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Featured Author - Simon Unwin, Twenty Buildings Every Architect Should Understand

Simon Unwin is the author of the best selling book, Analysing Architecture. He was born in Yorkshire in 1952, but grew up in Wales. He studied in Chelsea School of Art, London, and then the Welsh School of Architecture in Cardiff, where he went on to do his PhD and become a senior lecturer. He has also lived in Australia, and taught architecture in the USA, Scandinavia, the Middle East and the Far East. He is currently Professor at the University of Dundee. His new book Twenty Buildings Every Architectect Should Understand is out in March.

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What has been your biggest inspiration for writing the new edition of Analysing Architecture?

I was glad to have the opportunity to produce a third edition of Analysing Architecture because it gave me a chance to include, amongst other things, a new section on `How Analysis Helps Design'. I first wrote Analysing to help student architects understand what is possible in architecture, but now in this new edition I have been more explicit about the ways in which design benefits from studying the work of other architects.

What is the underlying message you want the reader to take away with them after reading Analysing Architecture?

That architecture is a much richer field of human creativity than is sometimes suggested in the media. Architecture is as fundamental to our lives as language and history since it sets the spatial frames within which we do just about everything we do.

What would be the one “top tip” you would give a budding architect just starting out in their career?

I'll offer two. First, in your design work, try to access that innate capacity for place-making that you showed when you made dens and built tree houses as a child. And second, don't worry about `borrowing' ideas from other architects; all the greats do it.

Who do you find inspirational?

That's difficult… but I do get a lot of inspiration from literature. Some writers - I'm thinking of people like Charles Dickens or Gabriel Garcia Marquez - are very subtle about the ways in which they describe places and use them as active ingredients in their stories. They remind us that architecture is a narrative and emotional art as well as a visual one.

Name your five favorite buildings in the world and briefly explain why

That's difficult too… but I am fond of:

  • LLainfadyn, a small slate-worker's cottage from North Wales, re-erected at the Folk Museum at St Fagans outside Cardiff, and included as a Case Study at the back of Analysing Architecture. I like it because of its simplicity.
  • St Peter's Church in Klippan, Sweden, by Sigurd Lewerentz, because I found visiting it for the first time a profoundly emotional experience.
  • The Thermal Baths at Vals, Switzerland, by Peter Zumthor, because it reminds me that architecture can appeal to all the senses, not just the eyes.
  • Plas Brondanw in North Wales, by Clough Williams-Ellis, because it shows an architect, in the freedom of his own garden, experimenting with ideas.
  • A tiny mud and thatch house in Kerala, India (illustrated on page 106 of the new edition of Analysing Architecture) because it is such a direct response to climate and to life.

DID YOU KNOW … ? - one unknown fact you don't know about the author

I failed my first year in architecture school! This is possibly one of the best things that ever happened to me because Analysing Architecture could be said to have emerged from my continuing attempts to understand why!

Related Products

  1. Doorway

    By Simon Unwin

    Though we may take them for granted, doorways impinge on our lives in many ways. Their powers are even richer and more varied than those of the wall. They can change the ways we behave, and alter how we see our surroundings. They challenge us and protect our territories. They punctuate our...

    Published December 6th 2007 by Routledge

  2. An Architecture Notebook

    By Simon Unwin

    An Architecture Notebook builds on the foundation of Simon Unwin's previous book Analysing Architecture (Routledge, 1997). Using numerous examples, illustrated with clear line drawings, this volume describes and illustrates the many powers attaching to one of the most basic of architectural...

    Published September 28th 2000 by Routledge

Other books by Simon Unwin include: