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APA Utah News & Events


April 11, 2023 by Nicole Mason


March 31, 2023, by michael maloy, aicp

apa utah

An Introduction

Years ago, I purchased my first book by Witold Rybczynski (pronounced Vee-told Rib-chin-ski), Home: A Short History of an Idea, published in 1986 by Penguin Books. Home was intended to be a “vacation” book, but after several vacations and several meager attempts, I finally committed to reading and finishing Home in July of 2021—thank you, Audible. And then I became a Rybczynski fan. Since then, I have purchased ten more Rybczynski titles, which is more than any other author I have read—even more than Jane Jacobs, but that is only because Jacobs published nine books.

I love Rybczynski. He gets it. He understands the value and importance of thoughtful architecture, the nurturing effect of good urban design, and what truly matters—people, community, family, and relationships. Rybczynski uses his architectural training, an apparent inclination to teach, and delightful writing skills to share stories, illustrate ideas, and enlighten readers. Hopefully, many of those readers are themselves, architects and builders, planners and developers, activists and officials, who are willing to learn how to make places worth caring about—because we desperately need more of that, don’t we.

Who is Witold Rybczynski?

From his website at, Rybczynski offers the following brief biography:

“Witold Rybczynski was born in Edinburgh, of Polish parentage, raised in London, and attended Jesuit schools in England and Canada. He studied architecture at McGill University in Montreal, where he also taught for twenty years. He is Emeritus Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania. Rybczynski has designed and built houses as a registered architect, as well as doing practical experiments in low-cost housing, which took him to Mexico, Central America, Nigeria, Tanzania, India, the Philippines, and China. He has written for the Atlantic, New Yorker, New York Review of Books, and the New York Times, and has been architecture critic for Saturday Night, Wigwag, and Slate. From 2004 to 2012, he served on the U. S. Commission of Fine Arts. These experiences were shared with his wife of many years, Shirley Hallam (1944-2021).”

Charleston Fancy

In September 2021, my wife and I flew to Chester, South Carolina, for our first time to visit our oldest son and his young family, who had recently moved there. As a city planner, I wanted also to see two additional cities; Savannah, Georgia, to see the historic civic squares laid out by James Oglethorpe in 1733, and Charleston, South Carolina, to tour some of the famous sites described in the 1994 non-fiction novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, which in my opinion is simply one of the best book titles—and covers–of all time. In fact, following that trip, I now have a 16-inch replica of the “Bird Girl” sculpture by Sylvia Judson in my office.

Following our trip to Charleston, I read Rybczynski’s 2019 book Charleston Fancy: Little Houses and Big Dreams in the Holy City, which (again) did not disappoint—not at all. In fact, I have purchased and given away several copies to share “the love” and “lessons learned” from reading this insightful book. Amazon describes Charleston Fancy as “A captivating chronicle of building in modern-day Charleston, making a case for architecture based on historical precedent, local context, and the ability to delight.” Amazon continues its book summary as follows:

“Charleston, South Carolina, which boasts America’s first historic district, is known for its palmetto-lined streets and picturesque houses. The Holy City, named for its profusion of churches, exudes an irresistible charm. Award-winning author and cultural critic Witold Rybczynski unfolds a series of stories about a group of youthful architects, builders, and developers based in Charleston: a self-taught home builder, an Air Force pilot, a fledgling architect, and a bluegrass mandolin player.

“Beginning in the 1980s, this cast of characters, exercising a kind of amateur mastery, produced an eclectic array of buildings inspired by the past—including a domed Byzantine drawing room, a fanciful medieval castle, a restored freedman’s cottage, a miniature Palladian villa, and a contemporary Mediterranean street. In his careful profiles of these protagonists and the challenges they have overcome in realizing their dreams, Rybczynski compellingly emphasizes the importance of architecture and urban design on a local level, how an old city can remake itself by invention as well as replication, and the role that individuals still play in transforming the urban landscapes around them.”

Trust me. This one is worth your time and a pleasure to read. And afterward, plan on booking a flight to Charleston. Or make it a “two-for-one” and visit Savannah while you are within driving distance. I simply can’t wait to go again; it is so good!

Book Drawing

Okay, are you ready for another chance to win a free book from APA Utah? Email your entry to by April 17, 2023, to win one of two free copies of Charleston Fancy. Good luck and good reading!

The date, time, and location of a future APA Utah book discussion of “Charleston Fancy” will be announced soon! AICP CM credits are anticipated for this educational event (pending approval).

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