“All history is inescapably conditioned by a mode of beholding, and one can no more write an absolute history than one can achieve an absolute architecture.”

Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture: A Critical History

The Modern movement, seen by some as the epitome of innovation where architecture and the technology linked with it reached an all-time high, was critiqued by others as a movement that glorified industrialization and mechanization, which stripped most fields of their creativity. 

The book Modern Architecture by Kenneth Frampton takes the reader on a highly detailed and informative journey through the different stages of the modern architectural movement while highlighting all of these pros and cons, the praise and the critique.

Book in Focus: Modern Architecture - Kenneth Frampton Sheet1
Modern Architecture: A Critical History, fifth edition, 2020 (cover) © Vladimir Belogolovsky.

About Kenneth Frampton

The author Kenneth Frampton was born in 1930 and lived through the later stages of the modern movement. His experience in the field is clear through the in-depth and exhaustive nature of the information given in the book. Although this may render the book slightly tedious to the general public, it stands its ground as a must-read book for all those with an interest in architecture and related fields

Any development in today’s world is based highly on the past, and this applies to architecture as well, with architects gaining inspiration or being cautioned by acts of the past.

Book in Focus: Modern Architecture - Kenneth Frampton Sheet2
Kenneth Frampton © Columbia GSAPP. (2014) 

Knowledge of the author’s principles gives us a better idea of what he tried to convey in his book. Kenneth Frampton (b. 1930) is an outstanding commentator of architecture. Having been trained as an architect himself, he is in close contact with leading and most innovative practitioners and educators of our time. Frampton began practicing in London in the 1960s and then transitioned from being an architect quite naturally into an editor, critic, teacher, and lecturer. Critical Regionalism and Tectonics constitute two canonical themes throughout Frampton’s writings.

He talks about the tension between culture and civilization, tradition and progress, prioritizing the importance of specificity of place, local culture, and the relevance of being organic with the site to achieve synthesis. 

Frampton was always known to be against the idea of postmodernism when it was fashionable in the 1980s. He continues to be a critic of the style even today, which promotes the celebration of the individual and is a lot more sympathetic to the cultivation of what he calls “quasi collective tendencies” that may lead to a discourse of local groups, from which architecture of common qualities may emerge.

A Journey through the Pages of the Book

The first edition of the book, originally published in 1980, contains 324 pages and 297 illustrations. The version that we see in stores today, however, is the fifth edition, published in 2020 and containing 736 pages and 813 illustrations, which more than double the first edition. It builds upon the fourth edition, not by adding another chapter, but adding a whole fourth section to the book: “World Architecture and the Modern Movement.” 

Book in Focus: Modern Architecture - Kenneth Frampton Sheet3
A Spread from the Book © Vladimir Belogolovsky. 

The first part of the book Cultural developments and predisposing techniques examines the “birth” of modern architecture from the years 1750 to 1939. It talks about the massive changes the world saw, with revival styles like Neo-classical architecture being on the rise and how the industrial revolution introduced the idea of urbanism and transformed ideas of materials and structure in buildings.

Frampton concentrates the majority of the information in the second part, A critical history. This part alone contains 27 chapters exploring the development of the modern movement from the year 1836 to 1967. Each chapter delves into a different movement, place, or a specific architect. 

For example, he begins this section with a chapter about the Arts and Crafts movement, opening with how the movement came to be, who the spear headers of the movement were, following by detailing some of the iconic works of the movement and concluding the chapter with how the movement began to see its end.  

The third and for four of the editions the final part of the book titled Critical assessment and extension into the present, stays true to its title and slowly brings the reader closer to the present day, and is updated with each edition. The third edition of the book published in 1992 included a chapter added by Frampton “World architecture and critical practice,” while the fourth edition, published 2007, contained a chapter at the end: “Architecture in the Age of Globalization: topography, morphology, sustainability, materiality, habitat and civic form.”

Most people who are architects or designers by profession tend to come across this book during their days as students when it is often assigned as required reading. It is a time when a book this large and filled to the brim with so much detail and information seems like the biggest chore to pick up and read. 

However, once one starts turning the pages of this book, the realization that the book is probably the best and most comprehensive way to gain an astonishing amount of information. Another advantage of the book is that its chapters are very clearly defined and one can simply turn to the chapter they want without having to go through the whole book every time.


Frampton, K. (1980). Modern Architecture: A Critical History. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.


Priyesha is currently a student at RV College of Architecture, Bengaluru. An avid reader with a passion for travelling, she also has a background in public speaking, debating, creative writing and music. She aims to find a good balance between these personal interests and her academic interest in architecture.

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