CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 1 . . . . September 6, 2002
Building America is a companion volume to Building Canada (CM, Vol. VIII, Number 3), which was also illustrated by graphic artist Bonnie Schemie. The book takes a fascinating chronological look at the development of architectural styles in the United States, from the first permanent settlements in Spanish America (circa 1600) to the New Urbanist School of contemporary postmodernism. Weaver contends that the first architectural designs in colonial America were transplanted from the settlers' homelands, only the Spanish combined "their traditional construction methods with what they learned from the Native Americans." It wasn't until the revolutionary period, near the end of the18th century, that Americans made a concerted attempt to throw off the yoke of European architectural influence, as they had with British political domination.
After the Civil War, America's own unique style of architecture came into being; however, European historical and aesthetic influences continued to have a powerful effect on architectural vision. In each of the 22 short sections, Weaver describes the predominating influences and inspirations leading to the building of America's most significant government edifices, churches, skyscrapers, museums, railroad stations and homes. At least three annotated illustrations of the period's most prestigious constructions accompany each section, creating a marvelous tour de force of architectural history. A few of the buildings illustrated are the Palace of the Governors (1610), College of William and Mary (1695), Bank of Pennsylvania (1799), the Smithsonian Institute (1847), Los Angeles' Union Station (1936), Home Insurance Building (1883), Robie House (1908), Graumann's Chinese Theatre (1927), Pan Am Building (1959), Dulles International Airport (1958) and the Getty Center (1984).
This is a very useful book to teach students how architects have used and modified living and working spaces to express our aspirations and ideals, as well as articulating a society's social and cultural values. As most North American cities continuously argue over whether to refurbish or demolish buildings, Building America may hopefully open students' eyes to the importance of this debate and the influences buildings have on a community's quality of life.
Ian Stewart, who is a teacher in Winnipeg No. 1 School Division, wonders whether a new hockey arena for Winnipeg is more important than preserving that cranky curmudgeonly capitalist Timothy Eaton's department store.
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