If there is something close to a bible for architects, it has to be Sir Banister Fletcher’s ‘A History of Architecture’ book. It is a big, fat book, which might scare first-time users. But soon, one will realize the infinite amount of knowledge and information sitting on its pages, waiting to be absorbed and devoured by its readers.
It was first penned and published by Sir Banister Fletcher in 1896. It has had twenty editions so far, with multiple reprints over the years. The copyrights of the book are with The Royal Institute of British Architects and The University of London. The latest edition, the twentieth, which also marks the one-hundredth year of its publication, is edited by Dan Cruickshank, with the consultant editors being Andrew Saint, Peter Blundell Jones, and Kenneth Frampton.
The book has a navy blue cover design with a hardcover binding. After the copyright credits and the contents, the list of contributors tells us about the people in the background whose contributions played a pivotal role in making the book a success. Next, the chapter-wise sources of illustrations have been neatly listed out.
Then, the preface, written by Dan Cruickshank speaks about the additions and the significant changes brought into the twentieth edition. He also acknowledges everyone who helped him in the process. The brief introduction informs us about what one would find as they traverse through the pages of the book and also includes a meticulous timeline of history from the paleolithic age to the present times.
The book by Sir Banister Fletcher is broadly divided into seven parts, with each of them containing several smaller chapters. Each part starts with a background chapter which has an extended description of the coming chapters and sets the readers into the mood of the book.
It speaks about the history, early and later cultures, resources, building techniques, and the processes involved. Proceeding further, each chapter informs the readers about the architectural character of the places, factors that influence them, and the renowned and under-rated examples of the same.
The first part talks about the architecture of Egypt, the ancient near east, Asia, Greece, and the Hellenistic kingdoms. It is focussed the early cultures in those regions and how the concept of settlements evolved into a much diverse and complicated form.
The second part of the book by Sir Banister fletcher concentrates on the architecture of Europe and the Mediterranean to the renaissance.
Part three is dedicated solely to the architecture of Islam. It gives information about Islamic architecture all over the world, the pre-Mughal and the Mughal India.
The fourth part speaks about the architecture of the pre-colonial cultures outside Europe. It focuses on Africa, America, China, Japan, Korea, the Indian subcontinent, and south-east Asia.
Part five is mainly about the architecture of the renaissance and the post-renaissance in Europe and Russia. It concentrates on Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Germany, central Europe, Britain, Russia, Scandinavia, and post-renaissance Europe.
In The sixth part, Sir Banister Fletcher provides information about the architecture of the colonial and the post-colonial periods outside Europe. Again, it mainly focuses on the developments in Africa, America, China, Japan, Korea, south-east Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and Australasia (Australia and Asia).
The seventh and final part talks about the architecture of the twentieth century, in Europe, Russia and the soviet union, the middle east, Africa, America, china, japan, Korea, Hong Kong, the Indian subcontinent, and Oceania.
After the chapters, the bibliography is neatly listed out chapter-wise. The glossary is particularly useful for beginners to get a hold over the never-ending architectural terminologies which exist. If someone is searching for a building or structure, in particular, the index is extremely helpful, even though the extremely tiny font could make one squint their eyes before finding that word they need.
The main plus point about the book is that it talks not just about the buildings and structure. It talks about the socio-cultural aspect, the climate, the traditions, and the customs of the people residing in that particular place or region. So, before jumping into the architectural explanation, the readers get an actual feel of the place and why the architectural character has evolved to be so.
Another major aspect of the book by Sir banister fletcher is the architectural drawings included in it. Sourced from various places, most of the examples carry clear-cut plans, sections, elevations, and architectural details drawings with them. They are labeled clearly, leaving no room for confusion or doubts. This aids in quick understanding and remembrance of the facts and the details of the structures, especially for its young readers.
Besides the architectural drawings, Sir Banister Fletcher’s book also contains various actual photographs of buildings, some of them being really difficult to source from elsewhere. They help readers to immediately picturise the structure and relate to it much more easily.
The book is almost flawless, with the plethora of useful information it contains on its pages. Each page is dedicated solely to either text or illustrations, never a combination of both. Clever integration of both could have made the pages much more lively and eye-catching.
Also, only a handful of pictures or in the colored format. Most of them are monochrome, which might not be appealing to some. Since colors play an important role in the architectural perception and impression, more colored photographs could have been included in the book.
Overall, it is a useful possession to any architect or architecture student, especially ones who are inclined toward the history of architecture in particular. A must-read and a must-have on every architect’s bookshelf!
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