Uncommon Ground

Uncommon Ground

Architecture, Technology, and Topography

By David Leatherbarrow

How building and site, technology and topography, interact to create successful buildings and resolve theoretical issues in practice.





How building and site, technology and topography, interact to create successful buildings and resolve theoretical issues in practice.

Although both are central to architecture, siting and construction are often treated as separate domains. In Uncommon Ground, David Leatherbarrow illuminates their relationship, focusing on the years between 1930 and 1960, when utopian ideas about the role of technology in building gave way to an awareness of its disruptive impact on cities and culture. He examines the work of three architects, Richard Neutra, Antonin Raymond, and Aris Konstantinidis, who practiced in the United States, Japan, and Greece respectively.Leatherbarrow rejects the assumption that buildings of the modern period, particularly those that used the latest technology, were designed without regard to their surroundings. Although the prefabricated elements used in the buildings were designed independent of siting considerations, architects used these elements to modulate the environment. Leatherbarrow shows how the role of walls, the traditional element of architectural definition and platform partition, became less significant than that of the platforms themselves, the floors, ceilings, and intermediate levels. He shows how frontality was replaced by the building's four-sided extension into its surroundings, resulting in frontal configurations previously characteristic of the back. Arguing that the boundary between inside and outside was radically redefined, Leatherbarrow challenges cherished notions about the autonomy of the architectural object and about regional coherence. Modern architectural topography, he suggests, is an interplay of buildings, landscapes, and cities, as well as the humans who use them. The conflict between technological progress and cultural continuity, Leatherbarrow claims, exists only in theory, not in the real world of architecture. He argues that the act of building is not a matter of restoring regional identity by re-creating familiar signs, but of incorporating construction into the process of topography's perpetual becoming.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262122306 335 pp. | 7 in x 9 in


$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262621618 335 pp. | 7 in x 9 in


  • David Leatherbarrow's powers of observation are deep and rich, his language precise and elegant. Uncommon Ground connects issues most writers and architects prefer to keep seperate—a seperation that can result in architecture of trivial relationships, of mere style. His book negotiates the apparent chasm between a technical universe and one experienced on a daily basis—that of the earth, our hearts, our soul. Uncommon Ground is an important work and is rewarding reading.

    Tod Williams

    Tod Williams Billie Tsien and Associates, New York City

  • Leatherbarrow examines in meticulous detail the relationship of a way of building to a prticular place, the relationship of construction to site, the relationship of craft to mass production, and, in a broader sense, the relationship between traditional and industrial technology. The book is a welcome addition to the current discussion of the problem of the universal culture that the machine age has created and will be an important and provocative contribution to architectural discourse now and in the future.

    Edward R. Ford

    School of Architecture, University of Virginia

  • An impressive and important book. The bringing together of the dual topics of siting and construction and the tracing of them through some exemplary works of modern architecture, make this a work that addresses both the theory and practice of architecture; as such, it will surely be a much-read book by both university and professional audiences.

    John Dixon Hunt

    The Graduate School of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania

  • One of the largest questions an architect is faced with today in any part of the world is how one can build an architecture which creates identity of place and continuity of culture while engaged in the unaboidable use of global technology. Any architect dedicating oneself to this difficult task will surely find this book a revealation.

    Hisao Kohyama

    Architect, Hon FAIA, Professor Emeritus University of Tokyo