Architects of an American Landscape, a readable, intelligently paced dual biography, is the literary equivalent of a rolling, Olmstedian greensward. By the final chapter, the reader fully appreciates the short, productive life of Richardson (1838-86), whom Henry Adams, the intimate of senators and presidents, called 'the only really big man I ever knew.' The Olmsted material feels like a welcome bonus, with erudite retellings of his conservation work in the Yosemite Valley, his pioneering efforts in forestry management for the Vanderbilts’ Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, and of course his many collaborations with Richardson ... There is one question that Mr. Howard doesn’t answer satisfactorily: Why has the Richardsonian aesthetic faded so quickly? Why does the author’s beloved subject so need resurrection? ... excellent ... Mr. Howard makes a strong case that we should give Richardson’s prodigious accomplishments an educated second look.
Howard gets it marvelously right ... the author nails his pairing of the two with solid scholarship and graceful, vivid writing ... Just as importantly, he gives us a volume richly illustrated with more than 50 half-tone images. Overall, the presentation is superb.
... engaging ... a vivid, deeply researched dual biography ... the author brings the architectural world to life on the page ... An absorbing and informative history from a significant historian/biographer.
... solid ... Though Howard briskly and lucidly chronicles both men’s professional and private lives, and notes the important role they played in each other’s careers, there are few specifics about the manner in which they collaborated or how they actively influenced one another’s approaches ... Still, Howard succeeds in shining a spotlight on the lesser-known Richardson and documenting Olmsted’s innovations as 'a democratic designer of places that belonged to everyone.' Architecture buffs will be engrossed.
... a fine dual biography ... The Olmsted-Richardson relationship sparked questions that persist. What should a building that integrates with the environment look like? What makes buildings sustainable? Communities? Can more suburbs look like Riverside, and can they do it affordably? What democratizing powers does architecture truly possess? Howard, somewhat disappointingly, doesn’t extend his narrative far into these questions — having established that Olmsted-Richardson created a uniquely American approach to the built environment, he is largely content to leave the matter there. But there’s more to be said.