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A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture

Posted on January 20th, 2010 by Charles Boot

James Stevens Curl, A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, 2nd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 912 pp., 250 illus., £25.00 (hbk). ISBN 0192806300

James Stevens Curl’s A Dictionary of Architecture was first published in 1999; this revised edition, apart from updating various entries, has considerably expanded its treatment of garden and landscape design, and thus earned the extension of the title. There are fewer garden designers and landscape architects than architects in these pages, but the major figures, from Henry Wise to Peter Shepheard, are to be found. The most unfortunate omission is William Andrews Nesfield, who is not named even in the entry devoted to his son William Eden. Peter Josef Lenné, Johann Conrad Sckell and Fredrik Magnus Piper are in, but not Gabriel Thouin. As for architects, the entry on James Fergusson does not mention the Marianne North Gallery, and I was sorry not to see an entry on Blunden Shadbolt; but I was pleased to see Canadians such as Samuel Maclure, Francis Mawson Rattenbury, Francis Swales and Arthur Erickson included, and the inclusion of Arnold Mitchell is a cause for celebration. Stylistic terms will prove more controversial than personal entries, and the treatment of ‘picturesque’ (both in that entry, and in the relevant biographical entries) will provide fodder for dispute.

A great merit of this book is the quality of the illustrations. Anyone seeking a handy guide to bricks and brick bonds, explanations of the classical Orders or Gothic period styles, or the component parts of an arch, will find admirably clear and economically executed diagrams.

As a reference guide for historians of landscape architecture, it inevitably suffers by comparison with Patrick Taylor’s The Oxford Companion to the Garden (Oxford, 2006), which appeared almost simultaneously, and which, of course, is entirely devoted to what is strictly a subordinate aspect of Curl’s book. I suspect that garden historians will find A Dictionary of Architecture most useful as a reference tool for looking up architects who occasionally wander into our visual field. But its greatest value might lie in the other direction: it will no doubt be used extensively by architects and architectural historians, and the constant reminders that the settings of buildings also have a history and a hall of fame for designers can only be salutary.

Brent Elliott
Royal Horticultural Society Lindley Library

34:1 (Summer 2006)

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