The Great Books (of Architecture)


If architecture school only consisted of the great books, which ones would they be?

Nov 18, 09 6:41 pm
Bruce Prescott

Architecture and Utopia by Manfredo Tafuri

Team 10 Primer, A.Smithson, ed.

Nov 20, 09 12:06 am

writings by Peter Zumthor. Atmospheres and Thinking Architecture especially.

Nov 20, 09 3:14 am

anchoring at intertwining have been an immense influence on my approach.

Nov 20, 09 7:09 am

as if there could be just a few critical texts...

give me a full library and the time to roam in it, picking up books randomly. the texts that have influenced me most were not suggested to me, assigned to me, or even the result of me reading good reviews. they were books i happened upon by accident.

more critical to learning architecture, in other words, is unflagging intellectual curiosity, not any particular reference material but the resulting stew of ideas you pour into your head.

it's also, imo, the way you keep yourself from getting bogged down with the workaday world, the frustrations voiced in so many of the other threads popping up lately, and the difficulty of interesting the general public in 'A'rchitecture. if i didn't keep feeding my head, i think i'd go crazy.

Nov 20, 09 7:21 am

i had dinner with joseph rykwert last night and i have printed a copy of this thread to give to him today...

as steven ward said, the list could go on and on... i'm currently working on a list of key texts in urbanism alone and it is up to 160 books

Nov 20, 09 7:50 am

would be interested in that list architphil. post here?

best architecture books for me so far are not about architecture.

but if sticking to the topic am recently enjoying reading frampton's book on tectonics. it would not have been so much fun when in school but now we are building in real world it is fantastic to see the great architects as builders instead of makers of abstract buildings/art (most books present architects that way, which is of course utterly disconnected from reality)

Nov 20, 09 8:24 am


That's very cool. I didn't realize that Rykwert was still alive!

I would say that Edward Ford's books and especially his latest book come the closest.

Check 'em out!

Nov 20, 09 9:50 am
Distant Unicorn

Building Construction Cost Data 2010 Book

Nov 20, 09 10:00 am

The Decline of the Whiskey Empire
Eutropian Theories
Voodoo Valley, 19120
buildings that move(d)
Apostate Architecture
Kissing That Reality Good-bye
The Last Great Pagan Architecture of Rome
Uninhibited Habitations
Architecture of the Divided States of America
Appositional Architecture
Rita Novel This Sontag

Nov 20, 09 11:50 am

The Projective Cast?


I have a copy of that book. I would make a distinction. It's not really a book for Architects, it's for people with degrees in Art History who think they know something about Architecture and, in fact, know very little other what is written in trumped-up, pretentious bound bags of wind such as this one. Open it and it makes the sound of whoopee cushion. (Or it should.)

I think they are books of ideas that are helpful but how do you make Architecture out of or with ideas? And by Architecture, I mean, how do you build it? This gains importance as many Architects have ideas about how their work is designed and constructed at different scales and you need to know something about Architecture and Detailing in order to verify the claims that these Architects, like Mies, Wright or Loos, make.

I think it's an important distinction.

Nov 20, 09 12:25 pm

being a graduate of St. John's College in Annapolis, home of the "Great Books" program, it seems to me this thread could and is spiraling unnecessarily out of control...

the notion of the Great Books is not simply that a group of books are good reads, but ones that have stood the test of time as part of a tradition that builds upon and references itself in order to extend and advance the discipline.

SO while I like Edward Ford's and Zumthor's books, I'm sure we can say quite yet that they are comparable to Vitruvius, Alberti, Palladio, Ruskin, Corbusier, Venturi.

Nov 20, 09 12:39 pm

perfect acts of architecture by kipnis. and el segundo because i love that shit :) and probably gyroscopic horizons, again personal favorite.

Nov 20, 09 12:49 pm

db, that sounds a little too much like an argument for cultural literacy or, closer/worse yet, bloom's western canon.

there is certainly a canon of architecture books that have attained the kind of recognition you're talking about...and possibly what maestro was asking for.

but the other part of his question - 'if architecture school only consisted of...' - demands that a broader list of books be considered.

besides, spiralling unnecessarily out of control is when archinect becomes most fun!

Nov 20, 09 12:50 pm

Also, i think JunkSpace by Koolhaas.

Nov 20, 09 12:50 pm


Ford's and Zumthors not in that league, yet. A text takes time, references and interpretation to form as you say.

The books you mention are big deals but Ford's text is an attempt to seriously criticize and raise the level of discussion. See his criticism of Corbu or Ruskin.

Even the notion of what is modern in Architecture is an interesting one with an interpretation much different than that of literature...

Nov 20, 09 1:15 pm

Maybe Ford is to Corbu, Wright and Mies in the same way that Allan Bloom, who is mentioned above, is Rousseau? It's a solid second-tier criticism in a discipline where so much of the second tier criticism consists of softballs thrown by people from Art History.

Nov 20, 09 1:20 pm

I would agree with db that the point here is that formal architectural education is a finite period of time (4 or 5 years)where the student can only digest and read what will amount to a canon of work. Architects as most professionals continue to develop and mature in the development of their intellect, but it has to be based on some fundamental body of work. So the way Plato's Republic is a Canon of Western Civilization, what are those that have been fundamentally significant in the development of both theory and form-making and defining architecture as a theory and practise? This trancends a text from being a "favorite" on a personal level, but must become such a game changer that it lives on as a Great Book.

I am shocked that Vitruvius has yet to come up.

Nov 20, 09 1:53 pm

vitruvius was in db's list. i've never found much useful in vitruvius personally. it's enough to know it exists and the impact it had, but beyond that....

Nov 20, 09 2:36 pm

But you see, its not about how it impacts you, its about how you create a body of study based on books that influenced the thinking and development of architecture. You cannot deny the impact and influence of Vitruvius.

Nov 20, 09 3:04 pm

if nobody ever checks it out, did it need to be in the library?

Nov 20, 09 3:10 pm
Distant Unicorn

I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura (The four books of architecture) by Andrea Palladio

Nov 20, 09 3:11 pm

sorry, my last was a peevish question. of course it needs to be in the library, along with everything else. i just wouldn't privilege it. secondary texts, texts which reference vitruvius but put him in a larger context, would be more valuable.

Nov 20, 09 3:16 pm

Of course, but one would need to learn from Vitruvius to understand better any subsequent works such as Alberti or Palladio and even Corbusier. One has to start somewhere

Nov 20, 09 3:19 pm

here's my short list of the canon of architectural theory with a bit of a tilt towards urbanism... this list is the basis of my qualifying exam which is coming up in 3 weeks from today (yikes!)... i'll try posting the full list of 160 urban books soon, but it will take some formatting to post it here easily...

Le Corbusier - Vers une Architecture
Le Corbusier - La Ville Radieuse
Marc-Antoine Laugier - An Essay on Architecture
Vitruvius - The Ten Books On Architecture
Leon Battista Alberti - On the Art of Building in Ten Books
Camillo Sitte - Der Stadtebau
Louis Kahn - Essential Texts
Alison Smithson - Team 10 Primer
Aldo Rossi - The Architecture of the City
Rem Koolhaas - Delirious New York
Venturi et al - Learning from Las Vegas
Robert Venturi - Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture
Sigfried Giedion - Space, Time, and Architecture
Jane Jacobs - The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Andrea Palladio - The Four Books of Architecture
Bernard Tschumi - The Manhattan Transcripts
Ian McHarg - Design With Nature
Christopher Alexander - A Pattern Language
Colin Rowe & Fred Koetter - Collage City
John Ruskin - The Seven Lamps of Architecture
Walter Gropius - Scope of Total Architecture
Richard Neutra - Building with Nature
Louis Sullivan - Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings
Adolf Loos - Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays
Frank Lloyd Wright - The Living City

Nov 20, 09 8:21 pm

ok... here's my list of 160 influential books on urbanism in order of publication... the theme of the list (for lack of a better term) is something like "contemporary urbanisms and their antecedents"... there are still a large number of books that could probably be added to this list, but i'm currently working to narrow it back down to about 100 and then to map the flow of various discourses through history...

The Ten Books on Architecture - Vitruvius (c. 100 B.C.)
On the Art of Building in Ten Books - Leon Battista Alberti (1452)
Treatise on Architecture - Filarete (c. 1464)
The Four Books on Architecture - Andrea Palladio (1570)
An Essay on Architecture - Marc-Antoine Laugier (1753)
The Condition of the Working Class in England - Friedrich Engels (1844)
City Planning According to Artistic Principles - Camillo Sitte (1889)
How the Other Half Lives - Jacob Riis (1890)
Garden Cities of To-morrow - Ebenezer Howard (1902)
The Plan of Chicago - Daniel Burnham (1909)
Town Planning in Practice - Raymond Unwin (1912)
Nothing Gained by Overcrowding - Raymond Unwin (1912)
Replanning Small Cities - John Nolen (1912)
The Garden City Movement Up-to-Date - Edwart Culpin (1913)
Cities in Evolution - Patrick Geddes (1915)
Cité Industrielle - Tony Garnier (1918)
The City of Tomorrow - Le Corbusier (1925)
New Towns for Old - John Nolen (1927)
The New Exploration: A Philosophy of Regional Planning - Benton MacKaye (1928)
Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs - Committee on the Regional Plan… (1929)
City Planning - John Nolen (1929)
The Neighborhood Unit - Clarence Perry (1929)
Precisions - Le Corbusier (1930)
The Disappearing City - Frank Lloyd Wright (1932)
The Radiant City - Le Corbusier (1935)
The Culture of Cities - Lewis Mumford (1938)
The New Frontier, Broadacre City - Frank Lloyd Wright (1940)
Space, Time, and Architecture - Sigfried Giedion (1941)
Can Our Cities Survive - Jose Luis Sert (1942)
The Athens Charter - Le Corbusier (1943)
The City: Its Growth, Its Decay, Its Future - Eliel Saarinen (1943)
The New City - Ludwig Hilberseimer (1944)
Concerning Town Planning - Le Corbusier (1946)
The New Regional Pattern - Ludwig Hilberseimer (1949)
Toward New Towns for America - Clarence Stein (1951)
The Heart of the City - eds. J. Tyrwhitt, J.L. Sert, & E.N. Rogers (1952)
The Nature of Cities - Ludwig Hilberseimer (1955)
The Organization Man - William H. Whyte (1956)
The Human Condition - Hannah Arendt (1958)
The Exploding Metropolis - ed. William H. Whyte (1958)
The Living City - Frank Lloyd Wright (1958)
The Image of the City - Kevin Lynch (1960)
Shopping Towns USA - Victor Gruen (1960)
CIAM ’59 in Otterlo - ed. Oscar Newman (1961)
The Death and Life of Great American Cities - Jane Jacobs (1961)
The City in History - Lewis Mumford (1961)
Townscape - Gordon Cullen (1961)
Team 10 Primer - ed. Alison Smithson (1962)
The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere - Jurgen Habermas (1962)
Streetcar Suburbs - Sam Bass Warner (1962)
The Child, The City and The Artist - Aldo van Eyck (1962)
Cities - Lawrence Halprin (1963)
The Heart of our Cities, the Urban Crisis - Victor Gruen (1964)
The Architecture of the City - Aldo Rossi (1966)
The Society of the Spectacle - Guy Debord (1967)
The Levittowners - Herbert Gans (1967)
Urban Structuring - Alison Smithson (1967)
Design with Nature - Ian McHarg (1969)
The Economy of Cities - Jane Jacobs (1969)
The Urban Revolution - Henri Lefebvre (1970)
Landscapes: Selected Writings - J.B. Jackson (1970)
Experimental Architecture - Peter Cook (1970)
Ordinariness & Light - Alison & Peter Smithson (1970)
Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies - Reyner Banham (1971)
Learning from Las Vegas - Robert Venturi, Denise Scott-Brown & Steve Izenour (1972)
Centers for the Urban Environment - Victor Gruen (1973)
The Fall of Public Man - Richard Sennett (1974)
The Production of Space - Henri Lefebvre (1974)
The Man in the Street - Shadrach Woods (1975)
What U Can Do - Shadrach Woods (1976)
Design of Cities - Edmund Bacon (1976)
Megastructure - Reyner Banham (1976)
A Pattern Language - Christopher Alexander (1977)
Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century - Robert Fishman (1977)
Planned Sprawl - Mark Gottdiener (1977)
Collage City - Colin Rowe & Fred Koetter (1978)
Delirious New York - Rem Koolhaas (1978)
Urban Space - Rob Krier (1979)
The History of Urban Form - A.E.J. Morris (1979)
The Practice of Everyday Life - Michel de Certeau (1980)
The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces - William Whyte (1980)
The Manhattan Transcripts - Bernard Tschumi (1981)
Good City Form - Kevin Lynch (1981)
Dreaming the Rational City - M. Christine Boyer (1983)
The Granite Garden - Anne Whiston Spirn (1984)
Crabgrass Frontier - Kenneth Jackson (1985)
A New Theory of Urban Design - Christopher Alexander et. al. (1986)
Sustainable Communities - Sim van der Ryn & Peter Calthorpe (1986)
The Elusive City - Jonathan Barnett (1986)
Bourgeois Utopias - Robert Fishman (1987)
Life Between Buildings - Jan Gehl (1987)
City: Rediscovering the Center - William H. Whyte (1988)
Cities of Tomorrow - Peter Hall (1988)
Borderland: Origins of the American Suburb, 1820-1939 - John Stilgoe (1988)
The Informational City - Manuel Castells (1989)
The City Beautiful Movement - William H. Wilson (1989)
Variations on a Theme Park - ed. Michael Sorkin (1991)
Edge City - Joel Garreau (1991)
The Global City - Saskia Sassen (1991)
Team 10 Meetings - Alison Smithson (1991)
The City Shaped - Spiro Kostof (1991)
The City Assembled - Spiro Kostof (1992)
Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization - Richard Sennett (1994)
Event Cities - Bernard Tschumi (1994)
A Guide to Archigram, 1961-74 - Dennis Crompton (1994)
Non-Places - Marc Augé (1995)
S, M, L, XL - Rem Koolhaas (1995)
Ecological Design - Sim van der Ryn (1995)
Rise of the Network Society - Manuel Castells (1996)
Postmodern Urbanism - Nan Ellin (1996)
The Next American Metropolis - Peter Calthorpe (1997)
The Dialectic City - O.M. Ungers (1997)
Cities in Civilization - Peter Hall (1998)
Farmax - MVRDV (1998)
Concerning Archigram - Dennis Crompton (1998)
Cornelis van Eesteren: The Idea of the Functional City - Vincent van Rossem (1998)
Recovering Landscape - ed. Jim Corner (1999)
Everyday Urbanism - eds. John Chase, Margaret Crawford & John Kaliski (1999)
Charter of the New Urbanism - Congress for the New Urbanism (1999)
The Situationist City - Simon Sadler (1999)
Archigram - Peter Cook (1999)
Metacity/Datatown - MVRDV (1999)
Points + Lines - Stan Allen (1999)
Sustainability and Cities - Peter Newman & Jeffrey Kenworthy (1999)
Postmetropolis - Edward Soja (2000)
The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism - Eric Mumford (2000)
Non-Plan - eds. Jonathan Hughes & Simon Sadler (2000)
After the City - Lars Lerup (2000)
The Regional City - Peter Calthorpe (2001)
Suburban Nation - Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk & Jeff Speck (2001)
Stalking Detroit - eds. Georgia Daskalakis, Charles Waldheim & Jason Young (2002)
The American City, What Works, What Doesn’t - Alexander Garvin (2002)
Guy Debord and the Situationist International - ed. Tom McDonough (2002)
CASE: Le Corbusier’s Venice Hospital - ed. Hashim Sarkis (2002)
Paris: Capital of Modernity - David Harvey (2003)
Superstudio: Life without Objects - Peter Lang & William Menking (2003)
Building Suburbia - Delores Hayden (2003)
Landscape Urbanism - Mohsen Mostafavi & Ciro Najle (2004)
Archigram: Architecture without Architecture - Simon Sadler (2005)
Sprawl: A Compact History - Robert Bruegmann (2005)
Recombinant Urbanism - David Grahame Shane (2005)
Sprawl and Suburbia: An HDM Reader - ed. William Saunders (2005)
Charged Void: Urbanism - Alison & Peter Smithson (2005)
Team 10, 1953-81 - Max Risselada & Dirk van den Heuvel, eds. (2005)
The New Suburban History - Kevin Kruse & Thomas Sugrue (2006)
The Landscape Urbanism Reader - ed. Charles Waldheim (2006)
KM3 - MVRDV (2006)
The Suburb Reader - Becky Nicolaides (2006)
Urban Planning Today: An HDM Reader - ed. William Saunders (2006)
Victor Gruen: From Urban Shop to New City - Alex Wall (2006)
Sociology of Globalization - Saskia Sassen (2007)
Drosscape - Alan Berger (2007)
Topologies: The Urban Utopia in France, 1960-1970 - Larry Busbea (2007)
Large Parks - ed. Julia Czerniak (2007)
Situationist International Anthology - Ken Knabb (2007)
The Endless City - Ricky Burdett (2008)
Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems - Peter Newman & Isabella Jenkins (2008)
Resilient Cities - Peter Newman et. al. (2009)
Defining Urban Design - Eric Mumford (2009)
Retrofitting Suburbs - Ellen Dunham-Jones & June Williamson (2009)

Nov 20, 09 8:28 pm

beautiful, architphil!

Nov 20, 09 8:53 pm

very nice list architphil.

out of curiousity have you read gelerntner's sources of architectural form?

it is slightly mickey mouse but is a good survey of the theories architects have followed since vitruvius and the give and take between one idea and the next. he was student of bill hillier i think, so is at least more rigorous than normal.

it is not necessary to read vitruvious to understand alberti or palladio. it would add some color to the latter texts but not much more.

Nov 20, 09 9:05 pm
Smokety Mc Smoke Smoke

Architphil ... well done! And good luck on your exams.

Nov 21, 09 12:44 am

how about some book covers?

Nov 22, 09 4:09 pm

Great list Architphil! Well done indeed.

Between Silence and Light probably sealed the deal with me becoming an architect. I would also have to add Genius Loci, Frampton's Studies in Tectonic Culture and Peter Rice's An Engineer Imagines as some of the books that I still reference back to.

Nov 23, 09 1:32 am

archtphil: Great list. However I would like to notice that there is a large gap in your time horizon; you are light on the theories of the sublime and the enlightenment as well as other writings from what was once called the neoclassical period. I would supplement this with AW Pugin, Durand, Semper, Ruskin, Adam, Garnier and others.

Nov 23, 09 11:23 pm

nice ones, maestro. a great book for understanding the context of 18th/19thC developments in architecture - including those folks you've listed - is peter collins 'changing ideals of modern architecture'.

Nov 24, 09 6:37 am
Learning from Lacunae: a progressive inquiry of the acquisition of knowledge via reflection on what is not there

The Architecture of Nimiety: an abundance of redundance in architectural education, theory and practice
Nov 24, 09 5:53 pm

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