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The Architecture of Error: Matter, Measure, and the Misadventures of Perception

by Francesca Hughes
The MIT Press, Cambridge MA, London, 2014
320 pp., illus. 17 col. 94 b/w. Trade $34.95
ISBN: 978-0-262-52636-4.

Reviewed by George Shortess
Bethlehem, PA, USA


I am not an architect, but as a visual and installation artist I thought it would be interesting and challenging to cross disciplinary lines, in the spirit of Leonardo, and see what I might find that was interesting and spark some worthwhile discussion.

The reviews on the book cover and in The MIT Press listing give it high praise as a new definition and direction for architectural practice. In this sense the book is written for architects and I, of course, am not in a position to comment on these claims. However, I will try to comment on the value of the book for those of us who are not architects, but who have a deep appreciation of form and space.

The majority of the book contains a collection of essays, each of which relates to the nature of the material process in a different way, providing suggestions for the new architecture. However the author points out in the preface that there is no conclusion at the end of the book. Her purpose is to raise questions and try to formulate the complexities of the problems. As a visual and installation artist I found her discussions of material to be quite on target most of the time. The chapter on Barbara Hepworth was the most interesting for me, partly because I am more familiar with her work as a visual artist.

As suggested in the title, the author argues strongly against excess precision in architectural design since it can never be achieved in practice and because of the nature of the material process. While some precision is necessary within limits, excessive precision corrupts the link between the design and the execution of the design because it does not take into account the true relationship between design and matter. All of this rings true. However, the author states, without convincing evidence that the emphasis on precision results from a fear of error. Other factors such as the aesthetics of precision might also be involved.

The writing seems to be rather convoluted at times. She refers to ideas and events without adequate explanations, at least for those of us who are not architects. For the knowledgeable architect she might be quite clear, and these comments would not apply.

My conclusion is that the book is probably an important contribution to the architecture literature, but it is not something that outsiders generally would find particularly interesting.

Last Updated 2nd September 2015

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