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Four Walls and a Roof: The Complex Nature of a Simple Profession

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Architecture, we like to believe, is an elevated art form that shapes the world as it pleases. Four Walls and a Roof challenges this notion, presenting a candid account of what it is really like to work as an architect. Drawing on his own tragicomic experiences in the field, Reinier de Graaf reveals the world of contemporary architecture in vivid snapshots: from suburban Ne Architecture, we like to believe, is an elevated art form that shapes the world as it pleases. Four Walls and a Roof challenges this notion, presenting a candid account of what it is really like to work as an architect. Drawing on his own tragicomic experiences in the field, Reinier de Graaf reveals the world of contemporary architecture in vivid snapshots: from suburban New York to the rubble of northern Iraq, from the corridors of wealth in London, Moscow, and Dubai to garbage-strewn wastelands that represent the demolished hopes of postwar social housing. We meet oligarchs determined to translate ambitions into concrete and steel, developers for whom architecture is mere investment, and the layers of politicians, bureaucrats, consultants, and mysterious hangers-on who lie between any architectural idea and the chance of its execution. Four Walls and a Roof tells the story of a profession buffeted by external forces that determine--at least as much as individual inspiration--what architects design. Perhaps the most important myth debunked is success itself. To achieve anything, architects must serve the powers they strive to critique, finding themselves in a perpetual conflict of interest. Together, architects, developers, politicians, and consultants form an improvised world of contest and compromise that none alone can control.


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Architecture, we like to believe, is an elevated art form that shapes the world as it pleases. Four Walls and a Roof challenges this notion, presenting a candid account of what it is really like to work as an architect. Drawing on his own tragicomic experiences in the field, Reinier de Graaf reveals the world of contemporary architecture in vivid snapshots: from suburban Ne Architecture, we like to believe, is an elevated art form that shapes the world as it pleases. Four Walls and a Roof challenges this notion, presenting a candid account of what it is really like to work as an architect. Drawing on his own tragicomic experiences in the field, Reinier de Graaf reveals the world of contemporary architecture in vivid snapshots: from suburban New York to the rubble of northern Iraq, from the corridors of wealth in London, Moscow, and Dubai to garbage-strewn wastelands that represent the demolished hopes of postwar social housing. We meet oligarchs determined to translate ambitions into concrete and steel, developers for whom architecture is mere investment, and the layers of politicians, bureaucrats, consultants, and mysterious hangers-on who lie between any architectural idea and the chance of its execution. Four Walls and a Roof tells the story of a profession buffeted by external forces that determine--at least as much as individual inspiration--what architects design. Perhaps the most important myth debunked is success itself. To achieve anything, architects must serve the powers they strive to critique, finding themselves in a perpetual conflict of interest. Together, architects, developers, politicians, and consultants form an improvised world of contest and compromise that none alone can control.

30 review for Four Walls and a Roof: The Complex Nature of a Simple Profession

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sandro

    One time, I found myself laughing at 3 am in my bed reading one of the essays in this book. The other time, I would be so occupied digesting historical facts, socio-economic and political complexities of some renown and 'not so well-known' important projects that marked the turning points of the development of cities and urban areas across the globe that have subsequently changed the landscape of the profession, and of course, the contemporary challenges that OMA/AMO had to deal with as an archi One time, I found myself laughing at 3 am in my bed reading one of the essays in this book. The other time, I would be so occupied digesting historical facts, socio-economic and political complexities of some renown and 'not so well-known' important projects that marked the turning points of the development of cities and urban areas across the globe that have subsequently changed the landscape of the profession, and of course, the contemporary challenges that OMA/AMO had to deal with as an architectural practice in particular through the writer's personal view. I remember thinking, ‘How can an architecture book be so funny and entertaining yet it has so much depth and rigorous quality at the same time?’ That, in my opinion, speaks how underrated Reinier de Graaf is. He is naturally a very eloquent writer, and just also happens to be one of the most brilliant thinkers in the architectural scene today, and this book seals that.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Young

    Found it to be entertaining and an accurate representation of the changing state of the profession, the difficulties we can all relate to, and the complexity of dealing with the developers, public officials, general public, etc. Although I can relate moreso from being in urban design, I wish the book focused more on the recurring themes that occur on everyday projects--delays, deadlines, contractor / owner / architect relationships, working through the CA process (change orders, cost complicatio Found it to be entertaining and an accurate representation of the changing state of the profession, the difficulties we can all relate to, and the complexity of dealing with the developers, public officials, general public, etc. Although I can relate moreso from being in urban design, I wish the book focused more on the recurring themes that occur on everyday projects--delays, deadlines, contractor / owner / architect relationships, working through the CA process (change orders, cost complications, etc.) and less on case studies. Best book i've read on Architecture in a long time. Wasn't sure whether to celebrate my profession or look for a new one at the end.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Teodor Cuciureanu

    literally a waste of time and money...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Josiah Wolf

    I began reading this book with the hope of gaining a little bit of insight into the professional world of architecture and the culture of OMA, one of the most impressive firms of the last few decades. While I was certainly not disappointed with the content concerning those topics, I was even more interested in the essays concerning soviet Russia, modern political tension, liberalism, modernism, the rise of populism, and urban planning through the lens of a very accomplished and well-informed arc I began reading this book with the hope of gaining a little bit of insight into the professional world of architecture and the culture of OMA, one of the most impressive firms of the last few decades. While I was certainly not disappointed with the content concerning those topics, I was even more interested in the essays concerning soviet Russia, modern political tension, liberalism, modernism, the rise of populism, and urban planning through the lens of a very accomplished and well-informed architect. I'm not quite sure what to make of this book, as it's essay topics span so wide a range that I have difficulty recommending it to anyone besides my most intellectually curious friends, but I couldn't really put it down. de Graaf is a fantastic writer with a hilarious, fatalistic voice, the man has quite a wide range of talents.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nicolle Hazard

    It’s almost cynical point of view really resonated with certain things I had seen in the Architecture field myself. It’s a sharp collection of observations on all the things that touch architecture and i particularly enjoyed his study into difficult topics such as the architecture behind the Berlin Wall and in Soviet Russia. It’s a book for non-architects too, and I wish it was marketed as such. His thoughts on the economics of the built environment should be more widely spread. The only reason I It’s almost cynical point of view really resonated with certain things I had seen in the Architecture field myself. It’s a sharp collection of observations on all the things that touch architecture and i particularly enjoyed his study into difficult topics such as the architecture behind the Berlin Wall and in Soviet Russia. It’s a book for non-architects too, and I wish it was marketed as such. His thoughts on the economics of the built environment should be more widely spread. The only reason I don’t give 5 stars is because some essays were a bit weak compared to others. Either way an insightful delightful read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David

    Through the lens of architecture, this book is really much more of a deliberation of the challenges of our time, of the collapse of the public sector and the subsequent thriving of private developments in the spaces we inhabit. Thoughtful and elegant prose takes us from London to Moscow to East Germany to Rio de Janeiro to New York, laying open the eerie similarities in such differently perceived places and calling into question the increasing influence of "management speak" and market forces in Through the lens of architecture, this book is really much more of a deliberation of the challenges of our time, of the collapse of the public sector and the subsequent thriving of private developments in the spaces we inhabit. Thoughtful and elegant prose takes us from London to Moscow to East Germany to Rio de Janeiro to New York, laying open the eerie similarities in such differently perceived places and calling into question the increasing influence of "management speak" and market forces in the built environment. It is definitely one of the more thought-provoking books I have read in recent years. Highly recommended, even if you are not deeply interested in architecture!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Callie Bailey

    Best architecture book I’ve read. Not sure whether it’s theory or memoir, but it’s full of brilliant insights- loved the history of pre-fab and standardization during the communist regime. A few unremarkable or hyperbolic chapters- but most of them are great, and so great! Like the discussion of of using bison to stop people from having sex in a public park( this happened). Give to the nerdy planner or architect in your life.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Pablo Lopes

    Um relato sobre o que as realidades da profissão no século XXI, em que as utopias das vanguardas modernistas são reabilitadas como expressão de uma sociedade democrática e mais igualitária, e como a partir dos anos 70 o domínio de um capitalismo sem restrições subverte estas utopias. É um relato do que resta quando a edificação é valorizada por seu valor como investimento e não pelo uso que se faz dela.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Erisa Nesimi

    A wonderful array of essays, thinking pieces, notes and work diaries. De Graaf has a captive writing style, and ability to question everything, even his own work in a way that brings forward the important political, social and philosophical aspects of architecture and planning. A must read for everyone interested in challenging their perspectives on the world of design, architecture, planning.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Xvmichal

    Prawdziwe. Zbiór esejów autorstwa jednego z partnerów w OMA. Spostrzeżenia autora dotyczące natury zawody architekta w zaskakujący sposób są zbieżne z moimi odczuciami. Motorem architektury nie jest już potrzeba piękna, a zysk.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    pbs wishlist

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bianca Gheorghita

    OMA never disappoints!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    Such a sharp joyride! I have been waiting a long time for a book like this.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Cristina Chelarescu

    Unpretentious book about what is important in architecture. Loved it!!

  15. 5 out of 5

    J

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lali

  17. 4 out of 5

    Martyna

  18. 4 out of 5

    Anton Vtorov

  19. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  20. 5 out of 5

    juan

  21. 4 out of 5

    Louis-Étienne

  22. 5 out of 5

    Teodora

  23. 4 out of 5

    Pani Pani

  24. 4 out of 5

    Peter Craig

  25. 4 out of 5

    Owen Hatherley

  26. 4 out of 5

    Raitis Rauza

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mario Radev

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kara Sıçan

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Van De Bruaene

  30. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Beek

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