by Peter Blundell Jones. Bloomsbury, August 2016. 392 p. ill. ISBN 9781472577481 (pbk), $24.95.
Reviewed March 2017
Peter Blundell Jones was a prolific writer who left a legacy of important works, including this one, at the time of his death in 2016. The author of influential monographs on architects, Blundell Jones was also a proponent of the need to study buildings in context and show the relationship between architecture and society. Thus, he began using case studies and writing about themes like participation. This approach culminated in his last work, wherein, as he stated in the introduction, the book “will attempt to penetrate beyond traditional assumptions about utility, style, and aesthetic effect to deal with the implicit, with the way that architecture shapes our experiences without our conscious awareness.”
Blundell Jones produced a valuable text that includes in-depth studies. He was concerned with the interrelationship between building and practices, beliefs, and views of the world. He strove to expand both the definition of architecture (versus building) as well as utilitarian versus ceremonial. The book is divided into three parts, each with multiple chapters. In the first part, “Power and Politics,” Blundell Jones discusses the relationship between setting and ritual. Pageantry is the theme of the next chapter; the importance of feasts and the role of food and consumption with respect to power are described. Blundell Jones believed that building types are “also markers of identity.” Moving from the west to the east, the author discusses Chinese architecture and the ceremonial arrival at the magistrate at the Yamen (office). Chapter five shows how the Nuremberg rallies were a celebration and became a means of consolidating power.
Part two, “People and their Territories,” draws upon Blundell Jones’ interest in anthropology. In writing about Australia’s aborigines, he describes the initiation ritual, the preparation of the ceremonial ground, and the duration of the event. The spatial organization and use of the circle are explained in relation to the Oglala Sioux. The design of the Tukanoans’ dwelling or maloca draws upon ritual and has a complex spatial order. In Dogon architecture, numbers are especially important and geometry became a way of expressing spatial relations. The Dong people have developed buildings in keeping with their society’s political structure.
Part three discusses the spatial organization of the farm, the hospital, and the concert hall. Function and technical needs impact each of these building types, but social hierarchy is certainly expressed in Garnier’s Paris Opera. The last chapter is about anti-architecture with discussions of Cedric Price’s Fun Palace project and the Centre Pompidou. He ends with Peter Hübner’s Evangelisches Gymnasium, which became a communal undertaking.
The untimely death of the author should not impact the value of his last text. This work will serve those interested in the connections between architecture and society for some time to come.