Our cultural values and socio-political perspectives are perhaps most clearly reflected in our material environment. When this environment is subjected to drastic change, the effects on these values and perspectives are likely to be profound. This dissertation considers the wide-ranging socio-cultural effects of material change through a close reading of three literary texts, each of which presents a portrait of a particular city in transition. The three texts which form the basis of this study are Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories and the City, William Dalrymple's City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi, and Ivan Vladislavic's Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked. In my reading of the effects of material change as depicted in these texts, I draw on architectural theorist Fred Scott's three possible approaches to existing material and cultural infrastructure, namely demolition, preservation and re-appropriation. Using this framework, and extending it in several ways, I discuss the ways in which processes of demolition/destruction, preservation, and adaptation/re-appropriation are inscribed in these texts. In Pamuk's Istanbul, the founding of the modern nation state of Turkey is shown to have stimulated two opposing responses, namely Mustafa Kemal's discourse of Turkification, concerned with development and modernity, and a reactionary melancholy yearning for the past, called hüzün. Dalrymple's City of Djinns highlights the various forms of socio-cultural destruction which accompanied Partition while also documenting the many examples of accidental preservation within the rapidly modernising city; also important in City of Djinns are descriptions of material and cultural re-appropriation, highlighted in depictions of urban resilience and the formation of new heterogeneous communities capable of transcending former divisions. Vladislavic's Johannesburg is also concerned with three possible responses to change in the urban environment after the abolition of apartheid: the urge to demolish and emigrate, the contrary need to preserve and fortify, as well as the compromise offered by the decision to re-appropriate and adapt.