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Some of this year’s best books about architecture are about something else, and touch the Mother of the Arts only tangentially. This is as it should be: architecture only really makes sense in relation to the ideas and actions that influence and are influenced by it, and books that focus too narrowly on the magic of individual buildings sometimes get a bit narrow.
Thus Danny Dorling’s All That Is Solid (Allen Lane, £20) describes the tragi-farce of housing in modern Britain. The actual design of houses figures little in his argument, but he describes the social, economic and political reasons why the basic matter of getting a roof over your head is now so messed up. Without addressing these issues, no amount of architectural ingenuity can redeem the inequalities he describes.
Saskia Sassen’s Expulsions (Harvard, £22.95) describes the global forces that make ever more tenuous and fragile most people’s grip on the places where they live – which is architectural to the extent that inhabitation and place are ultimately the main concerns of architecture. Justin McGuirk’s Radical Cities (Verso, £17.99) describes how these forces take effect in the specific case of Latin American cities. He captures a growing interest in the continent, where the brutalities, hopes, energies and inventions that might be found in any modern city are played out with particular drama and vigour. ….