Skip navigation
Hardcover | Out of Print | 280 pp. | 7 x 9 in | May 1999 | ISBN: 9780262082747
Paperback | $6.75 Trade | £5.95 | 280 pp. | 7 x 9 in | February 2001 | ISBN: 9780262582032
Mouseover for Online Attention Data

The Monumental Impulse

Architecture's Biological Roots


We humans owe an immense architectural debt to many other species. Indeed, the first hexagons humans saw may have been in honeycombs, the first skyscrapers termitaries (termite high-rises), and the first tents those of African weaver ants. In The Monumental Impulse, art historian George Hersey investigates many ties between the biological sciences and the building arts. Natural building materials such as wood and limestone, for example, originate in biological processes. Much architectural ornament borrows from botany and zoology. Hersey draws striking analogies between building types and animal species. He examines the relationship between physical structures and living organisms, from bridges to mosques, from molecules to mammals. Insects, mollusks, and birds are given separate chapters, and three final chapters focus on architectural form and biological reproduction. Hersey also discusses architecture in connection with the body's interior processes and shows how buildings may be said to reproduce, adapt, and evolve, like other inanimate or "nonbiotic" entities such as computer programs and robots. The book is both learned and entertaining, and is abundantly illustrated with fascinating visual comparisons.

About the Author

George Hersey is Emeritus Professor of Art History at Yale University. He is the author of numerous books, including The Evolution of Allure: Sexual Selection from the Medici Venus to the Incredible Hulk (MIT Press, 1996) and The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture: Speculations on Ornament from Vitruvius to Venturi (MIT Press, 1988).


“In this engaging, eminently readable, and frequently surprisingexploration of the human urge to build, Hersey invites us to viewarchitecture from an unaccustomed perspective—the perspective ofbiology. . . . With this coupling of architecture and biology, Herseyis fully engaged in that Enlightenment spirit biologist E. O. Wilsoncalls β€˜the quest for the unity of knowledge.’”
β€”Norman Crowe, Department of Architecture, University of Notre Dame