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Peeking Through the Keyhole: The Evolution of North American Homes

by Avi Friedman and David Krawitz

You are an earnest student of architecture and interior design. You’re intrigued by the economic, sociological, anthropological, and demographic factors that influence the residential architecture of North America. You want the subject presented clearly and without literary affectations or digressions into high academic jargon.

If this sounds like you, you’ll enjoy Peeking Through the Keyhole, a down-to-earth but savvy guide to the changes in home design and construction over the past 50 years. The main thinker of reputation here is McGill architecture professor Avi Friedman, a Canadian pioneer in developing concepts for affordable urban housing, such as the “Grow Home” project he promoted with populist architectural writer Witold Rybczynski. His co-author is David Krawitz, also from the McGill architecture school.

Peeking Through the Keyhole aspires to be a comprehensive survey of topics, ably supported by solid data. In their assessments of kitchens, home offices, and living environments that are child-friendly or appropriate for senior citizens, the authors unravel the multifarious effects of technology and consumerism on the way we perceive and use domestic space. Along the way, they provide compelling insights into how designers, engineers, developers, and home-owners conspire to create the living spaces we inhabit today.

These themes in architectural thought have been popularized by other writers. Philip Langdon did it with his history on the evolution of fast food architecture. Tracy Kidder, the perennial writer on every zeitgeist topic going, wrote a non-fiction literary bestseller, House, about the turbulent relationship among an architect, builder, and client. Measured against this competition, Friedman and Krawitz acquit themselves well on substance. The writing style is not quite up to speed, though. While bulletproof competent, the utilitarian approach lacks the curb appeal that keeps the mind’s eye entertained.