Improbable Metropolis: Houston's Architectural and Urban History (Hardcover)
2021 Good Brick Award Winner from Preservation Houston
Ron Tyler Award for Best Illustrated Book on Texas History and Culture from Texas State Historical Association
2021 Summerlee Book Prize (Nonfiction), Center for History and Culture of Southeast Texas and the Upper Gulf Coast at Lamar UniversityJust over 180 years ago, the city of Houston was nothing more than an alligator-infested swamp along the Buffalo Bayou that spread onto a flat, endless plain. Today, it is a sprawling, architecturally and culturally diverse metropolis. How did one transform into the other in such a short period?
Improbable Metropolis uses the built environment as a guide to explore the remarkable evolution that Houston has undergone from 1836 to the present. Houston’s architecture, an indicator of its culture and prosperity, has been inconsistent, often predictable, sometimes bizarre, and occasionally extraordinary. Industries from cotton, lumber, sugar, and rail and water transportation, to petroleum, healthcare, biomedical research, and aerospace have each in turn brought profit and attention to Houston. Each created an associated building boom, expanding the city’s architectural sophistication, its footprint, and its cultural breadth. Providing a template for architectural investigations of other American cities, Improbable Metropolis is an important addition to the literature on Texas history.
— Cite Magazine
[Improbable Metropolis] is big, beautiful and comprehensive...starting with the startling book jacket, which shows the downtown skyline from an unexpected angle at night, it is a feast for the eyes...I cannot imagine how much labor went into this magnificent book.
— Austin American Statesman
Although Houston has been the fourth-largest city in the United States since 1969, it does not receive the scholarly attention from historians that its size deserves; Bradley’s handsome volume helps rectify this neglect...Bradley’s deep familiarity with her subject will enthrall lay readers and will inspire specialists to enrich Houston’s story by exploring numerous topics further.
— Journal of Southern History
Throughout Improbable Metropolis, Bradley intertwines Houston’s two dominant and diverging narratives of southern gentility and aggressive economic policies to reveal an often contradictory and yet incredible architectural history that challenges our assumptions about the generative principles of a metropolis.
Bradley has spent a lifetime dedicated to architecture, planning, and historic preservation in Houston and her encyclopedic knowledge of the city makes this ambitious work possible. The text is richly accompanied by a wealth of color maps and photographs that increase the depth of documentation...Improbable Metropolis provides further argument that Houston should not be treated as a regional subject, but one that reflects the central importance of private capital, rather than public planning, in shaping the modern American city.
— Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum