Dream Cities: Seven Urban Ideas That Shape the World by Wade Graham

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Dream Cities: Seven Urban Ideas That Shape the World by Wade Graham

Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Chris Bradshaw
Reviewed by Chris Bradshaw
Summary: See your city in a new light in this illuminating guide to the urban environment.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: June 2016
Publisher: Amberley Publishing
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1445659732

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Between 1950 and 2014 the world's urban population increased from 746 million to 3.9 billion. The urbanising trend is set to continue with the United Nations predicting that by the middle of the century 66% of us will be city dwellers, a massive six billion people. How have city planners and architects tried to cope with the recent surge? How can they avoid repeating mistakes from the past? Both of those questions are considered in Dream Cities – Seven Urban Ideas That Shape The World, Wade Graham's excellent field guide to the modern world.

Graham provides a potted history of some of the most influential ideas and theories in city planning and architectural design from the past couple of centuries. His big seven are Castles, Monuments, Slabs, Homesteads, Corals, Malls and Habitats.

In each chapter, Wade looks at the thinking behind a specific movement and provides a pacey biography of the most influential figures in each. Take for example, the chapter on Slabs. Nothing to do with paving flags, the Slabs in question are the giant featureless and utilitarian tower blocks that dominated much of 20th century urban development. Greatly influenced by the ideas of Swiss architect Le Corbusier the Slabs found their greatest exponent in the dictatorial New York City planner Robert Moses.

Wade writes of 'a belief that design can make us well, or better, like a kind of medicine of concrete and steel, prescribed by a doctor, the architect.' In the case of the Slabs, with its love of the car and functional zoning into dwelling, work, recreation and transportation, physician first do no harm would have been a better mantra to follow.

Also covered are the growth of the suburbs, skyscraper-filled business districts, utopian urban villages and the critically derided but hugely important shopping malls and transport hubs.

Wade's day job is as a garden designer, historian and writer rather than an architect and his outsider's eye makes him an excellent guide. The main ideas are described in a crisp and concise fashion and thankfully, there's very little jargon. This is a book that's aimed at the layman with an interest in the subject rather than an academic tract.

As you'd hope given the subject matter, the prose is stylishly done. Our guide has a nice turn of phrase. Malls are 'perfect consumer planetoids', historical architecture 'a way of conjuring a golden sense of separation'.

As someone who lives in a city that seems to try and re-invent itself architecturally every 20 years (Birmingham), many of the architectural fashions and whims described in Dream Cities are all too visible.

This book will certainly give an interested amateur a better understanding of the urban environment. It's also a timely reminder to the planners in charge of creating and developing the cities of the future how not to revisit the catastrophic mistakes of the past.

If this book appeals to you then we think that you might also enjoy Architecture Uncooked: An Architect Looks Around New Zealand Holiday Houses by Pip Cheshire and Patrick Reynolds.

Buy Dream Cities: Seven Urban Ideas That Shape the World by Wade Graham at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dream Cities: Seven Urban Ideas That Shape the World by Wade Graham at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Dream Cities: Seven Urban Ideas That Shape the World by Wade Graham at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dream Cities: Seven Urban Ideas That Shape the World by Wade Graham at Amazon.com.


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