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So many books, so little time.
Stack of architecture books and a plant on a shelf
“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” – Oscar Wilde

It is no secret that I am a serious bibliophile.

Not only do I immensely enjoy reading in my everyday life, I also always seek new books about architecture and design to supplement my career.

And when it comes to architecture and design, there are many great classics and new choices out there.

Here is a small list of the book basics that I recommend for the academic and professional life of an architect. I hope that it will inspire those who are interested in learning a bit more about design and introduce a few new entries to your TBR list.

From my bookshelf, to yours.

For the Architecture Student

1. 101 Things I learned in Architecture School – Matthew Frederick

Cover of 101 Things I learned in Architecture School

“An architect knows something about everything. An engineer knows everything about one thing.”

This is probably one of the most recommended books for architecture students, and with good reason. It is an introductory compilation of basic, but very useful core skills needed during the journey to becoming an architect. The book is full of explanations and tips about design, drawing, presentation and key concepts in very simple terms.

2. Architect’s Sketchbooks – Will Jones (and Narinder Sagoo)

Cover of Architect’s Sketchbooks

“Blood, sweat and pencil lead.”

Sketching is a key part of the design process of architects: it is the fastest yet most expressive way to explain an idea, an anecdote, even a feeling. It is a crucial skill for any architect. However, that first stroke of pen on an empty page can be the most daunting. This book is an inspiration, motivation and lesson on expressing ideas by sketching, whether it is an elaborate drawing or a napkin doodle. Full of new ideas that were never seen before, it boasts an impressive collection of 85 architects’ sketches and drawings, including Norman Foster, Shigeru Ban and Rafael Viñoly.

3. Modern Architecture: A Critical History – Kenneth Frampton

Cover of Modern Architecture: A Critical History

“To provide meaningful architecture is not to parody history, but to articulate it.” – Daniel Libeskind

All-you-need-to-know guide to modern architecture. It is essential reading for architecture students, who want to understand the evolution of (modern) architecture, with a critical look into the movements. Supported by images, it provides a thorough encyclopaedia for the major trends, theories and critiques into 20th century architecture.

See also: Towards A New Architecture – Le Corbusier

4. Manual of Section – Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, and David J. Lewis

Cover of Manual of Section

“The section illuminates the interplay between a building’s structure and the space framed between foundation and roof.”

The founding partners of the LTL architects provide a great tool for looking at architecture from another perspective, so to say: the section drawing. Not only does the book provide a selection of essays on the power of the section, it also has a great collection of section drawings, including very famous buildings such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in NYC, Louis I. Kahn’s Phillips Exeter Academy Library, and Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut.

5. Experiencing Architecture – Steen Eiler Rasmussen

Cover of Experiencing Architecture

“Architecture is not produced simply by adding plans and sections to elevations. It is something else and something more.[…]On the whole, art should not be explained; it must be experienced.”

Rasmussen’s book is essentially a history and basics of good design. The book touches on key subjects such as the effects of positive/negative space, scale, colour, texture, rhythm, lighting, and is a great guide for looking at design in humane, phenomenological terms.

For the Architect

1. Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino

Cover of Invisible Cities

“With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire, or its reverse, a fear.”

My favorite book ever, without a hesitation, is Calvino’s Invisible Cities. The first time I read this book was as a fresh architecture student, looking to explore new, unconventional perspectives on architecture. Since then, I have reread this book many, many times. Invisible Cities, in its essence, is a collection of short stories describing Venice as different (imaginary) cities Marco Polo has visited to Kublai Khan. The magical landscapes in the book always remind me to keep the playful, light-hearted element of architecture. When we step away from serious, we open up new possibilities.

2. Seven Interviews With Tadao Ando – Michael Auping

Cover of Seven Interviews With Tadao Ando

“I don’t believe architecture has to speak too much. It should remain silent and let nature in the guise of sunlight and wind speak.” – Tadao Ando

This collection of interviews with Tadao Ando, conducted over a 4 year period, shows a fascinating insight into one of the great architects of our times. His incredible works with concrete, embedded in natural elements in the most subtle and moving ways, are discussed in relation to his philosophy and approach to design.

3. Detail in Contemporary Residential Architecture – Virginia McLeod

Cover of Detail in Contemporary Residential Architecture

More on the technical side of design, this book is a valuable resource of construction details in context with residential projects. It provides many technical details to materials and construction, which can be inspirational in new designs or in adapting sustainable solutions to existing projects.

4. The Age of Spectacle – Tom Dyckhoff

Cover of The Age of Spectacle

“Today successful cities, young or old, attract smart, entrepreneurial people, in part, by being urban theme parks.” – Edward Glaeser

In his book, Dyckhoff explores the rising trend of spectacle-oriented contemporary architecture, with their eye-catching shapes and controversial urban placements. In today’s architectural landscape, it is important for architects to not just consider the relationship between the structure and its users, but also the financial, political and cultural factors affecting the construction industry. This is an interesting read for all architects, who seek to take a more in-depth look into the real world of construction.

On the To-Read Shelf

1. AMC Architecture (Magazine) – Le Moniteur

Cover of an AMC issue

Architectural magazines are a fantastic way to keep up with the new projects and construction methods in today’s fast-developing, high-tech world. AMC is definitely one of the leading publications on this matter.

2. The Poetics of Space – Gaston Bachelard

Cover of The Poetics of Space

The classic look at how we experience intimate spaces:

Bachelard takes us on a journey, from cellar to attic, to show how our perceptions of houses and other shelters shape our thoughts, memories, and dreams.

3. In Praise of Shadows – Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

Cover of In Praise of Shadows

“Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.”

4. Species of Spaces and Other Pieces – Georges Perec

Cover of Species of Spaces and Other Pieces

“Question your tea spoons.”

5. Made in Tokyo: Guide Book – Momoyo Kaijima, Junzo Kuroda, Yoshiharu Tsukamoto

Cover of Made in Tokyo: Guide Book

This humorous and riveting book exposes the unique identity of Tokyo in curious combinations of multi-use structures with diagrams and explanations offer an insight into the culture and city life.


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