Top 5 Architecture Books


Join LibraryThing to post.

Top 5 Architecture Books

This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.

May 27, 2009, 2:14am

Is anybody out there? I am new to this group and it looks like not much activity lately, but I thought it may be interesting to see what you guys think of for your top 5 most influential architecture books. My list as of today is (in no particular order)

1. Architecture - Form, Space, Order -Ching
2. Studies in Tectonic Culture -Kenneth Frampton
3. The Place of Houses -Moore, Allen, Lyndon
4. Silence and Light -Kahn/Lobell
5. The Image of the City -Kevin Lynch

as a sidebar, I just finished AA Words 2: Anti-Object by Kengo Kuma and found it very thought provoking as well as Thinking Architecture by Zumthor, so as they settle we'll see if I make any adjustments. Anyway hope to see some posts soon!

May 31, 2009, 6:57pm

As a layman, I am always puzzled about the absence from the canon of Christopher Alexander's A pattern language. I also like William Whyte's The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, Jan Gehl's Life Between buildings and Stewart Brand's How buildings learn.

Many works from star architects have poor usability and adaptation to their surroundings. The cover of your Silence and Light book shows a concrete wasteland, bared of both humans and nature. Just two miles away here in Vienna, a Zaha Hadid project suffers in silent neglect. Another one, a functional disaster, is in the planning stage ...

Jun 2, 2009, 7:44pm

I agree that A Pattern Language is an important book, that and Genius Loci by Christian Norberg-Schulz are two that I always refer back to. My top 5 list is always changing and those two have been there before, sometimes it depends on what type project I am currently working on. I will have to check out Whyte's and Gehl's books since I am not familiar with them. Brand's book is also a good choice.

As far as the reference to Kahn's courtyard at Salk Institute as a concrete wasteland I will have to strongly disagree, however if you are just basing the comment on the book cover, I can see your point. Part of that space's magic is the experience of being there. I found it to be a profound space due to the feeling created by the perceived monumentality of the structure along its sides juxtaposed with the open end to the Pacific and the opposite end to a basque of trees. A place that stimulates reflection, contemplation, inspiration and interaction.

I do commend you on your book selection, for a layman you have picked a couple that talk about the essence of architeture instead of getting suckered in by pretty pictures. I don't keep up with Hadid's work so can't comment on what her buildings are doing to your city, but you are right that some of the star architects lose sight of context and function in favor of formalistic expression.

Jun 2, 2009, 9:13pm

I'll have to agree with dimwizard that the Salk institute shouldn't be judged by a photograph - it's a pretty amazing space to be in.

Not sure I could pick my top five architecture books. Ching is great and I also really like Norberg-Schulz. I'm also a big fan of the details of modern architecture by Edward Ford. Mostly, though, I have monographs, rather than writing about architecture. Of those, the one I pull out the most often is probably Shigeru Ban's.

Jun 3, 2009, 12:00am

lorin77 brings up a good point. what i have listed so far I would consider Mentally Inspirational books I refer to often. I have quite a few monographs too, so to expand on the list here are some I refer to most often for Visual Iinspiration, in no particular order:

1. Herzog & de Meuron 1978-1988: The Complete Works
2. Fujimori Terunobu: Architecture
3. El Croquis 86 MVRDV
4. A U Extra Edition: Peter Zumthor
5. Sverre Fehn

Very interested to hear what other people enjoy, and maybe why...

Jun 3, 2009, 6:57am

Whyte (Youtube) and Gehl are interested in the question what attracts humans to public places. Gehl is famous for transforming a Copenhagen central area from car dominance to a pedestrian area (similar to New York's plan for Times Square).

Thanks for the heads-up on the Salk Institute. My impression was based solely on the photography (which reminded me on a hot midday stroll along an empty Boston's Christian Science Center). Architecture renderings always have dummies. I wonder why architecture photography is mostly devoid of humans (and human artefacts, and life)? Perhaps I am more interested in the use of space than the design of space ...

How do you choose a monograph? I am always conflicted, as many are bulky, of strange size, expensive and hagiographic.

Jun 3, 2009, 1:01pm

Unless a monograph is being published after an architect's death, it is usually his or her firm's job to put together what material goes into the book - hence the adulatory tone.

As for the expense - I ask for them for my birthday and christmas! My boss gets me one a year (this year's treat was L.A. Modern - its a wonderful book) and my parents got me the enormous Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century Architecture when I (recently) got my license.

I thought of another mentally inspirational book (I like that distinction, dimwizard) - How to see by George Nelson.

Aug 26, 2009, 11:40pm

Rather than comparing, I'd just like to add recent reads or re-reads: 'The Hidden Order' (Yoshinobu Ashihara); 'Questions of Perception' (Holl/Pallasmaa/Perez-Gomez) and 'Design For Life, The Architecture of Sim Van Der Ryn'. Pattern Language appeals to many but I've always found it to be too formulaic; prefer his earlier 'notes on a synthesis of form' myself. For pure joy regarding small-scale and personal environments check out 'Building with Awareness' by Ted Owens and 'Norwegian Wood (the work of Wenche Selmer). And lastly, for a glimpse of the future of architecture, hunker down with a copy of Jeremy Till's 'Architecture Depends'. Has anyone else read it? Richmon

Aug 27, 2009, 3:03pm

Good suggestions Richmon! I have not heard of 'The Hidden Order' or 'Building with Awareness' so will have to check those out. I am just finishing up strange details and always thought architecture depends has an intriguing cover. I will read that next, any thoughts before I get started?

Sep 1, 2009, 8:23am

Maybe this suggestion is too retro but, if the criterion is 'most influential,' my top book choice is Andrea Palladio's 'Four Books on Architecture.'

Edited: Jan 21, 2010, 2:11pm

I second palladiana's choice. If we are talking about most influential of all time, here's my list, with original publication date, all of which have gone through multiple reprints and editions. After the top three I think it gets quite difficult to say which are most influential, so I have made a list of 12 books without which I think it would be impossible to narrate the history of architectural design or thought:

1. Vitruvius, De architectura (Ten Books on Architecture) (c.25 BC)
2. Palladio, Four Books on Architecture (1570) (and Isaac Ware's English version of 1738)
3. Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture (1923)

and the next 9 by date:
Leon Battista Alberti, De re aedificatoria (presented 1452, published 1485)
Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, Canon of the Five Orders of Architecture (1562)
Stuart and Revett, The Antiquities of Athens (1762+)
J-N-L Durand, Precis des lecons d'architecture (1805)
John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849)
Viollet-le-Duc, Dictionnaire raisonne de l'architecture (1854-68)
Frank Lloyd Wright, Wasmuth Portfolio (Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe, 1910)
Sigfried Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture (1941)
Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966)

Apr 7, 2010, 4:39pm

As you list Vitruvius as No. 1, you might enjoy reading the following:

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.04.11


Catherine Saliou (ed.), Vitruve: De l'architecture. Livre v. Collection des Universités de France. Paris: Les belles lettres, 2009. Pp. lxxvi, 434. ISBN 9782251014531. €53.00 (pb).


Reviewed by John Bulwer, European School Brussels 1 (

Who reads Vitruvius? It seems that in the English-speaking world at least archaeologists and architectural historians don't read Vitruvius in the original because the Latin is too difficult; and the Latinists don't read him in the original because the architecture is too obscure. As a result this author who falls right into the major period of Latin literature is somewhat neglected. There are a number of translations, some with copious illustrations, but no serviceable version of the text with commentary in English. This is not the case in continental Europe where there seems to be plenty of interest in Vitruvian studies, as this volume shows. This edition of Book 5 is the final volume in what is now a complete set of texts and commentaries in French for the Budé edition (Les Belles Lettres). The series began way back in 1969 but has continued under the guidance of Pierre Gros through the 1990s and has now been completed by Catherine Saliou with her text, translation and commentary on Vitruvius' book on public buildings.

Saliou manages to combine all the elements required for an editor of Vitruvius: a knowledge of Latin and Greek, familiarity with the techniques of textual criticism, and knowledge of the current state of scholarship in Roman and Greek art, architecture and archaeology. Her commentary moves seamlessly from a discussion of the text and the grammar and philology of the passage to the implications of the passage for archaeology and architectural history, comparing the relevant material remains in different locations and at the same time supplying detailed plans and figures to supplement her arguments. It is an impressive feat to juggle with all these balls in the air at the same time. She even has to deal with the science of acoustics and music in the passage concerning the resonating vases. Many of the notes in the commentary are more like fully developed essays, and it is rare to find any puzzling or difficult passage that is not discussed. Sometimes what seems to be a straightforward passage is seen to have hidden problems which are then fully drawn out and examined.

Vitruvius devotes Book 5 to public buildings. He examines public spaces, basilicas, the forum, theatres in great detail, public porticoes and promenades, baths, palaestras and finally harbours and docks. The discussion of the theatre takes most space (chapters 3 to 8) and covers the design and shape including the difference between the Greek theatre and the Roman one. The layout of the Roman theatre based on four equilateral triangles contrasting with the Greek theatre based on three squares is clearly demonstrated by plans and figures which are supplemented by a number of plans of actual theatres. This is the heart of the book and Saliou's discussion ranges across music and acoustics to scene-buildings and stages. Ancient theatres were built with resonating vases fitted into their structure to improve the sound, lengthening the reverberation to give it a warmer character or a "wet" sound as opposed to a "dry" one. The vases were tuned to different frequencies, and here Vitruvius follows a Greek source to describe the methods of tuning the vases to different notes. Vitruvius sometimes has difficulty transliterating Greek (a bit like BMCR) and himself admits that this bit is "obscura et difficilis" (5.4.1). Saliou tabulates the names of the notes as they appear in the different editions and manuscripts and in the text prints all terms in Latin, except where Vitruvius specifically refers to Greek usage. The whole question is given further treatment in a separate appendix. Acoustics are also treated in the discussion of the scene-building behind the stage which the commentary makes clear is an integral part of the structure for aesthetic and practical reasons.

The phenomenon of regular bathing was a feature of Roman life. Any sociological discussion of this daily habit should start with reference to chapter 10 of Vitruvius 5. Here the layouts of the different rooms are found in their original form, and the reader will find the sets of baths in Pompeii, familiar from many introductory courses, used to give visual expression to the discussion of the laconicum and the caldarium in the text. Similarly the palaestra is discussed in the following chapter.

Vitruvius has to be read visually at all times. That is to say that the Latin text has to be read with illustrations, diagrams, plans and figures in front of the reader. He becomes a difficult author when you literally cannot see what he means. The best way to read him is perhaps collaboratively, around a large table with images to be viewed and manipulated on a large screen. The single drawback of the Budé edition is that the small format does not allow the pages to lie flat for consultation and comparison, when the reader has to flip back and forth between text and commentary, and the images are reduced to a size small enough to put some strain on the eyes. Full reference is, however, made in each case to the original publication of the figure. Another valuable resource is the number of tables included to make comparisons between different readings of Vitruvius' text, the text and an original Greek source, the treatment of the same topic in another book of the De Architectura and archaeological data.

A major problem the reader of Vitruvius in Latin has to face is to decide what he actually wrote. (This is of course a problem for readers in English translation as well but they may be less aware of it.) A modern text with an apparatus criticus is essential, not because the problems are insuperable or that the text is defective, but the nature of Vitruvius's writing with his technical terms and descriptions and the frequent references to words and architectural features in Greek make exact reading a painstaking process. An examination of a textual problem is often the start of an investigation into the meaning of a particular technical term or phrase. Reference to the Latin text is always likely to be helpful rather than the reverse, and over-reliance on a single translated term will not aid understanding. Saliou is fairly conservative in her text preferring the manuscript reading on occasions where others have corrected the text to save Vitruvius from a perceived error (for example, in praefatio 3, 4.2 and 5.4). She prefers to leave Vitruvius to make his own mistake than to make an unnecessary correction. Each difficult reading is fully argued in the commentary with undogmatic accounts of the possible alternatives and always a clear and firm decision.

The sections on theatres, baths, the palaestra and ports and harbours feature regularly in courses on social history and everyday life. This volume (and the others in the series) indicate that reference to the original text of Vitruvius when these elements of Roman life are presented should be an essential part of such a course. English-speakers now have a splendid new illustrated and annotated translation of all ten books of Vitruvius (Vitruvius On Architecture, Robert Tavernor (Translator), Richard Schofield (Translator) Penguin Classics 2009) which is a valuable tool for Vitruvians, but for anyone trying to read and understand what Vitruvius actually wrote, the now satisfyingly complete edition from Les Belles Lettres is the place to go.

Comment on this review in the BMCR blog
Read Latest Index for 2010 Change Greek Display Archives Books Available for Review BMCR Home Bryn Mawr Classical Commentaries

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010

HTML generated at 10:40:27, Tuesday, 06 April 2010

Sent to Unsubscribe | Update Profile | Forward to a Friend

Apr 7, 2010, 5:12pm

I visited the Salk Institute several times, and, "a pile of concrete, two minutes post-apocalypse" pretty much describes it, imo. That bare central platform (opening onto a fine view, yes) nevertheless always makes me shudder and squirm with unease. Looks like a helicopter landing more than anything. There's a drop at the end, invisible in most pictures (safely enclosed within concrete walls, of course), where people gather during coffee breaks, but few stop to chat in that creepy central lane, although there are concrete benches running along the sides. It's just unpleasant to look at, all that naked hard greyness.

May 12, 2010, 1:25pm

my top five post-WWII influential works right now (it tends to change..) would be:
Jane Jacobs The "Death and Life of Great American Cities"
Scott, Venturi etc "Learnings from Las Vegas"
Bill Hillier "Space is the Machine"
K. Lynch "Image of the City"
Koolhaas "S,M,L, XL"

but if I were to add a couple of personal favourites instead, "Translations from drawings to buildings" by Robin Evans and "Palladio´s children" by NJ Habraken would certainly be two...