Armchair architect looking for book and video picks
December 29, 2008 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Armchair architect looking for book / video recommendations. After having enjoyed: A place of My Own, How Buildings Learn and Christopher Alexander's work, I'm looking for other design / architecture titles. What can you recommend?
posted by zander to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
If you're interested in domestic architecture, then Witold Rybczynski's 'The Most Beautiful House in the World' is a great read, and for the nuts and bolts of building a house, Tracey Kidder's 'House' is also very interesting.

But for pure architecture porn I don't think you'll find anything better than Rem Koolhaas's 'S,M,L,XL'.

As far as video goes, the UK Channel 4 series 'Grand Designs' is great fun - I'm sure it'd be available on DVD or download.
posted by Flashman at 1:21 PM on December 29, 2008

On a slightly larger scale, I've enjoyed reading Jane Jacobs' work, like The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She talks a lot about city- or larger-scale stuff, but I find her writing on neighborhood- and smaller-scale stuff to be interesting and insightful. It's more along the lines of how humans and built things interact, how a street layout affects the people who live there or visit and vise versa, etc., rather than about the visual design of individual isolated buildings.
posted by hattifattener at 1:52 PM on December 29, 2008

Poke around this site.
posted by trip and a half at 1:55 PM on December 29, 2008

Tracy Kidder's "House".
posted by neuron at 1:56 PM on December 29, 2008

I'll third "House" (and "Soul of a New Machine" was very good as well, if your definition of architecture includes designing and building a mainframe computer). One of the more interesting things in "House" (to me, at least) was the exploration of the inherent conflict between the parties involved, particularly the architect and the builder. Everybody involved has their own agenda, and it was interesting to see it play out.

On a much larger scale, there was a PBS documentary I saw awhile ago that followed the design and construction of a skyscraper, which apparently was based on the book of the same name. Don't know if the video is available...
posted by Bron at 3:44 PM on December 29, 2008

Ada Louise Huxtable (former architecture critic for the NY Times) has a large body of work in book form that I find accessible, intelligent, and enjoyable. On a more personal/idiosyncratic note, Nairn's London by Ian Nairn, a prickly, extravagant, wildly opinionated piece of work, is the book that motivated me to (briefly) major in architecture in college; I wanted to learn how to see and react to buildings with that kind of clarity and passion.
posted by Kat Allison at 3:58 PM on December 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am presently reading this, which I purchased with a Borders Gift card I got for the holidays. (I am also an armchair architect/designer).
posted by wittgenstein at 4:01 PM on December 29, 2008

I liked The Chair enough to read the rest of the book when a chapter was assigned for a course. Not architecture but a design object that's fetished plenty and is interesting to consider.

Skateboarding, Space and the City is academic in style so it depends how squishy you like your armchair (and a mild interest in skateboarding might act as a cushion), but it's fantastic - inclined to stick in your head and alter the way you see the city.

Women and the Making of the Modern House is a great collection of essays on buildings and client-architect relationships. The standout for me was the piece contrasting the Farnsworth House with Philip Johnson's Glass House, with particular regard to the relationship of each to the physicality and sexuality of the occupant.
posted by carbide at 4:04 PM on December 29, 2008

Also, ditto Kat Allison's love for Nairn's London! It's idiosyncratic, indeed, but very lovable and an absolute pleasure if you have a messy, loving relationship with cities.
posted by carbide at 4:08 PM on December 29, 2008

This is more of an architecture/planning/preservation list (as it is from the syllabus for a preservation planning and urban change graduate class). Read all of these and you'll have a nice big picture idea of the what/why/how of architecture and planning (and yes, for example, the religion book is relevant as church closings and re-use are major architectural and preservation issues nowadays):

Arnold R. Alanen and Robert Z. Melnick, ed., Preserving Cultural Landscapes in America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).

Robert Bruegmann, Sprawl: A Compact History (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005)

John J. Costonis, Icons and Aliens. Law, Aesthetics and Environmental Change (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1989).

John M. Findley, Magic Lands (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).

Bernard J. Frieden and Lynne B. Sagalyn, Downtown, Inc. How America Rebuilds Cities (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1989).

Joel Garreau, Edge City. Life on the New Frontier (New York: Doubleday, 1991).

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage Press, 1961)

Dolores Hayden, The Power of Place : Urban Landscapes As Public History (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995)

Barbara Kelly, Expanding the American Dream (Albany: The State University Press, Albany, 1993).

William H. Lucy & David L. Philips, Confronting Suburban Decline. Strategic Planning for Metropolitan Renewal (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2000)

Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City (Cambridge, MA.: The MIT Press, 1960).

Patrick Allitt, Religions in America Since 1945 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005)

Peggy Robin, Saving the Neighborhood (Rockville, MD: Woodbine House, 1990).

Karl Sabbagh, Skyscraper. The Making of a Building (New York: Viking, 1990).

Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1977).

Michael Tomlan, ed. Preservation: Of What, For Whom? (Ithaca, New York: National Council for Preservation Education and National Park Service, 1998)
posted by stefnet at 7:48 PM on December 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd loudly second Jane Jacobs' Death and Life ... . Superlative stuff. For the same city-level thrills, Robert Caro's The Power Broker is excellent.

Kenneth Frampton's Modern Architecture: A Critical History is a good overview.

Collected essays/journalism: Seek out William J Mitchell's writing - his latest collection of articles is called World's Greatest Architect. A similar excellent collection by a similarly excellent writer is the late Martin Pawley's The Strange Death Of Architectural Criticism.

Deyan Sudjic's The Edifice Complex is a very entertaining book about the building habits of powerful people.

Learning From Las Vegas, which stefnet mentioned, is very good.

An interesting (and very short) book that I've recently enjoyed is In Praise of Shadows by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki.
posted by WPW at 12:07 PM on December 30, 2008

it sounds like you're trying to get a handle on a lot of interesting issues, the intimacy of personal space and the serendipity of constructing it, the hard mechanics of structure and also some very strict typological stuff.

in those veins you might be interested in my architect, an intimate portrayal of a great american architect, louis kahn, made by his son. khan's work was very respectful of typology, but also keen to inflect it towards local and programmatic conditions, he was also an idiosyncratic figure who had a difficult relationship with his family.

if you liked christopher alexander's work i think the previous recommendations about jane jacobs writings will be an essential corrective, what i remember of the alexander was quite dry and reductive whilst jacobs seems to have a more supple understanding of the social configurations that animate different urban spaces left out by formal analysis of pattern language (maybe i'm wrong, it's been a long time).

maybe you like categorising spaces but also enjoy the subtle, accumulated memories and experiences of inhabiting them at length, so something like george perec's species of spaces (like a whimsical literary powers of ten) or georges bachelard poetics of space, which takes a close look at the spaces of daily domestic living (some people swear by this, but i've found it difficult to get through) would straddle the two quite nicely.

i'm surprised no one has mentioned italo calvino's invisible cities, it's a staple of undergrad reading lists for architects and planners and a tantalising episodic imagining of different mythical cities and the messier vitalities they incubate.

happy readings!
posted by doobiedoo at 9:58 PM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Streets for people, by the nicely opinionated Bernard Rudofsky.
posted by sevenstars at 11:24 AM on January 6, 2009

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