Book review: Drawing and Experiencing Architecture: The Evolving Significance of City’s Inhabitants in the 20th Century

reviewed by Alexandros Daniilidis

17 Nov 2023, 9:59 a.m.

Drawing and Experiencing Architecture book cover

Based on: Marianna Charitonidou, Drawing and Experiencing Architecture: The Evolving Significance of City’s Inhabitants in the 20th Century, Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2022; 350 pp.: ISBN: 9783837664881, €45.00/£42.99 (pbk); 978-3-8394-6488-5 (eBook)


Charitonidou’s Drawing and Experiencing Architecture discusses the evolution of architectural representation and how it has influenced contemporary architects. It mentions the shift from a perspective-based approach during the Renaissance to fragmented representations in modern times due to urbanisation and digital technology. In its ten chapters, the book mainly focuses on the works of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe and their exploration of the architect’s connection with the spectator. The book highlights how their styles and philosophies evolved over time, particularly during the post-war era when the notions of universality and individuality clashed. It also covers the periodisation of architectural styles, the concept of ‘humanisation’ in architecture, and the importance of the ‘user’ participation in design, by employing important figures of modern architecture.

In her book, Charitonidou delves deep into the intricate world of renowned architects and their profound impact on 20th-century architectural theory and practice. The text not only explores the pivotal role of mental imagery in the design process but also establishes a compelling connection to the concept of proportion, particularly within the context of post-war Italian architecture. Moreover, it delves into the intriguing notion of ‘ineffable space’, shedding light on its reliance on elements such as intensity, proportion, execution quality and perfection – all of which underscore the paramount importance of spatial functionality in evoking profound aesthetic emotions.

Shifting the narrative lens, the book then centres on Mies van der Rohe and his influential interior perspective views, which left an indelible mark on how viewers perceive architectural designs. It dissects Mies’s predilection for horizontal elements, delving into the intricate interplay between tactile and optical perception within his meticulously crafted representations. Furthermore, it uncovers Mies’ unwavering quest to encapsulate the very essence of the ‘will of time’ within his architectural creations.

The heart of the book lies in its exploration of Mies van der Rohe’s architectural philosophy, casting a spotlight on the profound connection between architecture and the ‘will of time’. Drawing inspiration from the profound insights of Georg Simmel on objectivity, the chapter thoroughly outlines Mies’s groundbreaking educational concepts, particularly during his tenure in Chicago. It deftly navigates the tension that defined the era – an intricate balance between impersonal architecture and the assertion of individual autonomy within the landscape of modernist architecture.

With precision, Charitonidou then unravels the evolution of architectural thought and practice within the post-CIAM generation. It vividly portrays the emergence of Team Ten and its resolute mission to humanise urbanism and urban planning by establishing fundamental connections between people and the very essence of life itself.

As the narrative unfolds, Aldo Rossi’s transformative experiences in the United States and their profound impact on his architectural design ethos are explored. The author offers a nuanced examination of the tension that exists between architecture as an art form and its role as a mirror reflecting the reality of the built environment. Additionally, Charitonidou unravels how the unique urban conditions of America left an indelible imprint on Rossi’s perception of architectural objects, transforming them into cherished symbols imbued with profound meaning derived from their contextual surroundings.

The author then proceeds with attention at length to multifaceted perspectives of Constantinos Doxiadis and Adriano Olivetti on the concepts of democracy, societal reconstruction and governance models. It casts a discerning eye on their pivotal roles in the European Recovery Programme (Marshall Plan), illuminating their significant influence on the post-war trajectories of Greece and Italy. Moreover, Charitonidou’s work adds a comparative layer that is often absent in existing studies, offering a profound exploration of the intersection between architectural design, town planning, social, political and economic history. The chapter challenges the conventional narratives by thoughtfully examining how different political models influenced the reconfiguration of national identities in Greece and Italy, ultimately shaping urban design and architecture in these unique post-war contexts.

The book masterfully directs its focus towards Giancarlo De Carlo, a prominent member of Team Ten, unravelling the core principles that underpin his innovative design philosophy. The author provides a vivid account of De Carlo’s trenchant critique of the simplistic modernist functionalist approach – a critique that illuminated the complexity of user needs within architectural design. Charitonidou navigates through the intriguing landscape of De Carlo’s ‘participatory design’, a concept that sought to supplant the linear design processes of modernism with a non-hierarchical model. As she adeptly argues, participatory design – often referred to as ‘community design’– aims to recognise and legitimise the authority of users within the design process. This chapter skilfully connects De Carlo’s visionary ideas with contemporary architectural concepts such as ‘negotiated planning’, thus offering a compelling exploration of the consistency between his theoretical framework and its practical applications.

With an astute examination, the author unveils the profound influence of urban sociologist Herbert Gans’ pioneering study of Levittown on architects Denise Scott Brown, Robert Venturi (Denise Scott Brown’s second spouse) and Steven Izenour. Charitonidou illuminates their concerted efforts to reshape the very essence of functionalism – a theme they had previously explored in their seminal work, ‘Learning From Las Vegas’ (Venturi et al., 1972). It vividly portrays their emphasis on understanding the city as a dynamic pattern of activities – a theme that resonates throughout this chapter. Charitonidou deftly underscores the social dimension of architectural production and planning, highlighting Denise Scott Brown’s pivotal role as a socially conscious designer who advocated for architects to engage with sociology from an architectural perspective, rather than merely adopting the perspectives of sociologists.

The closing chapter culminates in a thought-provoking analysis that builds upon Bernard Tschumi’s visionary understanding of space during the 1970s. It concludes by building upon Tschumi’s concept of urban experience, shaped by his interactions with the London Conceptualists. This includes his exploration of spatial experiences, architectural pedagogy and his challenges to conventional cause-and-effect relationships in modernist city views.

Charitonidou’s voluminous account primarily seeks to explore the alignment between the architect’s perspective and that of the spectator, while also examining how the spectator’s vision and expectations, shaped by the reified and fragmented urban spaces of today’s cities, come into play. Charitonidou’s work contributes to our understanding of this relationship, which has had a profound impact on the work of contemporary architects. Importantly, she concludes the book at a point in time when digital reproducibility and the commodification of urban space were already underway in the late 1980s. One aspect of this transformation has altered how we perceive architectural drawings, while the other has normalised the commodification of urban space and architecture on a global scale.

What sets Charitonidou’s approach to periodisation apart, is her unique combination of five consecutive generations of architects across three distinct periods. She skilfully demonstrates the shifts in architectural practice and education, particularly concerning modes of representation, as discussed throughout the book. Additionally, her observation about the time lag between the development of new conceptions of space assembly and inhabitation modes and their theoretical discourse is noteworthy. This observation implies a retrospective view of historiography. It suggests that this time lag has grown, in part, due to the global spread of capitalist modernisation.

While there are a few minor typos and the absence of an index in the book, it serves as an outstanding source and a useful reference for communicating ideas and concepts that have significantly influenced contemporary architectural practice and design. The book also makes a substantial contribution by emphasising the connection between drawings and praxis and the interplay between aesthetics, representation and socio-political contexts, especially in a digital age where architects often struggle to theorise architecture using conceptual systems inherited from the pre-digital era.

Overall, the book offers a comprehensive exploration of architectural representations’ dynamic evolution and their relevance in the contemporary digital age. Furthermore, I found this book’s contribution particularly fascinating as it highlights a very interesting aspect regarding the post-war means of representation ‘that put forward the status of architectural and urban artefacts as unfinished’ (p. 21). In essence, we are talking about a philosophy of architectural representations (on paper) that elevates the ‘uncompleted’ (non-finished) to an approach in which abstraction constitutes an integral part of both the aesthetic and the compositional approach of architectural synthesis and appreciation of the (quoted) architects. In the era of digital technology with the architectural image being almost entirely a product of digital design, Charitonidou’s book is a reminder that architectural production is based on human intuition and design as a derivative of the interaction, coexistence and ‘complementarity of spirit and body’ (p. 44).



Venturi R, Scott Brown D, Izenour S (1972) Learning from Las Vegas. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Google Scholar


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