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GIFT BOOKS 1985 : Architecture

November 17, 1985|SAM HALL KAPLAN | Kaplan is an author and The Times' design critic

Just as there is a wide variety of styles of buildings and landscapes, so is there this holiday season a wide variety of books about architecture and design, from scholarly studies dutifully footnoted to popular surveys sumptuously illustrated. All offer insights into how man has shaped and misshaped the world about him.

Most ambitious and engrossing in its sweep through time and urban settings is Cities and People: A Social and Architectural History by Mark Girouard (Yale University: $30; 397 pp.). In a breezy style, Girouard examines select cities at critical times in their development, beginning with an opulent Constantinople in the Middle Ages and concluding 10 centuries later with a frenetic Los Angeles. Included is an upstart Venice, an ambitious Florence, an avaricious Amsterdam, a proud Paris, a burgeoning New York, all at their apogee. Though the emphasis is more on economic development than on its architectural consequences, the tour, aided by some 300 illustrations, offers fascinating glimpses of the emergence through history of that ultimate of designs, the city.

Design on a smaller scale and for a particular purpose is examined in Buildings for Music: The Architect, the Musician, and the Listener From the Seventeenth Century to the Present Day by Michael Forsyth, (MIT: $30; 371 pp.). In an attractively designed and illustrated text and displaying a critical ear as well as eye, Forsyth explores how space in which music is played has been shaped over the years to accommodate changing tastes, styles, instruments, voices, compositions, social mores and sound itself. An interesting and attractive study that should engage both the music lover and architect.

Also focused on the history of buildings for a particular purpose is Synagogues of Europe: Architecture, History, Meaning by Carol Lerselle Krinsky, (MIT: $50; 457 pp.). Examined in exacting detail and aided by a wealth of illustrations are a wide variety of synagogues, and how, because of shifting political and religious prejudices against the Jews through the centuries, they differ from churches and mosques, and each other, and how they fared. Most of the accounts of significant individual synagogues end sadly with their destruction by the Nazis or their closing by the Soviets. A solid piece of sympathetic scholarship.

Rigorous detailing marks Leonardo, Architect by Carlo Pedretti (Rizzoli: $75; 363 pp.), which explores the genius Da Vinci applied to such projects as town planning, building designs, construction methods, engineering problems, military fortifications, interior decorating and landscaping. Unfortunately, the text as translated from the Italian by Sue Brill is somewhat dense--this is no popular history, but a thoroughly documented scholarly review interpreting Leonardo's classic "Codex Atlanticus," replete with drawings and marginal sketches. But those drawings and sketches are absorbing and Pedretti's comments helpful in revealing an immortal genius.

Not geniuses but certainly talented and influential were the brothers Robert and James Adam, who in the late 18th Century dominated architecture in England to the point where the delicate, decorative style they championed became known as the Adams style. Their development is reviewed with insight and illustrations in Robert and James Adam: The Men and the Style by Joseph and Anne Rykwert (Rizzoli: $25; 222 pp., paperback). Complementing the effort is a well detailed and modestly noted Designs for Castles and Country Villas by Robert & James Adam, compiled by Alistair Rowan (Rizzoli: $65; 160 pp.).

Eighteenth-Century England also was marked by innovations in landscape design, with formal gardens giving way to a more natural and pastoral style. Leading this shift was Lancelot (Capability) Brown. His life, times and significant projects are sympathetically explored and illustrated in Capability Brown and the Eighteenth Century English Landscape by Roger Turner (Rizzoli: $19.95; 184 pp.). One formal garden that perseveres in all its glory is Versailles. Versailles Gardens: Sculpture and Mythology, text and photographs by Jacques Girard (Vendome: $50; 299 pp.) is a sensuous view in 264 color photographs of the statues and fountains that grace the chateau's manicured landscape.

Because of the benign climate, some of the world's more notable gardens have taken shape in Southern California, particularly during the flush 1920s. One of the more prominent landscapers during those times was A. E. Hanson, who tells his own story in An Arcadian Landscape: The California Gardens of A.E. Hanson, 1920-1932, edited by David Gebhard and Sheila Lynds (Hennessey + Ingalls, Santa Monica: $22.50; 102 pp., paperback).

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