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Paperback | $26.95 Trade | £21.95 | 408 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | 65 b&w illus. | January 2018 | ISBN: 9780262534840
eBook | $18.95 Trade | January 2018 | ISBN: 9780262344364
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On Accident

Episodes in Architecture and Landscape
Foreword by Reinhold Martin


This collection by “architectural history’s most beguiling essayist” (as Reinhold Martin calls the author in the book’s foreword) illuminates the unfamiliar, the arcane, the obscure—phenomena largely missing from architectural and landscape history. These essays by Edward Eigen do not walk in a straight line, but roam across uncertain territory, discovering sunken forests, unclassifiable islands, inflammable skies, unvisited shores, plagiarized tabernacles. Taken together, these texts offer a group portrait of how certain things fall apart.

We read about the statistical investigation of lightning strikes in France by the author-astronomer Camille Flammarion, which leads Eigen to reflect also on Foucault, Hamlet, and the role of the anecdote in architectural history. We learn about, among other things, Olmsted’s role in transforming landscape gardening into landscape architecture; the connections among hedging, hedge funds, the High Line, and GPS bandwidth; timber-frame roofs and (spider) web-based learning; the archives of the Houses of Parliament through flood and fire; and what the 1898 disappearance and reappearance of the Trenton, New Jersey architect William W. Slack might tell us about the conflict between “the migratory impulse” and “love of home.”

Eigen compares his essays to the “gathering up of seeds that fell by the wayside.” The seedlings that result create in the reader’s imagination a dazzling display of the particular, the contingent, the incidental, and the singular, all in search of a narrative.

About the Author

Edward Eigen is Associate Professor of History of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Associate Editor of Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes. His writing has appeared in Cabinet, Pamphlet, Grey Room, and other publications.


“With great wit and extraordinary knowledge—skillfully supported by writing that makes us pay nothing yet delivers everything—this book guides us into the rich subject of accident and anecdote as forms of historical criticism. Riveting accounts of landscapes, architectures, and the thickness of life bring the central epistemological dilemmas of our time into exquisite relief. A brilliant book.”
Catherine Ingraham, Professor of Architecture, Pratt Institute; author of Architecture and the Burdens of Linearity
“The owl of Minerva flies at dusk. Blam! Blam! Silence. The little soft-bodied creatures are safe again. Edward Eigen has written a book of crepuscular erudition, architectural history as would have been dreamed by the Lovecraftian lovechild of Edward Gorey, Laurence Sterne, and Jules Verne. It is baroque, wry, pessimistic, mannered, manorial, and seems to have all the time in the world. I have no idea what the world we are entering will make of it, but I am glad it has been published, since it can perhaps function as an idiosyncratic time capsule: this is what it was like to have a beautiful mind on the watershed of the twenty-first century.”
D. Graham Burnett, Professor of History and History of Science, Princeton University; coauthor of Keywords:...Relevant to Academic Life, &c.