The twentieth-century architect Mies van der Rohe once declared that ‘Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together.’ In Travels in the History of Architecture renowned architectural writer Robert Harbison looks closely at such bricks, taking us on a journey through the great themes and movements of architecture, from antiquity to the present day. Using his own experience of the physical fabric of buildings, Harbison interprets the conceptions of the original architects and makers, pointing out carefully crafted detail and inspiring form along the way.
Beginning with the great temples and tombs of the Egyptians, and the monuments and shrines of Greek and Roman architecture, and concluding with the museums of the twenty-first century, each chapter of Harbison’s Travels focuses on a moment in architectural history, with chapters devoted to, among others, Byzantine, Baroque, Mannerism, Historicism and Functionalism. His free-ranging approach draws in references from history, literature and art to illuminate his theme: from a poem praising marble decoration to help us understand how its makers saw Hagia Sophia, to a French Rococo painting to probe the meaning of an English landscape garden.
Approachable, idiosyncratic yet authoritative, Harbison's account works equally well as an enlivening introduction to the history of architecture, or as a refreshingly different take on familiar territory for those who are ready to see old buildings in energizing new ways.
‘[an] extraordinary interpretation of Western architecture . . . Harbison's expression of his personal and professional views is unbelievably shattering and breathtaking; he has the capacity to alter the entire history of Western architecture for 100 years to come.’ – Library Journal
‘On its broadly chronological journey from the Egyptians to Modernists, via Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque and Historicist architecture, this book is filled with acute perceptions and fine descriptions . . . its insights make you want to travel and see.’ – History Today
‘Robert Harbison is a deliciously poetic architectural historian who pursues ideas like scents running hither and thither. His rich work always makes a refreshing and readable change from the exhaustive PhD-disciplined linear conventionality of his contemporaries - he believes in his own thinking . . . of all Harbison’s books this is the one most likely to unexpectedly get under your skin.' – RIBA Journal
‘Robert Harbison’s elegant erudition beguiles . . . [he] observes and describes things in a way all too rare in architectural criticism . . . beautifully written.' – Building Design
‘Robert Harbison is not one of those historians who tries to blast you out of the water with his authority - his is a gentle voice, full of knowledge and wit, thoughtful and contemplative. As you read this book you feel not that you are being lectured at, but, as the title suggests, that you are travelling in time; and Harbison makes a fine travelling companion. Whatever you are doing with old buildings, whether visiting them, reading about them, looking at pictures of them or even just remembering them, you will want to have this book near at hand.’ – Paul Shepheard, author of Artifical Love: A Story of Machines and Architecture and The Cultivated Wilderness
Robert Harbison is former Professor of Architecture at London Metropolitan University. He is the author of many books, including Eccentric Spaces (1977), The Built, the Unbuilt and the Unbuildable (1991) Reflections on Baroque (Reaktion, 2000) and Ruins and Fragments: Tales of Loss and Rediscovery (Reaktion, 2015).