GRAND CONSTRUCTIONS is itself grand, page after page of Piero Ventura's fine detailed pen drawings washed in exquisite watercolors. The drawings do justice to the vertiginous steepness of a Mayan pyramid, the busyness of a baroque facade and the monumental beauty of the Capitol. He makes full use of the wide open spaces in this generously large book (a two-page spread stretches 20 inches), sometimes even cropping the drawings in ways that make you imagine the tower or dome or whatnot that is just off the page.
Gian Paolo, Ceserani's text is equally ambitious: a brief history of Western architecture, from Stonehenge to the Sydney Opera House -- all in small blocks of type spread out over a hundred pages. It, too, is chock-full of detail, but, perhaps because of the unnamed translator from the Italian, his narrative is neither as polished nor as pleasing as Ventura's illustrations, sometimes devloping into the meaningless mush of many grade-school textbooks: "Man in the distant past overcame the harshest tests, always making use of his many skills to live in as much comfort and safety as possible." Yes, at least when he wasn't freezing to death, or being gobbled up by wild beasts.
But Ceserani warms up when he moves from the speculative past to the architecture closer to home: the Pantheon of Rome, Saint Mark's in Venice, Palladio's villas. These wonders are guaranteed either to dumbfound or make eloquent anyone who contemplates them, and Ceserani and Ventura devote many pages to their native land, as is fitting. The rest of the West gets less consistent attention, but for so short a book there is a good taste of its diversity: from the ruins of Machu Picchu to the splendors of Versailles to Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum. Ceserani discusses the influence of Palladio on American architecture, but nowhere does he mention the sacred name of Jefferson.
The story of architecture is of course inextricable from the story of man and the story of art. For the younger reader, and even for this not-so-young one, a good many seeds are scattered throughout this book, waiting to be planted. Read more of Stephens and Catherwood, the Americans who rediscovered the Mayans; read more about Christopher Wren; about Bernini; about Versailles; about the Aztecs; about Le Corbusier. And then let these drawings seduce you back into Grand Constructions.