Our Top Ten Architecture in Fiction Books
The Last Five
This week’s five remaining titles on our architecture in fiction list moves away from last week’s Sci-fi dominated theme and lands back on earth, where we can spend some time people watching from invisible windows, through modernist glass panels and why not also from secret hiding places. In today’s list, we present you architecture with the power to shape-shift historical events, wars, jigsaw puzzles, paintings, ethical dilemmas and what makes us essentially human. As usual, if you want to read any of these novels during the long bank holiday weekend, you can pop into our shop today and tomorrow Saturday until 5pm to pick up a copy. Otherwise you can also order them online.
Number six on our list is Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room. When Victor and Liesel Landauer meet architect Rainer von Abt during their honeymoon in Venice, the Landauers, enthused by von Abt’s radically modern architecture ideas, commission their new friend to build a house for them, a 1930’s modernist glass and steel house on a hillside outside a Czech town.
The Landauer house soon becomes the central character of the novel and draws direct inspiration from the famous Tugendhat villa built by Mies van der Rohe in 1930 in Brno. The story of the glass room mirrors very closely the history of the Villa Tugendhat, which after only 8 years of serving as a home for the Tugendhat family, was confiscated by the Gestapo, who turned it into an office. The Villa’s ownership changed hands again at the end of WWII when it was turned into quarters and stables for the soviet military. As the story of war in Europe unfolds, the glass room metamorphoses into different kinds of buildings, reflecting some of the most significant historical events that took place between the 1930s and the 1980s.
Life: A User’s Manual was first published 1978 and soon became Georges Perec’s best known literary work, giving him international acclaim. With the help of a jigsaw puzzle and a well known chess problem known as the knight’s tour, a sequence where the knight is required to visit every square of the chess board only once, Perec used a 10 storey apartment building at the fictional Parisian address, 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier, as the setting to weave together 99 seemingly disconnected life stories.
In similar fashion to the way Hitchcock showed us the apartment building as a container for the urban living microcosm in his 1954 mystery thriller “Rear Window”, Perec moves closer into the lives of the apartment dwellers, shaping characters through detailed descriptions of room interiors and the scenes that unfold inside them, painting a picture of everyone’s and no one’s life with his words.
Charles Belfoure is an American architect, writer and historian who takes us into the city of Paris during World War II with his latest novel. In The Paris Architect we meet Lucien Bernard, an amoral individual trying to live through the German occupation unnoticed by turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the German soldiers against the Jews. When the architect finds himself short of money, he faces the dilemma of whether to accept a generously paid, but also the most challenging and dangerous design job of his career. A wealthy Jewish man wants to commission Bernard to retrofit buildings with hiding places, where persecuted families won’t be found by Nazi soldiers.
Full of fascinating architectural problems and their solutions, The Paris Book is a gripping story about ingenuity, skill, clever detailing and the question of ethical values in the face of danger.
In Building Stories by Chris Ware we follow the lives of the inhabitants of a three flat apartment building in Chicago. More than a book this is a graphic novel presented in the form of eleven pamphlets inside a beautifully designed box, where the reader is invited to build his own narrative by changing the order of the pamphlets. Like Perec’s Life: a User’s Manual this is a puzzle and a painting where the stories are told through detailed illustrations of apartment interiors, as well as plans, sections and elevations inhabited by an array of characters and the objects they own. If you pay close attention to the street view vignettes, you might be able to spot one or two apartment buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Number ten and last on our list is Italo Calvino’s modern classic Invisible Cities. In this work of experimental fiction Calvino sets out to describe the city of Venice many times over in every short chapter of the book. More than a story, this is collection of impressionistic sketches of the same city in the guise of several imaginary places visited by Marco Polo, the narrator of the book. The descriptions are made of poetry, ideas, meditations, feelings, perceptions and all the things that stir inside when we contemplate something that moves us. If you haven’t read this yet, this is a beautiful book.