What to get an Architect for Christmas

December 15, 2010 — 33 Comments

The only thing worse than shopping for someone who has everything is shopping for an architect. They suck to shop for because they are exceedingly particular and you know that they think your taste is garbage. So what is the well intentioned gift giver to do? Architects also like doo-dah’s but this is a slippery slope. It has to be a timeless doo-dah and one that is very well made – as proof of their awesome taste and worldly knowledge.

That’s where I come in with my list of things to get your architect for Christmas! Really, the smart angle here is that since I myself am an architect, if your “architect” doesn’t like a gift off this list you can blame me. How can you lose?! Let’s get right to it shall we?


Moleskine – Legendary Notebooks

The all time classic sketch book. This is a safe present to get an architect (or an architect in training) because it is timeless and very well made. I have several of these and what can you say – they are the best. I prefer the large plain notebook (5″ x 8.25″) with a hard black cover for my sketches. These run about $18 each and are available at a myriad of places – I promise your recipient will appreciate this gift.



Lamy USA

For $40 you can get a great fountain tip pen that has some style to it. This is another worthwhile gift because it looks great, performs great and it’s cost will not break the bank. This is the exact pen that I have had for the last 15 years. Despite having several others, including those with far higher price tags, this one is still my favorite and the one pen I have that never fails to receive some sort of comment of admiration.



Taschen Basic Architecture Series – $10 per title

Let’s admit something we all know … architects like books. The Taschen Basic Architecture Series is the gift that keeps on giving. There are new books being added to this series every year and although each book is small (approx 7″ x 9″, 120 images and 96 pages), they are surprisingly detailed. One of the best features is that the appendix includes a list of complete or selected works, biography, bibliography and a map indicating the locations of the architect’s most famous buildings. (Hard to beat that price as well)



Lego Architectural Monuments – around $20 but the Falling Water set is $89 (Damn that Frank Lloyd Wright!)

These are really casual gifts but I can’t think of an architect that doesn’t have some connection to Lego’s at some time in their lives. I am not a Lego fanatic by any stretch of the imagination but I do have the Seattle Space Needle model sitting on my shelf at work. My nephew Eddie got this for me last Thanksgiving and it was an activity that he and I shared together. Once he went home, the model made it’s way up to my office.



MoMA Store: Rodrigo Torres Chip Paper Clip $57.00

Hard to go wrong with a doo-dah from MoMA. Everything they have to offer is significant in one way or another. I happen to appreciate this paper clip holder as an item of need and finesse. Admit it … your paper clips are either kept in the cardboard box they were originally packaged in or have been moved into a rectangular plastic cube with a magnet around the opening. Boooor-ringgg.



George Nelson Ball Clock from Vitra $355

Yes, I know $355 is expensive for a wall clock. It’s even more painful to pay that much when you know the parts that make up this clock cost $10. But don’t worry about that – this clock design in a classic and any fan of modern architecture wants one. Can’t explain it but it’s true. (I got mine for Christmas last year!) George Nelson designed a great many wall clocks to choose from but I like this one the very best.



Tolomeo Classic Table Lamp by Artemide – $340

This is a fantastic lamp – a designer’s lamp. Designed in 1989 by Michele De Lucchi & Giancarlo Fassina for Artemide, the Tolomeo table lamp won the Compasso d’Oro award for Italian industrial design. There isn’t a whole lot to say here … get this lamp for your architect and they will love you.



Crane Stationary – Flat Correspondence Cards

It doesn’t have to be Crane but stationary is a really nice gift. I prefer to have the flat correspondence cards instead of a fold-over for the simple reason is that there is less room to write and I can drop someone a nice and thoughtful note without it having to be a real paragraph worth of adulations.



Jack Spade Nylon Canvas Computer Field Bag – $195

Part of the Architects uniform is a decent messenger bag – and this is a particularly good one. I have this exact bag so you can be like me or you can get it because it’s well made, simple yet classic. The bags are detailed with finished seams that retain their shape and compliment the softened corners and the interior is lined with nylon rip-stop, which is both lightweight and long lasting. Life of an Architect tested and approved.




We all know times are tough and occasionally it’s okay to dole out the lucre when someone needs a helping hand. Generally speaking, everyone appreciates the effort that goes into finding the right gift, something that resonants with the recipient … and sometimes getting a crappy gift is worse than getting no gift at all. I was at an office Christmas party a few years ago when there was a blind gift exchange and someone actually took broken golf tees and golf balls and wrapped it up. That is some serious bullssst so if you don’t have the time or energy to do it properly, play nicely and pass along the option of what to get to the recipient.


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays


Life of an Architect



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  • Lottie

    Thank you so much for this post!!! You have saved my Christmas present nightmare for my boyfriend (who is all the things you describe “an architect” as being). Consider this as your good deed for the year!!

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  • AmandaGrace

    thanks so much for this post– you were extremely accurate when you said you know they think your taste is terrible! I need a 2012 Christmas list already…for an aspiring architect!

  • Heidi

    Bob, I like your list.  I’m looking for a gift for my boyfriend who is graduating with his masters in architecture.  Any other new suggestions?

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  • Petra Schwarczova

    After reading this article I ordered 6 Taschen books (for myself :D). And I’m considering to buy Safari Lamy pen, cos I just looooove fountain pens. Thanks for the tip. 🙂

  • purplekris

    Pretty interesting, especially being an architect married to an architect. This means it is just a dream list, but a cool one. What about the classic Skagen Watch?

    • Anonymous

      You know – I didn’t include a watch because I myself am not a watch wearer and I couldn’t properly represent. That having been said, I think watches are so personal that it would be best to steer clear of them unless you know exactly what the recipient wants.I compare it to buying art for someone – it may be great but it’s too personal of an item.

      (but that is a nice watch)

  • Elizabeth

    First paragraph says it all! Thanks for the truth and a list of doable ideas!! I am desperate to get something for my architect brother and now I think I can buy and not be absolutely sure I have failed.

  • b_delmonte

    Great list….filled with true classics. My daughter (senior year in mech engr/product design) had already put many of these things on her list. I think she should go into architecture in grad school.

  • Nice! well done.. The I’ve found the last item is more useful.

  • La Femme Architecte

    Very nice list. 🙂
    I’ve put together a list last year and a new list this year.
    Check it out if you have some time.



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  • Aha, interessting: The same status symbols for U.S. American architects like over here in Europe. Moleskine and Tolomeo, MoMA and Taschen…
    We are cosmopolitain and the world is a village not longer online only.
    Mary Christmas all over the world!! Not only as a Christian feast day but as a weekend of quitness and architecture blog readings.
    Love from Germany

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the words and yes – architects all over the world are fairly predictable people I think.

      Cheers and haben eine große dayt!

  • Anonymous

    My FLW lego set leaked so I sent it back.

    • Anonymous

      Hardy har har – that is an easy joke to make


  • i’m so picky about moleskine notebook that even my architect husband can’t get it right. but he can get the right moleskine pocket calendar for me, because it’s the only red one.

  • Nice list, Bob. I actually need a new shoulder bag, as the handmade one my sister brought back from Morocco is getting on in years – although the patina of age makes it even more comment-worthy to the plebes.

    I assume that the FLW LEGO sets are more expensive because whoever is in charge of Frank’s legacy needed extra money to repair all of his leaking roofs and failing cantilevers. That said, I would recommend going with the non-FLW sets for more than just cost reasons: The LEGO versions of Wright’s masterpieces are just plain ugly, especially compared to the other sets in the architecture series.

    • Anonymous

      I’m with you on the FLW LEGO set – but there are fans out there.

      I got my bag on sale from the Apple store a year ago and it was around $125 (I think). I still dig it and think you will too.

  • I would like to get the legos too! They are great, even for a non architect.

    • Anonymous

      I wonder if having all the architecture lego sets makes them cooler or less so? I’ll go with cooler.

      Thanks Brian – hope things are well.

  • Wouldn’t an architect prefer a box of Tinker Toys so that they can make their own clock? Maybe I should make a kit and sell it for $50. I’ll get rich and save architects $300 each. I think they call that a win/win.

    When Jody was talking to FLW did he ask why the Fallingwater kit is so expensive (actually, by LEGO standards it’s not that bad)?

    • Anonymous

      The lego FLW set has just as much water-proofing as the lego set so … they are pretty accurate in terms of their construction.

  • I would like to add that this list will work for Preservationist/ Architectural Historian as well cause I have a lot of these items on my list. 😉

  • ebarchdesign

    For the female architect (Yes, Virginia, we do exist) the girl version of the Jack spade messenger bag is the Kate Spade messenger bag. I love mine to raggedy bits and I make sure to wear it with my heavy, plastic frame black glasses and black uniform. May I also suggest anything designed by Alessi would make a lovely gift as well. Perhaps a Miss Alessi wine opener which says “I’m design conscious AND whimsical”

    • Anonymous

      Ah yes, Kate Spade. I actually did try and make this list gender neutral believe it or not.

      I checked out Alessi but their stuff is real hit or miss for me so I decided to play it safe and avoid them all-together. Maybe not the right call but I’m sticking with my decision.

  • thanks for the post, I´ll send it to my relatives ´cus they always go wrong with the selection of the gifts hehehe , love the last part hehe yep money is always good

  • Well, I’m not giving any gifts to ANY architects because I did not win that Brizo faucet. If you can’t get a friend to rig a contest in your favor, what’s the point of the holidays? Although….I might be able to make you that clock, using some gumballs my kids have in their machine. I’m just thoughtful that way.

    • Anonymous

      Rigging contests is sooooo 1980’s

      and I already have a gumball clock thank you very much. Just send the cash … maybe you’d have better luck on the next contest


      • Anonymous

        Did you get the version they have at IKEA?