Book List of the Week

Stretching My Concept of Classically Inspired Architecture: Peter Pennoyer’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter March 13, 2012

Peter Pennoyer

Architect Peter Pennoyer: Peter Pennoyer Architects (New York)

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“My father, who was on the New York City Art Commission and the Building Committee at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” architect and architectural historian Peter Pennoyer tells Designers & Books, “would bring home pamphlets, plans, and even books from hearings and meetings at which the few building projects proposed in the dim days of the late 1960s and early 1970s were under review. I remember in particular the 1971 master plan of the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo. It presented the additions for the Temple of Dendur, the American Wing, and the Lehman Wing in crisp line drawings and photographs of exquisitely crafted models. The interiors of the various galleries featured walls of silk and tiny reproductions of key works of art hanging just so. Even more intriguing were the complete plans of the existing building, from the attic down to the section of water main under the museum, which had been converted to storage. Seeing everything presented like this got me thinking about what architects do.”

With his interest piqued in this way, Pennoyer set off on a trajectory that included undergraduate and graduate study in architecture at Columbia University, and employment in the office of Robert A. M. Stern. Today, he heads an international practice that is recognized as a leader in traditional architecture and historic preservation. He also serves as chairman of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art.

In the introduction to the book list he sent us, Pennoyer confesses to finding “words even more evocative than pictures.” This, he explains, means that his Top 100 Book List would be “heavy on fiction and poetry” and would include works by authors such as Walker Percy, Paul Bowles, Evelyn Waugh, and Edith Wharton. The list of titles he chose for Designers & Books, however, focuses on those that “made a mark on me as I became an architect. Some are high, some are low, but these were the books that stand out as touchstones.”

Edifices de Rome Moderne “was invaluable as I tried to understand the complexities of iconic buildings that stretched my concept of classically inspired architecture.” The Architecture of Sir Edwin Lutyens showed Pennoyer, working in the early 1980s, “deft moves in plans, especially in houses, that seemed enticingly sensual compared to the prudish minimalism of many of the modernists practicing then. This work showed that classical and vernacular influences could be synthesized to create an architecture that was an inventive reinterpretation of precedent.” Acknowledging his mentor, he includes New York 1930: Architecture and Urbanism Between the Two World Wars on his list, saying: “This is my favorite volume in the ten-million-plus-word series of books on New York architectural history, which includes New York 1880, New York 1900, New York 1960, and New York 2000, written by Robert A. M. Stern, et al.”

The Architecture of Delano & Aldrich, 2003 (W. W. Norton), The Architecture of Warren & Wetmore, 2006 (W. W. Norton), and The Architecture of Grosvenor Atterbury, 2009 (W. W. Norton)

Pennoyer has also helped to bring a new level of appreciation to the classical tradition in American architecture, through three books he has co-authored (with Anne Walker), each focusing on the work of an important but neglected architect or firm from the first half of the 20th century: The Architecture of Delano & Aldrich, The Architecture of Warren & Wetmore, and The Architecture of Grosvenor Atterbury.

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