The most refreshing thing about 100 Years, 100 Buildings is that it’s not those 100 years. By cutting himself free of the artificial constraint of highlighting the 20th century alone, architect John Hill brings his survey of remarkable buildings up to the present — and really, who’s going to miss a page on the Flatiron Building?
Hill’s new book, instead, starts with London’s Holland House, completed in 1916. The final entry: 2015’s Broad museum in Los Angeles. In choosing 100 buildings to highlight, Hill constrained himself to one (and only one) per year, with the additional caveat that the buildings must be still extant.
Theoretically, then, you could book the six-continent tour that would include IRL visits to such marvels as Amancio Williams’s Casa del Puente in Argentina (1945), Sverre Fehn’s Nordic Pavilion in Venice (1962), and the Bowali Visitor Centre (1994) in the Australian bush. Until such time as teleportation is perfected, though, Hill’s coffee-table tome is a fine substitute.
Hill’s approach forces a greater diversity than you’ll find in most guides to architecture’s greatest hits. While such standbys as the Seagram Building (1958), the Sydney Opera House (1973), and both big Guggenheims (1959 and 1997) are here, so are little wonders like E. Fay Jones’s Thorncrown Chapel (Eureka Springs, Arkansas, 1980) and Bucky Fuller’s 1946 Dymaxion Dwelling Machine (now on display in Dearborn, Michigan). Hill’s global lens also encompasses the likes of Oscar Niemeyer’s stunning Catedral de Brasília (1970) and Louis I. Kahn’s otherworldly National Assembly Building (1983) in Bangladesh.
The short essays elucidating the history and merits of the various structures are well-written, but some readers — particularly those not familiar with architectural vocabulary — may be frustrated at the limitations of the book’s illustrations. Each building is represented with one or two fine photographs highlighting a striking exterior view or absorbing interior space, but it can be hard to imagine what the rest of each structure looks like.
Hill and his editors have also missed an opportunity to provide context. Given the strict chronological progression of the book and its generous physical size, a timeline or other guide to notable contemporary events would have helped put these structures in context. Some such information is included as end matter, but it’s too little, too late.
Still, for architecture buffs, Hill’s survey will serve as a pleasant book to page through and — for more knowledgeable readers — a debate-starter. (For 2003, for example, Hill picked Future Systems’ Birmingham department store over the Walt Disney Concert Hall, regarded by many as Frank Gehry’s masterpiece.) It might even inspire building-gawkers to book a trip or two.