by Timothy Brittain-Catlin. MIT Press, April 2014. 192 p. ill. ISBN 9780262026697 (cl.), $24.95.

Reviewed September 2014
Tina Chan, Art Librarian, Penfield Library, State University of New York at Oswego,

brittaincatlinArchitectural history is generally about impressive structures and acclaimed architects. Often overlooked are the disappointments and failures of architects and their work. Timothy Brittain-Catlin, senior lecturer at the Kent School of Architecture, University of Kent, reveals the “losers” of architecture and what people can learn from them. According to Brittain-Catlin, the losers’ designs are forgettable, clumsy, or ugly. They do not achieve professional success nor are they recognized for their work. Brittain-Catlin believes in three types of loser architects - those who are unsuccessful because architectural critics did not take their work seriously; those whose work do not grow professionally because they were not current with architectural criticism and others’ work; and those who know about architectural history and criticism, but do not have the talent or discipline for it. Despite the disappointments and failures, losers can teach others about architecture. Losers see buildings that relate closely to others’ personal experiences, and they understand how architecture and culture are related. Brittain-Catlin argues that when people notice the personal failure of a building, it creates more discussion and a deeper appreciation of the building. He examines individuals such as the twentieth-century architect Horace Field and his design of Lloyds Bank; Cecil Corwin, who could not handle the success of his best friend and professional partner, Frank Lloyd Wright, so he stopped designing; and Edward Welby Pugin, son of Augustus Pugin, whose domestic architecture is almost all destroyed. Included are black-and-white photographs to illustrate failure in architecture, along with endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

Brittain-Catlin is a self-described loser. Interspersed throughout the book, he works through his loser mentality by reflecting on his work and career. Calling someone a loser may be harsh; nevertheless, Brittain-Catlin does a thorough job of analyzing various failures and disappointments in architecture. He explains in detail the history of architecture, architectural criticism, and certain architects so that readers unfamiliar with these topics can understand the background. He makes a strong argument to view architecture in a way that is different from traditional architectural criticism, which he contends is superficial and has effects on writing and the quality of buildings. Although helpful to have some knowledge of architectural history and criticism, it is not necessary as Brittain-Catlin provides a detailed overview. Highly recommended for architecture students and faculty, and anyone interested in architectural history and criticism.