Monday, 9 April 2018

Dream Cities: Seven Urban Ideas That Shaped the World by Wade Graham – a book review

After reading this book, it seems amazing to try and understand modern human history without any familiarity with cities, urbanization and the development of the metropolis. In many ways, urbanization has been the driving force behind human progress over the last few centuries, since the Industrial Revolution.

There is no doubt much of contemporary human culture and social tradition is intertwined with the urban area. Cities have developed their own culture and lifestyle and much of that is based on the living arrangement within each city, i.e. the unique architectural blend of each city. For example, Singapore will not be Singapore without its HDB (Housing Development Board) estates. From its ‘coffee shop’ culture to its ‘New Town Centers’ the HDB estate is the cornerstone of a certain unique Singaporean lifestyle.

In order to help readers make sense of different styles, Wade Graham organizes his book by theme and in a loose chronological sense. Each chapter covers a basic architectural idea, e.g. Castles, Monuments, Malls, etc. For a non-architecture type like me, it appears these categories – at least to some extent – represent the thought of the author and may be controversial to others. Undoubtedly, some architectural historians will dispute the categories and propagate their own different framework for the development of urban architectural styles.

The author’s deep knowledge of recent architectural designs comes out clearly in the book. Different architects are ‘humanized’ in the work through cross referencing the impact of their personal lives on their work. However, at times, perhaps due to the author’s deep knowledge, the book gets dry and difficult to read. Paragraphs extend into pages and laypersons like me get bored.

Wade Graham’s Dream Cities is a book any social thinker will benefit from reading. However, if I had started my journey into architectural history with an easier book I might have benefited from Graham’s analytical insights more. The importance of understanding urban geography in the modern world means this will likely not be my last book on the subject.
Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his past career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at

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