Siegel's book explains the failings of modernist architecture in aesthetic, physical, and cultural terms. He points out its failings in terms of scale and design in ways that are similar to the ones that I mentioned in my post on de-structured space. Many of these are failings that we've known about since Form Follows Fiasco. Some of them focus on planning matters that New Urbanism has been dealing with. Siegel, however, is more critical of Clarence Perry's Neighborhood Unit and what we might call the commodification of urban life.
Siegel's approach is more constructive, though. First, it is careful about how we got traditional architecture as it is practiced today. He mentions that there was a divergence in the 1970s and 1980s, when postmodernism had ironic and un-ironic branches. The ironic branch attempted to mitigate boredom while staying in good modernist stead. It made architectural jokes. The un-ironic branch was not embarrassed by its love of old buildings. This branch wanted to be allowed to do what architects used to do. Those architects eventually adopted a new-traditional approach.
Siegel traces the modernists' error to an earlier divergence from the main strain of Western classical architecture. He blames 19th-century romanticism. (I think this is when de-structured space really started taking over.) I agree from a formal point of view, but perhaps not from a more political point of view.
Carroll William ("Bill") Westfall's book discusses how different political ideas have been expressed in different architectural forms. He traces classical architecture's changes from ancient times through Thomas Jefferson, and discusses how different architectural decisions express different political systems. Crucially, Thomas Jefferson wanted to explicate our Republic in architecture. Westfall has a few kind words for 19th century architecture — in fact not many words at all. He almost skips to his hope that we can revive this sort of expression today. He also touches on some of the concerns of New Urbanism — and part of his argument hinges on Leon Krier's differentiation of architecture into urban fabric and civic buildings. (See my post on the three estates.) He suggests that architecture can recover its expressiveness by expressing our political forms.
Siegel, meanwhile, ends his insightful critique of modernist Avant Garde architecture by suggesting that not just any revival of past styles will do. After all, he sees un-grounded revivals as part of the reason that the 19th century led to the 20th century's failure. Instead, he proposes a restrained classicism. He says that this classicism should not be Baroque (or picturesque), but by that he means that it should not be too ornate. The kitschy architecture of the Russian oligarchs should not, apparently, be a model. He must not mean, though, that he must not mean "Baroque" in an art-historical sense, since he likes David Mayernik's Fleming Library of the American School, in Lugano Switzerland. That school has Baroque elements. So do a number of the designs Siegel promotes as models for the future. Rather, Siegel seems to be saying that in our time, the West needs to adopt a more sober architecture.
This is where the two books converge. I followed Siegel right up to the very end, when he swerves into something uncomfortably like the "of its time" argument for modernism. He almost seems to be calling for an architecture for our times. It just happens to be classical. Of course, he would never agree. He draws some important distinctions. Still, is where the reader might benefit from Westfall's point of view. Like Siegel, Westfall steers away from an art-historical perspective. They both complain about romanticism. For Westfall, though, the cure is the careful working-out of how we live with buildings and how buildings should behave. In other words, Siegel may leave the reader with a dilemma that Westfall can solve. Incidentally Siegel's directness might also help the reader grasp what motivates Westfall to dwell on "politics." The two books complement each other.