Books & Essays

Books & essays


Released: April 20, 2017

The Age of Spectacle: the rise and fall of iconic architecture

(2017, Windmill Books)

In Dubai, a luxury apartment block is built in the shape of a giant iPod. In China, President Xi Jinping denounces the trend of ‘bizarre’ new buildings, after a proliferation of skyscrapers constructed in wacky forms and colours. In Cincinnati, celebrity architect Zaha Hadid is paid millions to design a single ‘iconic’ structure – with the hope of single-handedly transforming the region’s ailing fortunes. These incidents are all part of the same story: the rise of the age of spectacle.

Over the last fifty years there has been a revolution in how our cities work. Concrete tower-blocks have given way to brash corporate skyscrapers; decaying warehouses have been transformed into plush designer flats; and cities that were once designed by dour, public-spirited planners are now dominated by world-famous ‘starchitects’. The Age of Spectacle is a chronicle of how architecture has become obsessed with the flashy, the monumental and the ostentatious – and how we all have to live with the consequences.

The book shows that we are not just witnessing a new kind of building, but are rather living through a fundamental transformation in how our urban spaces operate.

It traces how the corporate explosion of the last few decades has fundamentally shifted the relationship between architects, politicians and cities’ inhabitants, fostering many innovative new engineering and design ideas, but also facilitating ill-conceived vanity projects and commercial power-grabs. Exploring cityscapes from New York to Beijing, and from Bilbao to Portsmouth, The Age of Spectacle is both an examination of how twenty-first century cities work, and a manifesto for a radically new kind of urbanism. Our cities, the book shows, can thrive in the age of spectacle – but only if they engage us not just with dazzling structures, but by responding to the needs of the people who inhabit them.

Praise for The Age of Spectacle Simon Jenkins called the book “first class... the book that I wish I’d written.” Lauren Laverne said it was "such an interesting book... I cannot recommend it enough” (BBC Radio 6 Music). “Engaging,” thought Rowan Moore (The Observer), “no-one has done what Tom Dyckhoff does”. “Discursive [and] knowledgeable,” wrote Jonathan Meades (Literary Review). “Unusually accessible [and] well argued,” said the Evening Standard, while The Economist thought it was “good at deconstructing the myths surrounding gentrification.” “A great storyteller,” Icon magazine concluded. “You would be hard pushed to find a more knowledgeable and entertaining [guide].”

Find out more, and buy the book, here.


Sir Banister Fletcher’s A Global History of Architecture (Bloomsbury, upcoming)

From 2013 to 2016 Tom was the editorial consultant for the 21st edition of Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture (Bloomsbury), rethinking the content, tone, structure, purpose and digital future of this monumental, classic text - first published in the late 19th century - which surveys the history of architecture around the world from its origins to the present day. The 21st edition is being edited by the eminent architectural historian Professor Murray Fraser.

London: From Punk to Blair
Edited by Joe Kerr and Andrew Gibson
(Reaktion Books, 2003; second edition, 2013)

For this book of essays on the culture of modern-day London, now on its second edition, Tom wrote an essay on the rise and fall of warehouse- and loft-living in London, from the 1970s to the present day. It's a fabulous book about a crazy city, and well worth buying.

The Architecture of London 2012: Vision, Design, Legacy (John Wiley & Sons, 2012), with Claire Barrett

Tom co-wrote the official guidebook to the architecture and design of the London 2012 Olympic Games. You can buy it here, though, be warned, so much of the architecture and spaces have changed in the past few years, it’s quite out of date.

The Authentic Landscape: architecture and citizenship in British architecture 1945-1951
Edited by Vittorio Lampugnani, Jöran Lindvall and Vladimir Slapeta
(DVA, 2000)

This book examines local identity in architecture. Tom wrote an essay for it looking at how modernist architecture was (and in some cases was not) adapted to British traditions in the postwar reconstruction of UK towns and cities. It’s out of print now, alas.