Erotic architecture: the sexual history of great buildings

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Erotic architecture: the sexual history of great buildings
Niterói Contemporary Art Museum / © Rodrigo Soldon

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Erotic architecture: the sexual history of great buildings
Niterói Contemporary Art Museum / © Rodrigo Soldon

Bricks and Mortals: Ten Great Buildings and the People They Made
Tom Wilkinson – Bloomsbury, 352pp

Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture
Justin McGuirk – Verso, 288pp

At first glance, the only visible connection between these two lively books is a bridge between Rio de Janeiro and Rocinha, the South American city’s biggest favela, shaped in the guise of a woman’s G-stringed bottom. This, however, proves to be revealing, for both Tom Wilkinson’s revisionist passeggiata through architectural history and Justin McGuirk’s hike through the slums and outer suburbs of Latin American cities seem bent, provocatively, on turning accepted notions of architecture and the values of the profession that serves it upside down and inside out. Wilkinson quotes Oscar Niemeyer, the long-lived Brazilian architect who designed some of the most sensuous buildings of the 20th century: “Life is more important than architecture.”

As for that curvaceous footbridge, Wil­kinson quotes Niemeyer again: “Right an­gles don’t attract me. Nor straight, hard and inflexible lines created by man. What attracts me are free and sensual curves. The curves we find . . . in the body of the woman we love.” Despite what he calls Niemeyer’s “Palaeozoic sexual attitudes”, Wilkinson – a young architectural historian – has written a book that is as much about bodies and sex as it is about buildings. Indeed, you might call Bricks and Mortals a guide to the sexual understanding of great buildings.

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