Competition: five copies of Why We Build
by Rowan Moore to give away

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Competition: five copies of Why We Build to give away

Competition: architecture critic Rowan Moore's new book Why We Build is released today, and we are publishing an extract as well as giving readers the chance to win one of five copies.

Congratulations to the winners! Jennifer Burchard from the USA, Solange Thomas from the UK, Nigel Brachi from Canada, Sofía Sorazábal from Argentina and Neil Gray from the UK all won a copy of Why We Build.

Competition: five copies of Why We Build to give away

Moore examines what inspires architects to build and what emotions shape their users experiences of them, using case studies such Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah island (above) and New York’s High Line development (below).

Competition: five copies of Why We Build to give away

The hardback book retails at £20 and is published by Macmillan.

Cover illustration is by Diane Berg.

This competition is now closed.

Five winners will be selected at random and notified by email. Winners’ names will be published in a future edition of our Dezeenmail newsletter and at the top of this page. Dezeen competitions are international and entries are accepted from readers in any country.

Read an extract from the first chapter of the book "Desire shapes space, and space shapes desires" below:


Architecture starts with desire on the part of its makers, whether for security, or grandeur, or shelter, or rootedness. Built, it influences the emotions of those who experience and use it, whose desires continue to shape and change it. Desire and emotion are overlapping concepts, but if ‘desire’ is active, directed towards real and imagined ends, and if ‘emotion’ implies greater passivity, describing the ways in which we are moved, architecture is engaged with both. Buildings are intermediaries in the reciprocation between the hopes and intentions of people, in the present and the past. They are the mineral interval between the thoughts and actions that make them and the thoughts and actions that inhabit them.

Most people know that buildings are not purely functional, that there is an intangible something about them that has to do with emotion. Most towns or cities have towers or monuments of no special purpose, or public buildings and private houses whose volumes are larger than strictly necessary, and structures with daring cantilevers or spans that are not perfectly efficient. These cities have ornament and sculpture, also buildings whose construction drove their owners to ruin, or which never served their intended purpose, or which outlived their use but are preserved. A home might contain pictures, mementoes, vases, antiques, light shades not chosen for their function alone. It might be a centuries-old house with obsolete standards of thermal insulation, draught exclusion, and damp control, for which nonetheless its owner pays a premium. If Dubai seems preposterous, it is only an extreme version of the decisions people make in extending, building, remaking, or furnishing their own homes, which are rarely guided by pure function. If it attracts attention, it is because it presents to us urges that are familiar, but in a way that seems uncontrolled.

But to say that there is emotion in architecture is a bare beginning. What forms does it take, and by what weird alchemy do cold materials absorb and emit feeling? What transformations happen? Whose feelings matter more: the clients’, the architects’, the builders’, or the users’, those of a commissioning government or corporation, or of casual passers-by? What complexities, indirections, and unintended consequences arise, and what epiphanies and farce? Building projects are usually justified with reference to measurable of finance and use. When we acknowledge the intangible it is often with vague words, such as ‘inspiring’, or perhaps ‘beautiful’, an honourable word which nonetheless leaves much unsaid, such as beautiful to whom, and in what way? We might resort to personal taste, or to some idea of what is good or bad derived from aesthetic standards whose origins and reasons we probably don’t know.

In commercial and public building the intangible is usually confined to adjectives like ‘iconic’, or ‘spectacular’, which parcel it with blandness and discourage further exploration. Such words also convert this troubling, unruly, hard-to-name aspect of buildings into something that aids marketing – since ‘icons’ can help sell a place or a business – into, that is, another form of use. Yet if emotion in building is intangible, it is also specific. Particular desires and feelings drive the making of architecture, and the experience of it, and are played out in particular ways. Hope, sex, the wish for power or money, the idea of home, the sense of mortality: these are definite, not vague, with distinct manifestations in architecture.

This book explores the ways in which these concerns of the living interact with the dead stuff of buildings. It will challenge easy assumptions about architecture: in particular that, once the builders move out, it is fixed and complete. It turns out that buildings are unstable: if their fabric is not being adjusted (and it usually is) they are prone to tricks of perception and inversions of value. This instability might feel disturbing, but it is also part of the fascination of architecture. If buildings were 1:1 translations of human urges, my study would be short and boring: if, for example, they were monosyllables made physical, where a pitched roof = home, something soaring = hope, big = power, or phallic = sex. Where things get interesting is when desire and built space change each other, when animate and inanimate interplay. Paradoxes arise, and things that seemed certain seem less so. Buildings are powerful but also awkward means of dealing with something as mobile as emotion, and usually they create an opposite or at least different effect to the one they set out to achieve.

To look at emotion and desire in architecture is not to discount the simple fact that most buildings have a practical purpose. But that practical purpose is rarely pursued with perfect detachment, or indifferent calculation. To build and to inhabit are not small actions, and it is hard to undertake them with coolness. Rather the play of function, of decisions on budget, durability, comfort, flexibility, and use, is one of the expressive properties of architecture.

Definitions are required. ‘Architecture’ is seen not just as the design of buildings, more as the making of spaces: it includes the design of landscape, interiors, and stage sets. A building is seen less as an end in itself, more as an instrument for making spaces, together with whatever else is around, both inside and outside. ‘Architecture’ can also include fictional and cinematic places, which sometimes reveal as much, and differently, as those you can touch.

‘To build’ is used in its usual way, as the action of contractors and workers, and of clients, architects, and other consultants, leading to the making of a physical construction. But the verb will also be used metaphorically, to describe the ways in which the people who use and experience buildings – that is, almost all of us – inhabit and shape, physically and in the imagination, the spaces we find.

This book is not a manual. It will not tell you how to decorate your home, or architecture students how to set about their work. Still less will it tell urban planners how to make wise decisions. Should it have an influence, I dread an outbreak of ‘emotional’ architecture, with sales guff from developers talking of ‘feelings’. Catastrophes will be described, and successes, and works somewhere between; also projects that started well and finished sadly, and vice versa. But the idea is not to make a score-sheet of good and bad, rather to see the many ways in which human impulses are played out in building. This book tries not to instruct, prescribe, or moralize. Its aim is to show, examine, and reveal.

I like to imagine, however, that this book could have some useful effect. Failures of architecture and development often occur because emotional choices come disguised as practical ones. If I can make it a little easier to discern what is going on in such situations, one or two disasters might, conceivably, be mitigated.