Reyner Banham once suggested that historians have the advantage of looking at the world through “the rear-view mirror.” This is a privilege that can be abused—or not. What counters the advantage of hindsight is the hope that the historian will lay out the evidence in such a way that the implicit realities of history become vivid. Thomas S. Hines, in his introduction to Dione Neutra’s book Richard Neutra: Promise and Fulfillment, 1919–1932 (1986), writes, “History at its best is an analytical narrative, where ‘methodology’ pervades but never engulfs the story.” In The Architecture of the Sun, Hines materializes this sentiment in a way that approaches cultural anthropology. Indeed, for the most part Hines manages to convey a sense of frailty, a sense of being “in the moment” that in other hands might come across as inevitability, the smugness of “being right after the events” that Banham’s statement implies.

The...

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