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Nathan Silver

Nathan Silver is an architect, writer, and former architecture school head living in London. He is the author of Lost New York, nominated for the National Book Award.

Titles by This Author

The Case for Improvisation

When this book first appeared in 1972, it was part of the spirit that would define a new architecture and design era--a new way of thinking ready to move beyond the purist doctrines and formal models of modernism. Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver’s book was a manifesto for a generation that took pleasure in doing things ad hoc, using materials at hand to solve real-world problems. The implications were subversive. Turned-off citizens of the 1970s immediately adopted the book as a DIY guide. The word “adhocism” entered the vocabulary, the concept of adhocism became part of the designer’s toolkit, and Adhocism became a cult classic. Now Adhocism is available again, with new texts by Jencks and Silver reflecting on the past forty years of adhocism and new illustrations demonstrating adhocism’s continuing relevance.

Adhocism has always been around. (Think Robinson Crusoe, making a raft and then a shelter from the wreck of his ship.) As a design principle, adhocism starts with everyday improvisations: a bottle as a candleholder, a dictionary as a doorstop, a tractor seat on wheels as a dining room chair. But it is also an undeveloped force within the way we approach almost every activity, from play to architecture to city planning to political revolution.

Engagingly written, filled with pictures and examples from areas as diverse as auto mechanics and biology, Adhocism urges us to pay less attention to the rulebook and more to the real principle of how we actually do things. It declares that problems are not necessarily solved in a genius’s “eureka!” moment but by trial and error, adjustment and readjustment.

A Building Biography of the Centre Pompidou, Paris

This is the story of how France's famed cultural icon, one of the most controversial and supremely public buildings of the century, was designed and built. Nathan Silver's detailed account of the Centre Pompidou—still called Beaubourg by its designers, and by Parisians—takes the form of a fascinating and insightful "building biography." Not just a book about a building but about the making of a building, this fresh, heterodox means of inquiry is a holistic reading of the intricate process of creating architecture in contemporary society that brings to light its human story, encompassing its stylistic, historical, technical, and social aspects.

Beaubourg, Silver reveals, was unlike anything that had ever been built. A realization of ideals and aspirations of it architectural generation, a rethinking of fundamental precepts of design and construction, it took nothing for granted, and it has since become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Europe—flaunting new principles that other architects have to come to terms with.