How Architecture Works: A Humanist’s Toolkit. Witold Rybczynski. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

How Architecture Works: A Humanist's Toolkit Book Cover How Architecture Works: A Humanist's Toolkit
Witold Rybczynski
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
October 7, 2014

We spend most of our days and nights in buildings, living and working and sometimes playing. Buildings often awe us with their beauty. Architecture is both setting for our everyday lives and public art form – but it remains mysterious to most of us.

In How Architecture Works, Witold Rybczynski, one of our best, most stylish critics and winner of the Vincent Scully Prize for his architectural writing, answers our most fundamental questions about how good – and not-so-good – buildings are designed and constructed. Introducing the reader to the rich and varied world of modern architecture, he takes us behind the scenes, revealing how architects as different as Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, and Robert A. M. Stern envision and create their designs. He teaches us how to “read” plans, how buildings respond to their settings, and how the smallest detail – on the stair balustrade, for instance – can convey an architect’s vision. Ranging widely from the War Memorial in London to an opera house in St. Petersburg, from the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., to a famous architect’s private retreat in downtown Princeton, how architecture works explains the central elements that make for good building design. It is an enlightening humanists toolkit for thinking about the built environment and seeing it afresh.

“Architecture, if it is any good, speaks to all of us,” Rybczynski writes. This revelatory book is his grand tour of architecture today.

Witold Rybczynski has written about architecture for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Slate. Among his award-winning books are Home, The Most Beautiful House in the World, and A Clearing in the Distance, which won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize. He lives with his wife in Philadelphia, where he is an emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. How Architecture Works is his eighteenth book.  Learn more about Rybczynski at his website,