Hubbard’s book, only 226 pages long, has had a profound influence on my thinking since I read it back in 1990. It was assigned reading in college. The edition that I bought had a bland, grayish cover adorned only with the title and author’s name, both in a sterile, academic looking font (I know, because it’s still in my bookcase). In short, I was dreading having to read it.
But just a few pages into the book, I realized I was into something unique. The book, nominally about architecture, was really about how humans assign meaning to the world around them. And the author proposed to cover that mammoth subject in a book that was less than a quarter the size of my other textbooks. It was either going to be thundering triumph or a highly amusing failure. It turned out to be the former.
Hubbard argued that humans have been assigning meaning to the world around for time immemorial. It was a snug, comfy arrangement, because humans had always made up reasons to believe that the meaning they’d assigned was intrinsic and ageless. Then Modernism came along, pulled back the curtain and shouted, “Look, it’s all fake! We’re just making this stuff up!” After that, of course, it was difficult to sustain the illusion that man-made meanings were, in fact, inherent and timeless.
This led to architecture that didn’t even try to pretend it had some kind of meaning, in other words, depressing architecture. Hubbard pointed out that humans had not entirely abandoned our practice of looking the other way while meanings were being assigned. He showed that complicity was alive and well in areas including games, typography and law.
Hubbard’s reason for writing his book was to argue that architecture needed to reattach itself to people, but I’ve found that his insights apply far beyond architecture. I hope that they’ll find them equally as valuable. But even those who have no interest in architecture, sports, law or typography; even those who completely disagree with Hubbard’s thesis, can still take pleasure in reading Hubbard’s succinct, lucid prose.