Architecture Books | Life of an Architect

April 20, 2011 — 47 Comments

Some books you read more than once. Maybe you return to them because you think you are a little wiser than the first time you read it. Maybe you read it again because it left an impression – like a scar – and you feel like you need to try again. For whatever reason, there are books out there that you value because they had resonance.

To begin, I will admit that I don’t own all of the books on this list. For some time now I have been asking people if there is a particular book that they like – a book of substance, not the coffee table variety. The responses I received back yeilded some surprising answers but I thought I would include the books that showed up on the list from more than one person. Some titles that showed up over and over I didn’t include; titles like ‘Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture’, or ‘Experiencing Architecture’– these are on every incoming architecture students reading list.

How many of you have read these books? Are there other books I should add to the list? I will also admit that I have an ulterior motive; I get emails from the world at large asking me what books should they buy if they wanted to learn about architecture, or what it means to be an architect, etc. This list started as a response to those emails – eventually I will simply point the people with those questions here. So please let me know what other books you think should be added to the list I have started here.

Cheers and thanks for participating.



How Buildings Learn

“How Buildings Learn”

written by Stewart Brand



Anonymous by Leonardo Ricci

“Anonymous 20th Century”

written by Leonardo Ricci



'Aesthetics of Architecture'

“Aesthetics of Architecture”

written by Roger Scruton



'The Architecture of Happiness' by Alain Botton

“The Architecture of Happiness”

written by Alain Botton



'Why Architecture Matters' by Paul Goldberger

“Why Architecture Matters”

written by Paul Goldberger



'The Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison

“The Invisible Man”

written by Ralph Ellison



'The Classical Language of Architecture' by John Summerson

“The Classical Language of Architecture”

written by John Summerson



'Down Detour Road' by Eric Cesal

“Down Detour Road”

written by Eric Cesal



'The Anxiety of Influence: a theory of poetry' by Harold Bloom

“Anxiety of Influence”

written by Harold Bloom



'Between Silence and Light Spirit in the Architecture of Louis Kahn' By John Lobell

“Between Silence and Light | Spirit in the Architecture of Louis I Kahn”

written by John Lobell



'Atlas Shrugged' by Ayn Rand

“Atlas Shrugged”

written by Ayn Rand



'Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency'

‘Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency’

written by Andrea Oppenheimer Dean and Timothy Hursley

So what do you think of my list so far? I decided that I wasn’t going to try and review all the books on this list in one post and if you click on the amazon tag below each book, there is a review written there. All of these books come highly recommended from many sources – all except one but I’m not going to tell you which one that is. From everything I’ve read about it myself, it’s worth adding to the list … and to the Kindle I just got for my birthday.

Thanks again for your additions.



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  • ok two years late, but why Invisible Man? I read it in high school, but I don’t recall the architecture association.

    • I haven’t read that one – it was a title sent in by another architect when I solicited input. Maybe it’s time to reread that book! (or read it in my case)

  • Rachel

    I loved Rural Studio! I’m looking into schools to study at, and it really made me want to study at Auburn. I would love to participate in that program. I was thinking about how amazing it would be to work with Sam Mockbee, and then I realized he had passed away right before the book was published, I cried. What an amazing man.

  • inspirationeverything

    Eyes of the Skin by Juhani Palasmaa, He finds clear ways to help one understand ways to imbed meaning and intimacy into the architecture we design. All of his books have been enlightening, this one just resonates little more than the rest for me.

  • dan_kunschik

    Here are a few “current” fun/informative reads:
    ‘Building Happiness-architecture to make you smile’ by Jane Wernick
    ‘Good Deeds, Good Design’ by Bryan Bell
    ‘The Edifice Complex’ by Deyan Sudjic

  • Elly K P

    I would definitely add Rudofsky’s ‘Architecture Without Architects’. Also ‘Drawing the Landscape’ by Chip Sullivan, which though not a classic architecture book, is such a delightful reading and an essential tool for architects and artists in general.

  • Elly K P

    I would definitely add Rudofsky’s ‘Architecture Without Architects’. Also ‘Drawing the Landscape’ by Chip Sullivan, which though not a classic architecture book, is such a delightful reading and an essential tool for architects and artists in general.

  • This may be a tangent to your intention for the book list, but I think every architect will enjoy it. As a father to a wonderful little girl I can hardly wait until she’s old enough to read it.

  • cdevries

     Some good book recommendations!  I particularly like How Buildings Learn and the Architecture of Happiness.  

    I’d add Palladio in America as a good, not too dense, explanation of Palladio’s design and its influence on the architecture of the young U.S.  From Bauhaus to Our House is a fun (mildly insulting!) read on the rise of modernism; Tom Wolfe’s crack about young architects saving up for Barcelona chairs is still funny and true.

    • Thanks for adding your books to the list. I’ve never read ‘From our House to Bauhaus’ but I just put it on the list.


  • Neal

    I guess you’ll have to take away my license and not call myself an architect, because i’ve never read any of these books. I didn’t say I didn’t have any of them, I just can’t seem to get into the heavy archispeak ones.

    • You are probably like most practicing architects – you move on from the theory and focus on more practical issues. Of the titles here that I own, I haven’t read them in years. I spend most of my time reading children’s books these days with my daughter. I did however just finish blazing through the Percy Jackson series of books so I could talk about them with my nephew. These days I get more out of doing that than reading something on New Urbanism.


  • I’d recommend “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces” by William H White, or better yet, the documentary film of the same title. It’s a great analysis of how people actually behave in and use the built environment.

  • Alistair

    It’s interesting to see Atlas Shrugged on the list. I have a copy (unread) but was / am unaware of the architectural theme. Maybe The Fountainhead captures too much of the architectural limelight. Having said that, I read a little while ago that in the US, sales of Atlas Shrugged go up in an economic downturn. As architects are usually one of the first and lasting casualties of a recession, are we turning to this book for inspiration for a way forward?

    • This was one of the books on the list that I haven’t ever read but it showed up on a lot of other people’s list. As to why book sales might go up when the economy goes down – who knows (especially since I don’t even know what the book is about)

  • Why read books when you can just wait for the movie? Now, just in case anyone thinks I’m serious, let me say that my favorite book is the one by Bob Borson. It’s coming out as soon as he puts all his posts (including pictures) into book form.

    • Thanks – but I assume that you’ll fix all my typos and grammatical faux pas? That is a tall order for anyone to fill!

  • Smalltown

    I remember having to read Dana Cuff’s “Architecture: The Story of a Practice” back in school. A social scientist immersing herself into the culture of the firm, ala Jane Goodall. Although it’s a bit dated now, much of the subject matter probably still holds true.

    • Valerie Short

      Oh good one! Yes this definately should be on this list!

  • architectrunnerguy

    I’m another guy who’s shelf is stocked with more urbanism books then architecture books.

    Favorites are: “Great Streets” by Allan Jacobs.

    I’ve actually taken portions of the book on a trip so I can read it while on the street he’s talking about. No photographs, all great pen and ink drawings which us arcitects like. An interesting section in the back has one mile by one mile same scale sections of a bunch of cities with the blocks and buildings in black leaving only the street patterns white. And let me tell ya, Irvine doesn’t look like Lucca!

    Edge City by Joel Garreau

    All about big suberbs like Tysons Corner outside DC. Very well written and very funny in parts.

    The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler

    All about why Portland, Maine looks like Portland, Oregon. Also funny in parts. I’ve actually handed out this book as a giveaway during rezoning hearings when we’re trying to increase density (yes, the “D” word).

    In the architecture catagory I like A Pattern Language by Alexander mentioned before and

    Patterns of Home-The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design by Jacabson and others.

    I recommend this book to all my clients before we start.


  • Valerie Short

    One glaring gap: FRANK CHING!!!

    The beauty that was hand drafting before CAD……

    My favorite is Form, Space, and Order — which I read probably once a year just to remind myself why I do what I do. Building Construction Illustrated – must have. Architectural Graphics – must have.

    • I have all those books – actually sitting right in front of my face almost 20 years after I bought them. I left them off the list because the are more like manuals and not books that made me re-evaluate how I thought about things.

      I do however recommend them – they are in my library widget over in the sidebar.


    • Spyridon Kaprinis

      My sentiments exactly! The abovementioned books are an invaluable source of architectural information & inspiration…


  • Currently, I’m reading “Decline and Fall” by Evelyn Waugh. I don’t read many books about architecture anymore, and prefer novels instead. Architecture, after all, is ultimately about people.

    • Sorry William but that seems like a non-sensical thing to say.

      You don’t have to forgo one type of book in favor of another. And to suggest that reading about architecture would be detrimental to the process of creating architecture is confusing to me. I’d like to think that reading about something, actually taking the time to learn and understand a thing, would have tremendous value to the people who will use and experience the spaces architects create.

      or maybe I just missed your point altogether

  • Pat

    Though not a book about architecture as a whole, I read ‘Brunelleschi’s Dome’ last summer on my trip to Europe. From a non-architect point of view, it was a great read and an interesting account of the building of the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Brunelleschi’s bitter rivalry w/ Lorenzo Ghiberti, and the pretty amazing innovations he employed to build it…though I had been to the Duomo before, I didn’t really know the background, so it definitely added to the experience on that last visit. Thought it’d be a good companion piece to your ‘Catherdrals to see before you die’ blog too! -Pat

    • Pat –

      Someone mentioned that book in the comment section of yesterday’s post on cathedrals. It sounded so interesting that I bought it last night!

      • architectrunnerguy

        Bob: Good for you. that was me! Great read.

        I’ll add some of my other favorites in a new post later on.

  • Brodiegeers

    I enjoy these sorts of lists. I’ve been in architecture for awhile now, but honestly I don’t own many architecture books and none of these were talked about in school, much less required. So the list is a bit daunting for me personally. I’ll have to hold out until I read your reviews before honing in on a place to start I guess.

    • No better way to start than to actually start. If you need to know which one I would tell someone not familiar with architectural books to start with – Atlas Shrugged. It is appropriate for anybody to read, not just architects.

  • “Ishmael” was interesting on the sustainable side. It isn’t specifically an architecture book, so maybe it doesn’t belong on the list. I also enjoyed “Cradle to Cradle” which is directed towards sustainable architecture/industrial design…probably a little more heavy on the industrial design side. It has some really great concrete advice at the end which was refreshing. Make sure to buy the Durabook edition!

    • Valerie Short

      Ishmael — i haven’t read that in a while and we were just talking about that book at work. Small world.

  • Robin Willcox

    thought-provoking books from the sensory-in-architecture corner: In Praise of Shadows (Junichiro Tanazaki); Eyes of the Skin (Juhani Pallasmaa); Poetics of Space (Gaston Bachelard); Genius Loci and Intentions (both by Christian Norberg-Schulz); Thermal Delight (Lisa Heschong); Space & Place (Yi Fu Tuan); The Hidden Dimension (Edward T. Hall). The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture (George Hersey- you’ll never look the same at dentils again). Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, & Philosophers (Leonard Koren). Christopher Alexander’s series. History books that are interesting reads because they are essays with points of view: Modern Architecture since 1900 (William JR Curtis) and History of Architecture (late U.C. Berkeley professor Spiro Kostof – can also hear his spirited lectures online).

    That should keep everyone busy for a while……

  • Jon

    Great start to a great list. I would add “Observations for Young Architects” by Cesar Pelli as well as “Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. I read the Pelli book a couple years after finishing grad school and it gave me a lot of hope for the profession. I read the Larson book in 2004 and remember not being able to put it down; it reads like fiction but chronicles a very true story.

    • Thanks Jon –

      Duly noted and added to the list. Thanks for chiming in

  • “how architecture got it’s hump” by Roger Connah is a book i stumbled across in a little bookshop in Dupont Circle a number of years ago. it’s still on my shelf. Also, “invisible cities” by Italo Calvino is another great book. Both are small but take more than a day or two to read and totally worth it.

    • I had quite a few people suggest Italo Calvino but it falls into the incoming freshman category for me. We read it as freshman and had to design postcards to out TA and actually mail them out to him in order to receive our credit. Maybe I am to quick to exclude it …

      • Jeremiah

        Perhaps too quick to dismiss. I didn’t come across either book until a few years after graduation. We didn’t really have “required architecture reading” at SCAD. Unless of course you count “Towards a New Architecture” and Vitruvius’ “Ten Lamps”, of course. There may have been a few others, but obviously not worth remembering.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, I didn’t have a single one of these in my wishlist.. thank you so much, I have been looking for new books to read lately 🙂

    A book that really captivated me was “The endless city”, a project with a very long list of contributors. The format is admittedly of the coffee table variety, but the texts are excellent and thought provoking. Highly recommended! ( )

    At the moment I’m reading “A manifesto for sustainable cities” by Jeremy Gaines & Stefan Jäger. Yes, I am a little high on urbanism these days 🙂

    • After reading your comment I was surprised by the lack of urbanism on this list. Wonder if I’m secretly trying to tell people something? It that’s true, it’s a secret to me as well.

      Takk for at du tok tid og legge din innsikt til samtalen – ha en flott dag.

      • “Takk for at du tok tid og legge din innsikt til samtalen – ha en flott dag.”

        Would love to know what language this is and what it translated to in English. Does it have anything to do with the Trade Union of German Employees?

        • It’s Norwegian for “Thank you for taking the time and adding your insight to the conversation – have a great day”

        • It’s Norwegian for “Thank you for taking the time and adding your insight to the conversation – have a great day”

          • Clearly the folks who manage have some code editing to do. ; )

            Bye-the-bye, I literally just finished Daniel Libeskind’s “Breaking Ground”. Truly enjoyed it. Despite so many pages dedicated to outlining the difficulties of having a project built I found myself reassured that architecture is how I will spend my life. I hope every book about architecture has the same effect. : )

          • Clearly the folks who manage have some code editing to do. ; )

            Bye-the-bye, I literally just finished Daniel Libeskind’s “Breaking Ground”. Truly enjoyed it. Despite so many pages dedicated to outlining the difficulties of having a project built I found myself reassured that architecture is how I will spend my life. I hope every book about architecture has the same effect. : )