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Philadelphia Builds: Essays on Architecture

Philadelphia Builds: Essays on Architecture

Michael J. Lewis

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373-page paperback / 6" x 9" / ISBN 9781589881525 / Publication Date: 4/20/2021

“Michael Lewis deploys his gifts as a storyteller to convey the ideas, aspirations, vanities, and struggles that gave form to Philadelphia’s most important buildings. Written with ferocious passion and deep scholarship, these architectural histories frequently charmed me, occasionally provoked me, and ultimately left me with a richer understanding of the city I thought I already knew.”—Inga Saffron, architecture critic, Philadelphia Inquirer, and author of Becoming Philadelphia

In Philadelphia Builds, architecture critic Michael J. Lewis explains why Philadelphia has produced so many extraordinary architects, including Louis Kahn, Frank Furness, and Robert Venturi. Lewis has written about the architecture of his native city for over three decades, and Philadelphia Builds brings together twenty-two of his best essays―including one about Kahn’s little-known project to design a memorial for Vladimir Lenin and another which is the first substantial profile of Willis G. Hale, cult hero of Philadelphia hipsters.

Other essays treat William Penn’s plan for his new Quaker city, the fierce competitions that gave the city its greatest civic monuments, and also contemporary buildings such as the Barnes Foundation. Richly illustrated with drawings and photographs throughout, Philadelphia Builds is an engaging account of the people and forces that shaped the city from the 1700s to the present day.

“With a sharp historian’s eye—and a sharper critic’s pen—Michael J. Lewis guides us through Philadelphia's built past, and with a rare intelligence shines new light on its patrons, its builders, and its architects—both famous and forgotten. His affection for his native city is evident throughout.”—Witold Rybczynski, author of Charleston Fancy

"Michael J. Lewis is a natural-born storyteller who treats buildings as characters in the ongoing drama of Philadelphia."
Philadelphia Inquirer

"This is a proper architectural history book, with impressive credentials to satisfy the scholar and filled with those line drawings, period prints, and photographs beloved of historians . . . But be not daunted—it’s eminently readable . . . Philadelphia Builds is filled with historical asides, injections of whimsy, and flashes of professional humor."Broad Street Review

"Here, in Michael Lewis’s enchanting and illuminating essays, the reader is brought face-to-face with the iterative and collaborative act of architecture in a democracy, a combination of vision, craft, self-creation, constraint, and compromise. Lewis’s understanding and insight elevate architectural choices into the realms of art and politics simultaneously, all the better in his affable tone and clipped prose. The extra bonus is the introduction of forgotten architects and buildings to our collective understanding of Philadelphia as a crucible of American architecture."Nathaniel Popkin, co-author Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City

Read Michael J. Lewis in Philadelphia MagazineAn Architecture Critic Ranks the Five Most Interesting Buildings in Philadelphia and How Plain Quaker Philly Got Its Wedding-Cake City Hall.

Michael J. Lewis
 is the author of nine books on art and architecture, including Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind, The Gothic Revival, and City of Refuge. He is the architecture critic at the Wall Street Journal, and his essays and reviews have been published in the New York Times, Commentary, New Criterion, and Architectural Record, among others. Lewis is the Faison-Pierson-Stoddard Professor of Art at Williams College, and divides his time between Williamstown, MA and Philadelphia.

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