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Shelf life

33 book suggestions from real people in architecture and design.

We asked readers for their favorite books related to architecture or design. Here are their recommendations:

  1. Bookwork: Medium to Object to Concept to Art by Garrett Stewart.
    An inventive and sophisticated study of the book form as sculptural medium. These “bibliobjects,” as the author calls them, reside at the nexus of artists’ books and conceptual art and point to new modes of literacy. Good Dada-fun: Duchamp meets Buzz Spector!

– Martin Antonetti, curator of rare books and director of the book studies concentration, Smith College Libraries

  1. Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture by Justin McGuirk.
    Some cities in Latin America have become paradigms of urban renewal, with design, architecture, and politics at the core of positive transformation. McGuirk renders a portrait of a complex continent that is so hard to get to know, but that we can learn a lot from.

– Paola Antonelli, senior curator, Architecture and Design,
The Museum of Modern Art

  1. House by Tracy Kidder.
    Published 30 years ago, House remains an outstanding narrative about the design and construction process, and about the birth of an architecture firm.

– Stephen Schreiber FAIA, program director in Architecture + Design, University of Massachusetts/Amherst

Three Love Problems 
from George Eliot's Middlemarch,
by Stephen Doyle.
​Photo: Stephen Doyle.

  1. Matter: Material Processes in Architectural Production 
    edited by Gail Peter Borden and Michael Meredith.
    Offers an expanded architectural design practice and education — one that tests spatial and material ideas through fabrication at multiple scales, in new time frames, to reimagine architecture and our experiences.

Karen Nelson, head of the School of Architecture, Boston Architectural College

  1. Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture 
    The foremost history of Western architecture, extensively illustrated.
  2. A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein.
    A compendium of pieces that, when linked through examination of the natural world, create wholes, to the delight of the people who use buildings.
  3. The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton.
    A small and personal analysis of the features of architecture that bring joy into our lives.
  4. The RSVP Cycles: Creative Processes in the Human Environment by Lawrence Halprin.
    Architecture as the choreography of people in the built landscape.

– Diane Georgopulos FAIA, MassHousing

  1. The Shingle Style and the Stick Style by Vincent J. Scully, Jr.
    Changed how we see 19th-century architecture and how we design in the 20th and 21st centuries.
  2. The Highway and the City by Lewis Mumford.
    Passionate and eloquent essays; why don’t we write and argue about architecture like this today?
  3. The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro.
    The best book ever written on how the American city is built and unbuilt.
  4. Hav by Jan Morris.
    A tantalizing travel guide to a city you never heard of.
  5. Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell.
    Nobody looks more closely, listens more carefully, or writes better about New York.

– Jay Wickersham FAIA, Noble & Wickersham

  1. Chicagoisms: The City as Catalyst for Architectural Speculation 
    by Alexander Eisenschmidt and Jonathan Mekinda.
    That rare book able to interest both academics and nonarchitect city lovers, “Chicagoisms” is a catalog of smart, readable essays and illustrated interludes uncovering the city’s appetite for the spectacular (Ferris’ wheel, Burnham’s Plan, Kapoor’s Cloud Gate), balanced with fascinating new scholarship on, among other things, Chicago’s surprisingly large influence on European urban theory.
  2. Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan by Rem Koolhaas.
    Before S, M, L, XL, there was Delirious, the book that made Rem’s name. In his hands, New York becomes remythologized as a gridiron palimpsest of architectural capitalism.
  3. From Bauhaus to Our House by Tom Wolfe.
    Wolfe’s retelling of the Modern Movement is acerbic, hilarious, and often wrong, but a useful reminder to architects of the suspicion Modernism still arouses in America.
  4. Architecture in the United States by Dell Upton.
    Less a comprehensive history than a project to reclaim architecture from architects, Upton’s wry prose casts a gimlet eye onto the pretensions of “art-architecture” from the colonial era to the present.
  5. The Details of Modern Architecture, Volumes 1 and 2 by Edward R. Ford.
    As the pioneeering Modernists were inventing new forms, so were they inventing new constructional methods. Ford’s astonishingly researched study, illustrated with invaluable drawings, reveals the ingenuity of this ad hoc tectonic, as well as its misalignment with Modernist rhetoric.

– Ian Baldwin, lecturer at Rhode Island School of Design

  1. A Guide to Archigram 1961–74 by Dennis Crompton.
    The impact of the Archigramproject was in shifting the architectural site of inquiry from the building and urban scale to a smaller human scale and then scaling up again. In 1994, when the first edition of this monograph was released, students were still wrestling with Deconstruction and the fallout of Postmodernism. Archigram filled a void that many of us felt in attempting to engage architecture at a more human, visceral level — one where the human/user was integral to a larger system of factors and networks.
  2. Incorporations (Zone 6) by Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter.
    What Archigramseemed to prefigure in technological and mechanical terms at the scale of the body, Incorporations more deeply addressed through explorations in biology, neurology, art, and film. This edited collection of “dossiers” spoke directly to the idea that the body was not necessarily becoming a site of architecture, but that organism of the body, in all its complexity, was precisely the site of architecture. At a deeper level, the book planted the idea that a failure to think this way was quickly becoming a failure to think architecturally at all.

– Lee Moreau, principal at Continuum

  1. The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses by Juhani Pallasmaa
    The first half is the history of how we have developed, since the Greeks, as a culture around sight; the second half is about how architecture (together with landscape) can awaken our other senses—smell, touch, hearing. Written by a Finnish writer/philosopher with great examples that span art, design, and buildings.

– Tamara Roy AIA, principal at ADD Inc

  1. Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train Through China by Paul Theroux
    Experience the lesser-known China by rail at the juncture of socioeconomic upheaval, through the eyes of a prolific travel writer who details people, places, and ambiance with brutal honesty.
  2. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
    Imaginary conversations between the Venetian traveler Marco Polo and the aged Mongol ruler Kublai Khan frame approaches to thinking about cities and the forms they might take.

– Sho-Ping Chin FAIA, principal at Payette

  1. Design with Nature by Ian L. McHarg
    Post-Katrina and Sandy, McHarg’s vision of communities hugging the high ground while floodplains are used to manage water flow and provide productive land for agriculture is more relevant than ever.
  2. TASCHEN’s Architecture Now! series by Philip Jodidio
    Essential catalogs of the best work globally, these inspiring books represent an efficient means of instruction across the design professions.

– ​Charlotte Kahn, former research analyst at The Boston Foundation


  1. Why Architecture Matters by Paul Goldberger
    Raises awareness of proportion, scale, space, texture, materials, shapes, light, and memory; in doing so, readers appreciate and experience the built world anew.
  2. Fifty Typefaces That Changed the World by John L. Walters
    A witty discussion about the meaning and influence of type, from the ancient world to the digital future.
  3. A Field Guide to American Houses: The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture 
    by Virginia Savage McAlester
    An invaluable easy-to-use resource for everyone who wants to know more about the culture and history of their own homes and communities.
  4. The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
    A typographer-poet combines the practical, theoretical, and historical in this masterful style guide.
  5. The Library: A World History by James W. P. Campbell; photographs by Will Pryce
    Each age and culture has reinvented the library, and this combination of authoritative text and stunning photography illuminates the story in a single volume.
  6. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
    This irresistible, deeply researched true story parallels Daniel H. Burnham’s meticulous construction of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with the diabolical building plans of H.H. Holmes, a fraudster and serial killer who exploited the fair for riches — and victims.
  7. Design Writing Research: Writing on Graphic Design by Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller
    This beautifully illustrated study is a vital source on the art and history of books, letter forms, symbols, advertising, and theories of visual and verbal communication.
  8. 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick
    A jargon-free zone of clarity and utility. Not a substitute for a master’s degree, but an invaluable supplement.