My Favorite Architecture Books

Posted on May 8, 2014

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I’m a huge archi-nerd when it comes to reading books about architecture, so I’ve looked at a fair amount of architecture book lists. In reading such lists though, I’ve noticed some glaring omissions. Instead of doing a top blah blah architecture blah blah list, this is simply a list of my favorite architecture books in no particular order.

Architects

Everyone needs a couple “coffee table books” of their favorite architects. I’m starting off my list with a few of my favorites. I’m not trying to push these architects or their design philosophies on you, but as collections of their work, the next three books are big, beautiful and filled with images and great text to accompany them. In general, you can’t go wrong with the large Tashen or Phaidon books.

Renzo Piano Building Workshop 1966 to Today by Philip Jodidio

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Renzo Piano has always been one of my favorite architects. This book showcases all his big hitters, except for his most recent ones.

Louis I. Kahn by Robert McCarter

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I maintain than an architect who does not appreciate Kahn’s work is no archtiect at all. It’s a strong stance, but his use of simple geometry and light is something special.

Kieran Timberlake: Inquiry by Stephen Kieran, James Timberlake and Karl Wallick

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This book rocks mostly because of it’s extensive use of details for the projects shown in the book. I can’t count how many times I’ve been left wondering how something was actually constructed in these types of books. This book answers questions like “Do that have a thermal brake?” “How did they do that?” and Whaaaaa?” I hope we start to see more and more architects taking this approach for their own portfolio books.

History

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

This book should be read by every child in the country. There is no greater book to read explaining what make our cities great. This book had a huge impact on what my beliefs of what makes great cities are. It focuses on local communities, usability and an eyes on the street mentality that is being rediscovered as what make great neighborhoods and cities work.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” 

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander

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I will forever be grateful for the mentor who gave me this book while I was still in school. It has had a great effect on how I think about design and the ideal that I strive to achieve within my designs. This book reads like a cookbook for making great spaces and is surprising in its simplicity. Great architecture is not about grand statements or overarching plans, but a conglomerate of small interactions that form to create a wonderful whole. Moving from the very minute details to entire city planning, this book is great for every aspect of design, for those looking for tips on how to personalize their own house to city planners looking for ways to create vibrant neighborhoods.

Modern Architecture: A Critical History by Kenneth Frampton

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I’ll be honest here and admit that I haven’t read this book cover to cover, but for history books on modern architecture, this one is up there with the best. It’s been around for a while, but Kenneth Frampton remains an important figure in the world of architecture and this book checks the boxes for critical thought on modern architecture.

Reference

Architecture: Form, Space, and Order by Fancis K. Ching

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Any of Ching’s books are worthy of making this list, and you should probably go ahead and get all of them, but this book is my favorite. It covers the basics of architecture in his unique graphic style.

Architectural Graphic Standards by The American Institute of Architects

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Long recognized as the go to reference books for architects, this covers the whole gambit of architecture in a hefty 6.8 pound 1120 page monster. The picture above is from the 11th addition, which I’ve heard mixed reviews about. If you’re really worried, you can look for older versions that have a better reputation.

How to Start and Operate Your Own Design Firm by Albert Rubeling

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Nearly everyone has a class that scrapes the surface as to what types of firms are out there and what some firm organizations look like, but in terms of actually going deep into what it’s like to run a business, it’s not even close to what it should be. Granted, I haven’t read a lot of books about the business of architecture, but this one is a great starter. It covers all the basics of starting and running your own architecture firm. Even if you never plan on running your own architecture firm (although 40% of licensed architects do), the information in this book gives you a greater understanding of how to be successful in architecture.

Mechanical and Electrical Equipment for Buildings by Walter Grondzik, Alison Kwok, Benjamin Stein, and John Reynolds

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Commonly known as MEEB. Jamb packed at 1,724 pages with nearly everything you need to know about Mechanical and Electrical systems. The go-to guide for quick MEP lessons so you can sound smart in front of your engineers.

Writing for Design Professionals by Stephen Kliment

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This book is definitely not the most glamorous on the list, but it has been a great resource on how to communicate, specifically in the design world. It covers proposals, marketing materials, websites, correspondence and much more. I highly recommend this book for everyone as a resource for when you need to communicate clearly and effectively.

Theory

Eyes of the Skin by Juhani Pallasmaa

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A great book by a great thinker in architecture. This book discusses how we use our senses to interact with spaces. The phenomenology of architecture.

“To at least some extent every place can be remembered, partly because it is unique, but partly because it has affected our bodies and generated enough associations to hold it in our personal worlds.”

Other

Design Like You Give a Damn by Architecture for Humanity

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Just like the title implies, this book and it’s sequel is a call to action for architects to put their talents to good use. A great book for inspiration and remembering about our responsibility to design with purpose.

Cradle to Cradle by Michael Braungart and William McDonough

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Everyone has heard about green or sustainable design, but these guys take it a step further. Cradle to Cradle is a system where every waste product in a manufacturing process becomes food for something else. This eliminates the problem of waste and simply creates loops of regenerative products. A great book to read and an ideal to strive towards in the construction industry. An added benefit of this book is the unique “paper” it’s made with making it fully “Cradle-to-cradle”, waterproof and its smells divine.

“Here’s where redesign begins in earnest, where we stop trying to be less bad and we start figuring out how to be good.” 

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

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A collection of short stories by the great Italo Calvino. This book is written as a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Polo describes cities to Khan in a unique way that really takes your imagination for a ride.

Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone.

“But which is the stone that supports the bridge?” Kublai Khan asks.

“The bridge is not supported by one stone or another,” Marco answers, “but by the line of the arch that they form.”

Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: “Why do you speak to me of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me.”

Polo answers: “Without stones there is no arch.”

The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton

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A book that explores the ways in which architecture shapes how we feel and how we can use those powers for good.

“The architects who benefit us most maybe those generous enough to lay aside their claims to genius in order to devote themselves to assembling graceful but predominantly unoriginal boxes. Architecture should have the confidence and the kindness to be a little boring.” 

That’s it, until I buy more books.

I think it’s also important to note that despite the aura of wisdom and authority I radiate (is that what that smell is!?) there is a huge amount of knowledge and information out there that I have never heard of and probably will never know about. This list reflects my own experiences and what I have been exposed to, so you may not like any of these books and you probably think I’ve left out some good ones as well. If that’s the case, please let me know. I love it when my library grows and I can discover new untouched realms of the architecture universe.

*All Images in this post are courtesy of Amazon.com, unless otherwise noted. I have included links to all the books listed, in case you want to purchase them for yourself. I am not getting any sort of commission on anything on this page, I just simply like to encourage others to go out and read more about architecture.

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Posted in: Architecture