Book List of the Week

Jorge Silvetti’s Book List: The Order of Reading

By Steve Kroeter October 28, 2013
Jorge Silvetti, architect and urban designer: Machado and Silvetti Associates (Boston)
View Jorge Silvetti’s Book List

The 17 titles on Jorge Silvetti’s book list cover “most of the period of my reading life since I was a teenager in Argentina,” the architect and urban designer says. They “have indelibly shaped my understanding of the world, of people and what they do and make and why, and as such they have also shaped the way I think and perceive.”

Silvetti, a partner with Rodolfo Machado in the firm Machado and Silvetti Associates, notably headed the transformation and expansion of Malibu’s Getty Villa into a center for the study of antiquities and has designed many high-profile and award-winning cultural buildings in the more than 25 years since the firm was founded. He includes on his list examples from history, the social sciences, literary theory, and fiction, as well as books on architecture—from classical to postmodern. Silvetti, who has also taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design since 1975, told us that he put the list together in the order the books came to mind, an excercise he found “interesting and revealing.”

The first book that he thought of was Claude Lévi-Strauss’s 1962 work of structural anthropology The Savage Mind—perhaps, Silvetti offers, “because it made me understand for the first time what makes us human.” This was followed by a second title by Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, and several books of fiction, among them Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which Silvetti describes as “a moving, enthralling testimony of an artist’s ability to interpret and convey through fiction some of the most profound issues of an era.”

View of Getty Villa expansion, designed by Machado and Silvetti Associates, Malibu, California, 1994–2006. Photo © Facundo de Zuvira

Farther down the list is a group of architecture books that includes Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. Silvetti is the 16th Designers & Books contributor to choose this book. He comments that it is “a book that confirmed and outlined brilliantly what I was beginning to suspect and intuit about architecture.” From Colin Rowe’s The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa and Other Essays, he “learned how to read buildings”; and he describes Aldo Rossi’s Architecture of the City as “a brilliant reading of the city as a construction of culture and a form of collective memory that exposes the poverty of most current planning ideologies.” Fittingly, the last book that Silvetti added to his book list is Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things, published in English in 1970. Subtitled “An Archaeology of the Human Sciences,” about this exploration of the history of thought, Silvetti says, “This book elicited the startling realization that we are not innocent in our relationships with nature and humankind.”

The work of Machado and Silvetti Associates has been the subject of three monographs. With Conrad Ello, Jorge Silvetti is the author of the recently published La Nueva Villa Getty (2013, General de Ediciones de Arquitectura, in Spanish), an examination of the 12-year process of expansion and transformation of the Getty Villa.

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