When an architect sits down to say, "this is what architecture should be about."
January 6, 2011 9:31 PM   Subscribe

Help Me Assemble an Architectural Reading List Filter: looking for written works by notable architects which are intended as introductions to or overviews of the 'proper' practice of architecture, as the author sees it.

Essentially I am looking for works which are consciously framed as general "how-to" guides for the practice of architecture, or sets of "laws" or "rules" for good design. Book-length is preferable, and there is of course a small subset of 'notable architects' which I am interested in, though in lieu of trying to define that I will gladly accept any works which fit this premise — but generally, I'm interested in architects in the modern tradition, and less interested in anyone who would label themselves a post-modernist. Authors for whom sustainability is a core tenet are a plus. Theorists/paper architects are fine also, though I'm more interested in works with a focus on the practical demands of actual building, even if it is approached in a general way.
posted by brightghost to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Learning from Los Vegas, by Venturi and Scott Brown,

How Buildings Fall Down, How Buildings Stay Up, and How Buildings Learn
posted by PinkMoose at 10:05 PM on January 6, 2011

Best answer: This may not be exactly within your timeframe, A.J. Downing's The Architecture of Country Houses is a book of architectural design philosophy in the vein of "one should build houses in a style that fits the patron and landscape" and includes plenty of plans and drawings.

Also, while Robert Venturi would probably be considered a "postmodernist" (although he denies this title), his Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture is a manifesto worth flipping through as an examination and response to the modernists of the Bauhaus.
Good luck!
posted by DeltaZ113 at 10:11 PM on January 6, 2011

I'm reading through Reyner Banham's Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960), and it has been somewhat eye-opening to me in considering where I stand, in a theoretical/historical sense, as a modern architect.
posted by Hicksu at 2:47 AM on January 7, 2011

Best answer: Theories and Manifestos of Contemporary Architecture has a significant range - some are excerpts, but maybe you might check the table of contents for a route to the full texts.

Le Corbusier - Towards an Architecture (1923, seminal text of the modern movement, specific about what architects must do)

W.G. Clark's essays in Richard Jensen's Clark and Menefee are excellent, about architecture and landscape and the architect, and they're coming from a sort of contemporary southern vernacular.

The more contemporary you get (and sorry if this is overexplaining), the more you have people explaining their work through things like Delirious New York and Yes Is More!, manifestos and programmes as much as Vers Une Architecture was but playful and ironic and from architects immersed in pop culture and advertising.

Thinking Architecture sees Peter Zumthor talking about his own design process.
posted by carbide at 4:26 AM on January 7, 2011

Walter Gropius - The New Architecture and The Bauhaus
posted by Kronur at 6:51 AM on January 7, 2011

Vitruvius: Ten Books on Architecture
posted by Kronur at 6:52 AM on January 7, 2011

S M L XL by Rem Koolhaas

(and I'm trying to avoid the landscape side of things)
posted by Kronur at 6:54 AM on January 7, 2011

And one more thought, when I think sustainable architecture, prior to the surrent fad when of course now EVERYONE is practicing sustaibly,

Samuel Mockbee is the man. There are several books on his work at Rural Studio, but I don't think he wrote any.

Also, I don't think you can go wrong by studying the history of architecture. It all builds on itself. The ornament changes, but it all stays the same. Great resource for modernism (collection of primary source material from architects & critics):
Architecture Theory since 1968
posted by Kronur at 7:00 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Last one, may have some more primary material that is more specifically modernist:
Architecture Culture: 1943-1968
posted by Kronur at 7:06 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Christopher Alexander's A Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language are very structured how-to guides that espouse both a philosophy and a specific strategy for implementation. They are respected by architects (the kind that do not think that they personally have the singular re-invention of the wheel that will elevate the standard of the built environment FOREVER!), and are easily read by laypersons as well.

If they do nothing else, they lay bare the logic and consistencies in any kind of place that is well-built, well-designed, or just plain "feels right." A very interesting read whether architecture is your thing or not. It really can change the way you walk through your day and how you you see each new place you enter.
posted by nickjadlowe at 8:48 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Some good answers here, thanks. I'm already familiar with the works by Christopher Alexander, Koolhaas, Vitruvius, Gropius, and Corbusier, but they are more or less what I'm looking for, so thanks for the recommendations. I'm also familiar with Venturi's work, though he is someone who falls squarely into the corner of architecture I have little interest in.

Kronur: I have an undergrad degree in architecture, so I'm already fairly well-versed in architectural history. I'll have to give the Hays book a look, but it seems like it skews much further towards abstract theory than the practical approach I'm interested in. The Ockman looks like it might have more works which fit the bill.

carbide: Theories and Manifestos of Contemporary Architecture seems to be exactly what I'm looking for, thanks much for that. Clark and Menefee also looks fascinating, I'll have to try and talk my way into the copy in my alma mater's rare books collection (I was very amused to see Amazon has copies starting at $777, but is willing to buy back my copy for a $1.49 gift card). And Zumthor is a practitioner of particular interest to me, so I'll be looking at that book as well.

Hicksu: I've read some excerpts from Andrew Jackson Downing's book, but I will definitely be revisiting it now that I've been reminded of its existence.

Thanks for the great suggestions everyone. I'd like to find more works by contemporary (post-Bauhaus) practitioners that fit this bill, but as carbide intimates, explanations of approach which are grounded in actual practice seem to be out of vogue.
posted by brightghost at 11:43 AM on January 7, 2011

Response by poster: woops, that last comment was directed at DeltaZ113, not Hicksu. I don't think I've been acquainted with Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, and it does look interesting, though not what I'm looking for here.
posted by brightghost at 11:48 AM on January 7, 2011

I have been involved in several of Tom Kundig's projects (Ex., Ex., Ex., Ex.). While the monograph doesn't get into too much theory, his work embodies a definite philosophy of how a building should interact with its site, and how materials should be chosen to strengthen that connection. You may find his work interesting.
posted by nickjadlowe at 12:38 PM on January 7, 2011

Best answer: I really intensely dislike Venturi's built work, but the books are very good. If only he'd stuck to writing. I second the Clark and Menefee book. Zumthor has another book, too, I think it's called Atmospheres. Short and simple but enjoyable reading. There's a book of some of Louis Kahn's lectures, but I haven't read it so am not sure if it's what you are asking for. You probably have read Experiencing Architecture but just in case. Same with Cradle to Cradle (also haven't read it).
posted by sepviva at 9:56 PM on January 7, 2011

Best answer: The Rice School of Architecture had a small books series called "conversations with students" with each new book focussing on a session with a different architect. I have a copy on Rem Koolhaas which I found a lot more to the point about practice and process than SMLXL. There was also a short lived magazine called wonderland (3 issues! but free as pdfs), based in europe, looking at the work of young european architects, but focussing a lot on practice, this might be too professional though.
posted by doobiedoo at 7:20 AM on January 13, 2011

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