“The book will kill the building”.

That’s what a character says in Notre Dame de Paris (better known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame). It takes place in medieval France and he is talking about how printing will replace the storytelling role of the cathedral. Cathedrals were pretty much the architecture – and the literature – of the day. They taught the illiterate masses the dogma of the Church through form and iconography.


holy cow


The whole buildings were designed to tell a story.

Of course, the book didn’t kill the building.  Books and buildings actually get along pretty well. In my office, I have stacks of books about buildings:

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Books about individual buildings like the TWA Terminal or Pan Am building in New York, or the Chicago Tribune Tower, or groups of buildings like Rockefeller Center

I’ve got books on ruined buildings in Pompeii and Detroit, guidebooks to the architecture of Havana and Pyongyang, books about buildings by architect or by style.

secret lives

The thing is, by and large they aren’t really about buildings; they’re story books.

They tell about the people who had the ideas, took the risks, hit roadblocks and overcame them. Or about how a building was first used, then about what it became.

You can see every week in the real estate ads the stories brokers telll about buildings, how glamorous and carefree your life would be if only you lived here or there.

But the best stories about buildings are the ones we tell:

My parents were married in that hotel.

I had my first job in this building.

I met _____ in that building.