The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 18 January 2003

For an Architecture of Reality

by Michael Benedikt

There's no question that certain buildings, old and new, possess a massive presence that one can feel. It is a well-known but subtle experience, difficult to put into words. Combine that sense, with an existential analysis of the reality of a structure, and you might come up with something like this tiny (confined to its text, it might be just 15 pages), curiously compelling book. While it appears to be mostly a response to the popularity of postmodern architecture 20 years ago, the book is still a relevant analysis and plea for an architecture of reality. Depending on how you look at buildings, Benedikt's reasoning may be powerful or empty. It is a look at the subtle philosophical and existential aspects of the experience of architecture. It appeals to the indescribable sense of space, mass, and place that one feels in any architecture. And it appeals to the architect to consider various elements of reality in a building seperate from academic meaning, to give it a sense of being in itself. I found the book quite compelling, almost moving, but find it difficult to describe here. Benedikt essentially assembles aspects of realness in building, and calls for the next movement, beyond postmodernism, perhaps to be called "high realism". Since the book was published, in 1987, it doesn't seem to have caught on as a movement, but Benedikt's arguments are thoughtful, subtle, and relevant to an immediate experience of architecture.

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