The Secret Life of Buildings

From Graham Foundation / MIT Press Series in Contemporary Architectural Discourse

The Secret Life of Buildings

An American Mythology for Modern Architecture

By Gavin Macrae-Gibson





Not since the 1920s has American architecture undergone such fundamental changes as those which are revitalizing the profession today. But in this period of great artistic fertility and unrest, there has yet to emerge a critical theory capable of analyzing the conditions and examining the attitudes by which our architecture is being redefined.

Gavin Macrae-Gibson is the first of a generation of architects educated in the 1970s to construct a method of criticism powerful enough to interpret this new architecture. The theory is built upon a close reading of seven works, all completed in the 1980s: Frank Gehry's Gehry House in Santa Monica, Peter Eisenman's House El Even Odd, Cesar Pelli's Four Leaf Towers in Houston, Michael Graves' Portland Public Service building, Robert Stern's Bozzi residence in East Hampton, Allan Greenberg's Manchester Superior Courthouse in Connecticut, and Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown's Gordon Wu Hall at Princeton. The author uses urban plans, and architectural drawings and photographs to reveal the layers of meaning present in each building, including the deepest layer-its secret life. At this level the buildings have in common the fact that their meaning is derived from the realities of an imperfect present and no longer from the anticipation of a utopian future.

A Graham Foundation Book. The Graham Foundation Architecture Series Two decades ago, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Study in the Fine Arts published Robert Venturi's epoch-making Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in association with the Museum of Modern Art. Now the foundation is renewing its commitment to architectural literature by announcing the first two titles of a new series it is launching with The MIT Press. The aim is to publish books that are of crucial importance to the theory and practice of architecture, and that will enhance the understanding of architecture as a humanist discipline. The series will feature original texts by contemporary architects, historians, theorists, and critics.


ISBN: 9780262132039 234 pp. | 8 in x 11 in


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262631181 234 pp. | 8 in x 11 in


  • The book contains some of the most acute and memorable architectural criticism I have ever read.

    Sir John Summerson

  • Gavin Macrae-Gibson has written an agreeable and civilized book about contemporary architecture. His method is a useful one: it deals with buildings contextually and topographically from the region to the street, and historically in terms of the complex of forms and intentions, present and past, which go to shape them.

    Vincent Scully

  • Gavin Macrae-Gibson is as witty, irreverent and insightful as he is informed. He exposes the clay feet of his own elders in a way which might serve as an anchor for a generation of 'disoriented' young architects searching for an alternative to the stage-set world of post-modernist consumption.

    Peter Eiseman