Among critics of architecture, the late William H. Jordy never achieved the national celebrity of Lewis Mumford or Ada Louise Huxtable. His output was moderate, and apart from five years writing regularly for The New Criterion (1982–1987) he had no regular editorial perch from which to fashion a reputation. Nor did he ever seek to be a “player” by staking himself to an artist or movement, as Vincent Scully once did with Louis Kahn (a good guess) and Reyner Banham with the New Brutalism (a bad one). Even his authorial voice—circumspect and deliberate, with the miniaturized elegance of a precision watch—was constitutionally incapable of raising a stir. And yet, Jordy had an extraordinary sensitivity to what might be called the aesthetic life of a building, which placed him among the most insightful critics of his generation.

Now fifteen of Jordy’s essays have been gathered by Mardges Bacon, a...


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