth on modern city architecture. 

Indeed, the work reveals avant-garde’s programmatic utopias as ideas based on subjective methodologies and romantic historicism. Ultimately, they become radical architectural projects of sublime insubstantiality, always gravitating towards an imminent crisis. 

The work is still a subject of debate; some grade it a pessimistic stance that declares the “death of architecture”, while others praise its neo-Marxist rhetoric, placing the object of architecture and the city in a state of confrontation. 

5. Kicked A Building Lately? 

Ada Louise Huxtable, 1976   

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Kicked a building lately?_©

Kicked a building lately? is a direct and tangible encounter with the city’s architecture turned into a candid commentary of its built form. Ada Louise Huxtable’s collection of works for the New York Times reflects a changing state of the art and the world during the 70s. 

It understands the city not as a collection of buildings but a multidimensional built environment of historical relevance, cultural diversity, social dynamics, political frenzy and economic fluctuations. Simple language and evocative adjectives convey the experience of seeing and feeling the urban landscape above any philosophical examinations and theoretical constructions. 

6. Thinking Architecture

Peter Zumthor, 1998

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Thinking Architecture_©

Beyond refutation, Zumthor concentrates on developing a phenomenological understanding of beauty through personal exploration. In this collection of essays, the nature of materials and their inherent experience takes to investigate an architecture of the senses. 

Unquestionably, the words are able to express the invisible components of his stirring architecture entirely through an anecdotal and referential tone. After all, it is a critical architecture that emanates a genuine connection to life rather than blindly following the course of tradition or contemporary trends. 

7. Silencios Elocuentes 

Carlos Martí Arís,1999

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Silencios Elocuentes_©

Silencios Elocuentes attempts to unravel hidden truths of the turbulent and chaotic realities of the 20th century through the poetics of silence in works of art and architecture. For Carlos Martí Arís, silence promotes an abstract view of reality by presenting the world through contemplation. 

In the works of Jorge Luis Borges, Mies van der Rohe, Yasuhiro Ozu, Mark Rothko and Jorge Oteiza, he is able to reveal unexplored dimensions of the world that are otherwise hidden by its loudness and excess. 

8. Walkscapes: walking as an aesthetic practice

Francesco Careri, 2002

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Image 09_Walkscapes_©

Walkscapes is an exhaustive inquiry on the practice of walking as immaterial architecture, from a mythical interpretation in Cain and Abel to a historical rereading from the nomadic prehistoric era to the 20th century’s revolution of the relationship between art and space. 

It tells a story of the roamed city where walking, as an aesthetic practice, can transform a place not physically but symbolically. For the author, the contemporary metropolis – impossible to plan and predict – should be comprehended and filled with meaning rather than constantly reinvented and spatially occupied. 

9. The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture

Pier Vittorio Aureli, 2011

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The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture_©

Aureli develops a work that is in itself an act of separation and confrontation towards the paradigmatic logic of the city to determine The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture

The absolute as being “distinct from its other” is understood through dialectical interactions between the political and the economic, limit and extension, civitas and urbs ⎯ the project and the city. Therefore, Aureli declares the architectural form the object of resistance towards the infinite expansion of urbanization. 

10. Cartografías de la Identidad

Fabio Restrepo, 2017

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Cartografías de la Identidad_©

Cartografías de la Identidad develops around the interpretation of the world through the stroke⎯el trazo. Line, limit, and distance as innate faculties of the individual. It describes an ontological architecture where the act of inhabiting results from being and not from doing. Indeed, the metropolis as the ultimate manifestation of architecture becomes the expression of man’s identity and, at the same time, the cause of its disintegration. 

In a way, the book becomes the reconstruction of this lost identity by questioning the particular form of inhabiting that signifies it. Instead of taking a direct approach to an inquiry, the book turns into a record of simultaneous, possible and even contradictory paths. 


Manuela is an architect from Bogotá, Colombia. She has a special interest in architectural theory believing architecture results from the human understanding of the world and its place in the universe. In films, books, and finding unique spaces in cities, she recognizes society's memory and essence.