Adrian Forty was the Architectural History Professor and the Built Environment faculty at The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. Forty, who is now a retired Professor, has been the author of many noteworthy books on design and architecture, some of which are “Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture” and “Objects of Desire”. 

Book in Focus: Words and buildings by Adrian Forty - Sheet1
Book Cover_©Public-library

The “ Words and buildings” was written and published in the year 2004 by Thames and Hudson” and since then, the book has been an eye-opener to many in the field of architecture and journalism. Forty mentions that for most of the 20th century, architects had been denying the fact that language was of any significance in architecture. Buildings and drawings were considered the only medium of architects when actually, on the other hand, they had been talking and writing quite a lot about their designs and drawings. It was quite puzzling for Forty to understand this irony of ample talks and the absolute denial of language. He believed that the words we use to talk and write about architecture direct the way in which we think about and perceive buildings. They described much more than the brick-and-mortar that was being used to build it. 

In his book, Words and buildings, Forty thoroughly explored the relationship between architecture and the words that we use to talk about it – our buildings, the design, and drawings. He has approached this subject critically, reflecting on the limits of language, the non-naturalistic nature of linguistic representation, and the social practices of architectural language’s evolution.

Introduction Part One: The Language of Modernism

The book has been divided into two parts; the first one has six essays on language-related themes that are used to understand architecture. These six rigorously examined chapters investigate the language of modernism, language and drawing, masculine and feminine architecture, language metaphors, spatial mechanics – science in architecture, and Dead or Alive, describing the social properties of architecture. 

Forty has made it interesting for readers by introducing a variant of words and key metaphors that had different meanings a century ago and has explained the evolution of these words and the change in their meanings as architecture evolved.

He has expounded each one of the language-related themes with historical references, illustrations and photographs wherever necessary, along with emphasis not only on architecture but also its subjects such as cultural history and the development of the aesthetic experience during the renaissance, baroque, neo-gothic, modern and postmodern periods. 

The second part breaks down into key pieces of terminology and unpacks them to interrogate their full meaning and implications. 

Book in Focus: Words and buildings by Adrian Forty - Sheet2

Part Two: A Modernist Lexicon (explores 19 keywords on modernism)

This part has eighteen sections that examine the various architectural attributes such as character, context, design, flexibility, form, formality, function, history, memory, nature, order, simplicity, space, structure, transparency, truth, type, and user. Forty has detailed the attributes through argumentative essays providing the reader with useful lexicons to describe the design. Each of these essays provides a novel perspective on the usage of these words, thereby demonstrating the malleability of each attribute and the evolution of its meaning through history. He investigates the word’s modern meaning within a framework of historical inquiry and theoretical discussion by bringing out the story of the term’s invention and its treatment by architects, historians, philosophers, critics, and the people who use buildings. He’s also looked into the strategies of each of the eighteen attributes. 

Reading this book would bring awareness to the power of words and how differently architectural writers and designers could use words to describe and support their concepts and arguments. While writers use words to put together their ideas and concepts to deliver their articles’ purpose, designers use them as a tool to project their architectural design information considering several ideologies, ethics, and cultural norms. The two go hand in hand. Adrian Forty, being an architectural writer himself, with well-founded styles of thoughts and ideas, believed that writing should have a productive relationship with the practice of architecture. The content of this book could be a substantial foundation for understanding the transformation of architectural language in design practice. It is a must-read for anyone concerned with architecture or culture in the modern art era to feel a change and enrich the way we think and talk about architecture. 


Forty, (2004). Words and Buildings: A vocabulary of Modern Architecture. Thames & hudson publications 

Public-library. Book cover.[Photograph](London) 


An architectural graduate with a vision to create artful and functional environments. She has a strong inclination towards exploring and interpreting the aesthetics of people, places, and buildings. With a writing niche, she believes in the power of words to emote.