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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Book Review:  A Living Tradition, Architecture of the Bahamas by Steve Mouzon

This is one of my favorite books, by a great friend and colleague Steve Mouzon.  This is an earlier book (2007) of Steve's and I am still so impressed with it that I wanted to formally review it and continue to get it in front of people who may have missed it, it's that good.  Everyone interested in architecture, placemaking, and preservation should read this book.  

The book is about the architecture of the Bahamas and it does a great job developing the patterns and traditions and organizing them into a pattern book format.  The reader will be able to learn about everything about Bahamian architecture, from fences to window details and everything in between.  All of these items are complimented by great color photos and black-and-white sketches, which help to illustrate the concepts.  Further, each of the patterns is also shown along the Classic-Vernacular spectrum, that is, from the most refined to the more organic in terms of the detailing. 

The bigger point of the work here is much broader and much more important than the details of the Bahamian architecture.  Steve starts by talking about placemaking principles.  Taking strong cues from the works of Vitruvius and Christopher Alexander, the author develops principals for creating the most loved places.  These are important because they are the reason that the architectural and building patterns were developed in the first place.  The resulting unique methods, materials and patterns then become the Living Tradition of that place, which then continues to reinforce the sense of a place.  It is the designing of a building to be true to a place that makes a place even better.  It's unfortunate that what used to be common sense is now largely misunderstood in our collective society today.

This brief review doesn't do Steve's book the justice it deserves.  This work is a must-read for anyone who is interested in how to develop (or preserve) a true place and gives us the blueprint for then developing an architecture that comes from the place, not a style of architecture that tries to define a place.  This key point is where architects (and preservationists) fail to understand the placemaking process, as they fall into the trap of trying to force a style onto a place in order to "brand it".  Even with good design and execution, you cannot create a real place without understanding and developing the Living Tradition.

More information on the Living Tradition , Steve Mouzon and the New Urban Guild Foundation can be found by following the links above.  

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