by Graham Cairns. Routledge, October 2016. 282 p. ISBN 9781472456083 (cl.), $155.00.

Reviewed March 2017
Dan McClure, Seattle, Washington, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

cairnsLargely due to the inclusion of well-known cultural pundits such as Noam Chomsky, Kenneth Frampton, and Peggy Deamer, this engaging collection of thirteen interview-articles is likely to appeal to a broader readership than the title might suggest. Still, the focus is placed squarely on the built environment, and this ambitious series—this is the first of a proposed three-volume set—is predominantly intended for the academic architectural community. The thoughtful exchanges in this volume could certainly serve as the wellspring for a fantastic seminar.

Cairns (formerly at Columbia University, now with the Bartlett School of Architecture, London) tapped a formidable group of theorists, educators and practitioners to produce an engaging compilation, which often places contrasting viewpoints in adjacency to produce a polemic dialogue. It certainly speaks well for Cairns’ position of respect in the field that he was able to attract figures like Robert A.M. Stern, Michael Sorkin, and Paul Goldberger. The introduction mentions others, such as Denise Scott Brown, David Adjaye, and Richard Sennett, who were approached but unable to participate in the project; the volume could have easily been twice the size, and would have benefited from a fuller representative voice from women and more political outlooks. That being said, it is quite an accomplishment as it stands, and not just because of the broad range of contributors.

The interview-article, a format Cairns developed originally for the journal Architecture_MPS, is the vehicle that allows a much deeper discussion to flourish, moving well beyond the confines of traditional interview presentation to allow a discursive collaboration with ample room to present alternate opinions, either in the conversation or in extensive footnotes, which are often narrative in nature. Each interview-article includes an extensive bibliography as well, a great boon for those who would like to pursue deeper research.

Despite the occasional typo and a few editorial foibles—British economist Jim O’Neill, best known for coining the BRIC acronym, is referred to as Jim O’Neil at one point—the utility of this volume in educational settings is clear. A detailed index helps in the navigation of interrelated material, and a contextual introduction accompanies each section of the work. The interview-articles are engaging and offer many windows into the often-thorny intersection of architecture and politics. It will be very interesting to see this body of work grow with the next two volumes.