Mumford's metaphors: Sticks and stones versus ships and the sea

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In Sticks and Stones (1924), a critical account of the sources and prospects of American architecture, Lewis Mumford argues that when “the economic basis of provincial life shifted from the farm to the sea.[it] broke up the internal unity of the village.” His argument is augmented by metaphors: the instabilities of wind, sea, and ship are opposed to the virtues of “good building” and “rooted dignity.” The stable earth and the village architecture it supports are portrayed as organically superior to the chaotic fluidity of the sea. Mumford's metaphors and rhetorical skill bolster a historical narrative that continues to influence prevalent notions of “tradition” in American architecture. Nevertheless, the sea metaphors he deprecates are vital to exemplify American architecture, art, and literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-103
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Architectural Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 1 1992
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Architecture
  • Education
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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