Skip to main content
Shopping cart: items Cart

Distributed for Reaktion Books


Modern Architectures in History

Distributed for Reaktion Books


Modern Architectures in History

From the Reliance Building and Coney Island to the Kimbell Museum and Disney Hall, the United States has been at the forefront of modern architecture. American life has generated many of the quintessential images of modern life, both generic types and particular buildings. Gwendolyn Wright’s USA is an engaging account of this evolution from the late nineteenth century to the twenty-first. Upending conventional arguments about the origin of American modern architecture, Wright shows that it was not a mere offshoot of European modernism brought across the Atlantic Ocean by émigrés but rather an exciting, distinctive and mutable hybrid.
USA traces a history that spans from early skyscrapers and suburbs in the aftermath of the American Civil War up to the museums, schools and ‘green architecture’ of today. Wright takes account of diverse interests that affected design, ranging from politicians and developers to ambitious immigrants and middle-class citizens. Famous and lesser-known buildings across America come together--model dwellings for German workers in rural Massachusetts, New York’s Rockefeller Center, Cincinnati’s Carew Tower, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West in the Arizona desert, the University of Miami campus, the Texas Instruments Semiconductor Plant, and the Corning Museum of Glass, among others--to show an extraordinary range of innovation.
Ultimately, Wright reframes the history of American architecture as one of constantly evolving and volatile sensibilities, engaged with commerce, attuned to new media, exploring multiple concepts of freedom. The chapters are organized to show how changes in work life, home life and public life affected architecture--and vice versa. This book provides essential background for contemporary debates about affordable and luxury housing, avant-garde experiments, local identities, inspiring infrastructure and sustainable design.
A clear, concise and richly illustrated account of modern American architecture, this timely book will be essential for all those who wonder about the remarkable legacy of American modernity in its most potent cultural expression.

272 pages | 200 halftones | 6 3/4 x 8 2/3 | © 2008

Modern Architectures in History

Architecture: American Architecture

Reaktion Books image

View all books from Reaktion Books


"In a mere 320 pages, Gwendolyn Wright has managed to pack a staggering amount of information and visual documentation about the modernization of American architecture. She covers the evolving social, cultural, and political context as well. It is a credit to her neat, economical, agile prose and prodigious command of this vast material that she has also succeeded in making it an enthralling narrative and a major piece of criticism. . . . Gwendolyn Wright has produced a classic."

Liane Lefavre | Architects Newsletter

“Gwendolyn Wright’s splendid book updates, revises and enriches everything we know about the development and influence of American architecture with new material, brilliant insights, and the perspective of a new century. She makes the story so new and compelling and writes it so well that it will supplant older versions to become the standard reference.”

Ada Louise Huxtable

"At last, the book I have been waiting for:  the story of modern American architecture deeply contextualized in the history of the last century and a half.  Wright is that rare scholar who understands how intricately the built environment is laced into larger historical trends.  This is a wonderful book for all who care about architecture and the long history of modern work, housing, and public life in the United States."

Lizabeth Cohen, professor of history, Harvard University, and author of A Consumers' Republic:  The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America

"I am always amazed at Gwendolyn Wright’s ability to bring excitement and positive joy to urbanism and architecture in a rare way. Her enthusiasm for historical examples surely inspires others to take a deeper look and to reflect. In this moment of rapid urbanization worldwide, that reflection is needed more than ever."

Steven Holl

"While not shortchanging major figures (Frank Lloyd Wright appears in every chapter until his death), she looks further afield to consider significant work by underappreciated architects, some female, many outside the Chicago-New York-Los Angeles metropolitan axis. . . . Wright’s book, sure to be incorporated into architecture school syllabi nationwide, indicates that she’s up to the challenge."

Bill Millard | eOculus

"It takes great intelligence to gather the bits and facts of so many contributing disciplines and to present them as a coherent history, but that’s precisely what we get in Gwendolyn Wright’s USA. . . . It is a book that reads well and tells its story directly and without frills, even with some welcome temper. . . . Wright’s book puts us in the center of what is clearly an ongoing dialogue, a discourse on what we did, what we are doing now, and what we might be doing next. It arms the reader with everything required to join the fray."

Helen L. Kohen | Home Miami

"Impressive for its breadth and conciseness. The choice of illustrations is superb and the design of the book is crisp and unostentatious. . . . Wright condenses social history into her narrative with, at times, poetic intensity. . . . Gwendolyn Wright’s USA constructs a model of how cultural histories can be more inclusive without submerging a movement’s monuments."

Stephen Fox | Cite

"Lucid and readable. . . . USA is dazzling."

Josh Stephens | Next American City

"Gwendolyn Wright is one of the few able to convey an appreciation of the architectural object and to situate buildings within broader social, technological, and aesthetic contexts. . . . This is a survey to stimulate thought and further investigation."

Architectural Review

"An engaging overview of American modernism. . . . [Wright’s] on-air talent for making the arcane accessible translates well into print; this remarkably comprehensive volume is full of telling, even funny details alongside the scholarship. . . .  Deft, knowledgable text."

Sandy McLendon | Modernism Magazine

"Sure to become a standard in the field.  . . . This book is a joy to read and copiously illustrated. Wright’s enthusiasm for her topic comes through in her vivid, compelling writing. . . . Essential."


"Perhaps the finest American survey text available. Wright addresses herself first to architects, . . . but USA seamlessly turns the freshest scholarship into a clear (but not monolithic) guide for historians. Teachers who want to include architectural hsitory in a history course without immersing studentss in art-historical paradigms will especially welcome this book."

M. D. Samson | Journal of American History

Table of Contents

One: Modern Consolidation, 1865-1893
Two: Progressive Architectures, 1894-1918
Three: Electric Modernities, 1919-1932
Four: Architecture, the Public and the State, 1933-1945
Five: The Triumph of Modernism, 1946-1964
Six: Challenging Orthodoxies, 1965-1984
Seven: Disjunctures and Alternatives, 1985 to the Present
Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press