"Symbolic Essence" and Other Writings on Modern Architecture and American Culture

William H. Jordy; Edited and with an introduction by Mardges Bacon


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Historian and architectural critic William H. Jordy (1917–1997) significantly shaped the way we understand the character and meaning of modern architecture and American culture. This collection of his thought-provoking essays encompasses Jordy’s entire career and includes his signature essay, “The Symbolic Essence of Modern Architecture of the Twenties and Its Continuing Influence.” The collection also contains critical writings on works by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, and Robert Venturi as well as significant but less-well-known pieces and one previously unpublished text.

Generously illustrated, the book demonstrates the range and depth of Jordy’s thinking. He leads his readers to discover important connections of architecture with art, literature, intellectual history, symbolic structures, social purpose, and community. Mardges Bacon’s insightful introduction to the volume situates Jordy’s essays in historical and architectural context and offers a concise intellectual biography of this original and influential thinker.

Mardges Bacon is Matthews Distinguished University Professor and professor of art and architecture, Northeastern University.

"An exemplary selection of Jordy's critical writing, giving him the recognition he deserves and reminding us of what is at stake for the future. . . . Jordy's knack for astute observation and delicacy of thought is foregrounded in this volume. . . . This collection of writings is immensely rewarding and thoroughly engaging."—Brendan D. Moran, DOCOMOMO



"[Jordy’s authorial voice has] the miniaturized elegance of a precision watch. . . . Jordy had an extraordinary sensitivity to what might be called the aesthetic life of a building, which placed him among the most insightful critics of his generation. . . . [A] subdued and elegant volume."—Michael J. Lewis, New Criterion

ISBN: 9780300094497
Publication Date: May 10, 2005
Publishing Partner: A Buell Center/Columbia Book of Architecture Published in association with the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, Columbia University
344 pages, 8 x 10
106 b/w illus.
Josep Lluís Sert

The Architect of Urban Design, 1953-1969

Edited by Eric Mumford and Hashim Sarkis; With contribution

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