Yolanda Zappaterra and Jan Fuscoe, illustrations by Jenny Seddon, Aurum Press, £18.99
A global tsunami of new high-rise has transformed countless city skylines more this century than in the several before it. But that's not what this eccentric world tour of a book is about, and not what its charming, slightly wonky silhouette drawings show. 'Skyscraper Cities' is only one of six categories into which the authors have divided up their 50 chosen cities.
Berlin: The spikey tower is Streitparth and Henselmann's Fernsehturm (1969), symbol of the now-extinct communist state, the DDR
The others are Sacred (e.g. Lhasa), Visionary (e.g. Brasilia), Seaside (e.g. Beirut) Fortress (e.g. Carcasonne - it's in France) and Cultural Capitals (here, Capitals would have sufficed, since they all are; in the case of Washington, 'cultural' means no more than 'museums'). A city like Dubai could go into at least three categories, but landed in Visionary, whereas London is Skyscraper, yet has no mention of Tower 42, the Gherkin or Centre Point. The categories may be loose, but they do help navigate the path you choose. And whatever journey this book will take you on is bound to be magical.
Brasilia: only 7 of the chosen 9 are by Oscar Niemeyer!
Every city starts with a quote about it and two pages of essay - part history, part architecture guide, and satisfyingly, part impression. More details of the buildings illustrated are below in each picture. The authors say that by cutting straight to just a few buildings, their choice 'strips away the noise, the ephemera and the distractions to get to each (city)'s beating heart'. Actually, this may be a dodgy premise - if anything, a city's heart is its unique public spaces, where its citizens (its blood) circulate, congregate and create character. Cities are noise and ephemera, and far more animated than mere architecture.
Sydney: includes skyscrapers (L to R) by Nouvel, Piano, local legendary modernist Seidler and Ingenhoven
Then again, buildings do have their own characters and stories to tell. Skylines brings those out, in an engaging, informed and easy-to-read way. The big question I wondered was: Have the authors actually visited every city in the book? The book's intimacy with each suggest they may have...