I have just today finished reading ‘On The Road’ by Jack Kerouac. I heard great reviews about Kerouac’s tales and travels during the American postwar Beat Generation and the book itself is highly considered to be one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923-2005. Defined by Kerouac himself as being a non-fictional piece of writing intertwined with a facade of fiction, it is one of those books that you can really shut your eyes and let your imagination run free to, you transport yourself to an unfamiliar environment and begin to paint a picture of a place you never even knew. Kerouac has changed the names of his peers and characters in the novel, himself taking on the alias of the free-spirit ‘Sal Paradise’. You do get the sense that Sal was never happy, could never settle down and always had the itch to get back out there in the carefree world and just soak it all in time after time. What a way to be, I can totally relate because I absolutely love to travel so to have the option back then to drop everything and leave- why not!? If you are looking for a little adventure, but cant take the time off work- give ‘On The Road’ a read and immerse yourself in some rebellious and ruthless surroundings. Go on, be a vagabond.
The Wolf of Wall Street details the Rise and Fall of Jordan Belfort. You will either Love his psuedo-autobiography of confessions, or you will absolutely despise it; there is no middle ground. Reading this book will make you feel like a drug addict. Belfort’s style and attitude conveys as arrogant and smirk, and only gets a little more real when he is ultimately defeated at the end of the novel. If you can get past the profanity, and the totally debauched behaviour then it will be an entertaining ride nevertheless. This crazy memoir details Jordan Belfort’s time working on Wall Street and as mentioned, is an absolute roller-coaster through the late 80s early 90s back when people were making too much money by moving money around and screwing people over. Then they blew all of that money on drugs, hookers, expensive clothes and vacations. Its scandalous and Belfort is rightfully compared to a somewhat Robin Hood hero/villain. Like most memoirs about drug use and abuse, this story reminds you that it is basically impossible to live out the seemingly awesome parts of his life without crashing down spectacularly, shattering those that you love, yourself and your business. I really enjoyed the book personally, okay it wasn’t a marvellous piece of literature but it was a story I had great joy in reading and following.
It is worth watching the 2013 movie too starring Leonardo DiCaprio just to understand visually the excessive life Belfort led prior to his arrest albeit slightly fabricated on the big screen. Worth a read and worth a watch if you want to live an extravagant and dangerous life through the eyes of another. Fascinating and compulsively readable.
John Lanchester has provided us with a gripping tale of London life, painting a portrait of greed and fear and money. His characters are believable, contrasting and are easy to relate to.
I enjoyed getting to know the characters but found the plot and general story line quite slow. I felt that there was no big reveal after such an intense and mysterious build up, and it was more a book following the large range of characters lives and getting to know them on a personal level. I feel this is a novel to pick up and pass the time but I dont suggest reading it if you are looking for a thriller, or exciting tale of shockers and twists. Needless to say I did enjoy what Lanchester was doing, building up snapshots of a group of very different people united only by their links, direct or otherwise, with Pepys Road. So overall- Interesting tales revolving around a weaker central plot.
Chicago, 1893, One man built a heaven on earth, another built hell beside it.
This is the story of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, intertwining the tales of two individuals whose fates it connected. I absolutely raced through this book- it was fascinating. Slow at times but exhilarating and tense at others, an overwhelming contrast between the Architect, Daniel H. Burnham of The White City, and The Serial Killer, H. H. Holmes who constructed a murderous torture palace in the heart of the fair. Jumping between the two was rather exciting, you really understood the time scale, and the efficiency of Holmes’ acts alongside Burnham’s quest for completion. Both men sought achievement and and we followed them on their journeys to gaining it, and with twists along the way we followed them further to their graves. What makes this book even more of a must read? You don’t expect the conclusion, it’s just as dramatic as it could be and you will not be able to put it down.
I purchased this book after hearing great reviews however was pleasantly surprised to see its focus on an Architect in Chicago which made it even more relatable and compelling for me. A gripping mix of entertainment and history with a few familiar faces thrown in have allowed Larson to create a dramatic page-turner of a novel.
THE FRONTIER IN THE SKY
Rem Koolhaas’ Delirious New York was a reading recommended to me back when I was studying, however I have just gotten round to enjoying it. Since curating the Venice Bienniale of 2014 I have learnt quite a lot about Koolhaas as an architect and creative mind therefore alongside my admiration of him as an individual, and the progress of my studies, I decided to relay a chapter which I found most interesting; ‘The Frontier in the Sky’.
One of the things I love about London is the ever changing skyline. New York famously however held one of the earliest recognisable skylines in the world. Koolhaas states that the Manhattan Skyscraper was born “between 1900 and 1910”1. What Koolhaas interestingly also states is that the skyscraper consists of three separate elements;
1- The reproduction of the world
2- The annexation of the tower
3- The block alone.
With space running out in cities and land mass declining, skyscrapers seem the most logical selection of build surely, especially as now to build something so tall, you are not buying land anymore, but you are buying airspace. These skyscrapers were admired in New York and even those that go up higher and higher today in London also are admired for the height, structure and sheer magnificence. What is important with the skyscraper is that despite the functionality of the structure, the ‘beauty’ of the build must also be considered. Koolhaas stresses today that we are losing touch with the idea of a national architecture and so it implies that even though these skyscrapers prove to work and are a great idea to increase capacity of a building without losing land mass, how are we to recognise what skyscraper is from what city as they all appear to be tall and delicate structures of steel and glass.
FROM ROME TO LAS VEGAS
This was a chapter that was interesting for me in the sense that Robert Venturi compares visiting Las Vegas in the mid-1960’s with a visit to Rome in the 1940’s. “Each city vividly superimposes elements of a supranational scale on the local fabric.” What was an interesting point also was how Venturi states that in Rome, the public are free to wander the side streets and piazzas in their own time and pace, hopping from church to church being Architectural or Religious, which compares to Las Vegas where the Architect or Gambler can also at their own freewill venture out into the casinos of the Las Vegas Strip. These Casino’s are just as ornamental and monumental to the public as the ancient church. This comparison struck me as very truthful, over time the public have reinterpreted architectural beauty.
THE ARCHITECTURE OF PERSUASION
Sticking with comparisons, it was interesting to see how Las Vegas has redefined persuasive architecture. Traditionally, using Europe as an example, you were lured into a building by appreciating the materiality, the scale and perhaps the sounds and smells of the building or interior, yet on the Las Vegas trip you will find just the same, but additionally on the strip there is a large amount of signage, billboards and adverts. These signs use colours, illumination and scale to capture your attention diverting it from every other sign on the strip. Las Vegas is an industry and everyone wants your money- your custom. These billboards also generate fantastic profits as brands are desperate to get their products advertised on these billboards because they know that you go to Las Vegas with ambition to spend and win, so if you are touching down in the city of sin with that mentality, surely you have the money to buy their products. The scan below represents the signs, the words you can see when you walk down the 1960’s strip, and what is so successful. Its interesting to see what sticks in the mind of the individual when they walk down the strip.
This element of mapping the words you can see when you follow the strip is interesting as the Architecture and Merchandise are disconnected from the road therefore its an obvious way of getting customer attention and this technique is used heavily today in whatever city. “These big signs leap to connect the driver to the store, and down the road the cake mixes and detergents are advertised by their national manufacturers on enormous billboards inflected towards the highway.” I have gained an insight into the success of Las Vegas from readng this book, and with having previously worked in the commercial and industrial building sector, I think its valuable to gain this knowledge as it could very well influence a design or placement of a structure.It is also interesting to see how this urban space has become so commercial which is typical of the modern day urban setting.
I had been meaning to tackle this one for a while as I am a fan of Bill Bryson, I find his writing style comfortable and enticing.
‘At Home’ is penned to be a Short History of Private Life and I think this is a must read for everyone. As I read through the book I picked up various unexpected facts along the way that I know will just stick. Working in Architecture I felt there were a lot of passages that were even more interesting as I was learning new things about my own industry and the history of British and American Architecture. Don’t let that put you off however as this was not a predominant theme of the book, Bryson walks us through each room of the house from top to bottom and you will be fascinated to learn the history and discoveries hidden behind every door. Expect the unexpected with this book, there are many elements I will take away from completing it, they may even shape my own work in the future. It also shows that you can really read into how we live and how humanity has adapted to the concept of a ‘home’. Everything before you is a story and this book will show you why.
Bryson’s writing style is so natural and comfortable. This is one for your list of books to read before you die. Prepare to be curious and prepare to learn.