Architecture Book Suggestions
December 21, 2006 8:53 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to learn more about architecture and design - any book suggestions?

I've lived in a few very architecturally interesting cities over the past few yearsand would really like to learn more about the basics of architecture (more from a design perspective, rather than an engineering perspective). Do you have any recommendations on books that I might find interesting (feel free to include textbooks, if you think they're easy to read outside of an academic setting). thanks!!
posted by echo0720 to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Check out A Pattern Language or The Timeless Way of Building, both by Christopher Alexander.

Both address the idea of architectural patterns -- designs, proportions, arrangements -- that are useful, usable, pleasing and extensible.

APL was published in '77 and is more general, applying the idea of architectural patterns to neighborhoods, cities, etc. TTWoB was published in '79, and concentrates more on buildings and rooms. Both are valuable and interesting.
posted by Work to Live at 9:03 AM on December 21, 2006

It's a little specific, but I found The Architecture of Michelangelo by James Ackerman to be an amazing introduction to architecture in general; it made me realize how buildings work, artistically, both in the relationship between their parts and their relationship with their surroundings. I really think it's one of the best books on art that I've ever read.

(His book on Palladio's not quite so good, though the architecture's probably a bit more orthodox. I'd stick with the Michelangelo.)
posted by occhiblu at 9:48 AM on December 21, 2006

I second A Pattern Language - indespensible and fascinating.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:26 AM on December 21, 2006

Actually, there's a new book out which I just started reading that you might really like. It's Alain de Botton's The Architecture of Happiness. Good read, and great introduction to the subject, even though it's got a more specific aim than a general primer. From the blurb:

With this entertaining and stimulating book, de Botton (How Proust Can Change Your Life) examines the ways architecture speaks to us, evoking associations that, if we are alive to them, can put us in touch with our true selves and influence how we conduct our lives. Because of this, he contends, it's the architect's task to design buildings that contribute to happiness by embodying ennobling values. While he makes no claim to be able to define true beauty in architecture, he suggests some of the virtues a building should have (illustrated by pictures on almost every spread): order combined with complexity; balance between contrasting elements; elegance that appears effortless; a coherent relationship among the parts; and self-knowledge, which entails an understanding of human psychology, something that architects all too often overlook.
posted by luriete at 10:58 AM on December 21, 2006

Spiro Kostoff's "A History of Architecture" will give you the historical grounding to understand the stylistic changes and development for the past 2000 years. I would go for the textbook version that is mandatory for all first year architects. It looks like there is a popular variant of it out now -- no clue how good / bad it is.

Not to knock Pattern Language, but it's mainly about the architectural vernacular. It can help you understand and analyze buildings / communities from a "program" perspective (what are the goals / requirements, and how does the building meet it).
posted by printdevil at 11:07 AM on December 21, 2006

Anything by Christopher Alexander, really. I agree that Pattern Language is the best place to start, but I'd also mention his Nature of Order series. His writing meets exactly your criteria: discussing architecture from a basic, design perspective, minus the engineering mathematics, and accessible to laymen. On top of which, it's damn fascinating.
posted by cribcage at 11:57 AM on December 21, 2006

I also enjoyed the essays in The Emerald City.
posted by cribcage at 12:06 PM on December 21, 2006

I love my older edition of Architecture: Form, Space, and Order, by Francis D. K. Ching. The older edition was completely hand-lettered, while the newer version in the link just has a handwritten-looking font, as well as a different page format. It's fairly simplistic, and tends to just show the architecture itself rather than analyzing any kind of problem the architecture is solving, but as an illustrated guide to formal (i.e. having to do with form, not bow-ties and tuxedoes) approaches it's invaluable. With it's copious illustrations, it's kind of a visual toolkit.

In general, I'd recommend avoiding theoretical tracts, which luckily haven't been suggested so far, but if you must, a couple decent compendiums exist. One is Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture by my theory prof (caveat: nobody liked her class, but the book is thorough).

History can be kind of dry, but Modern Architecture by Kenneth Frampton is a decent book. The main history textbook is Architecture by Trachtenberg and Hyman, which covers everything from Stonehenge to now, but focuses almost exclusively on Western traditions. No Mayan temples or anything in that book.
posted by LionIndex at 12:18 PM on December 21, 2006

I want to second "How Buildings Learn." It's a fantastic book.
posted by mrbula at 12:32 PM on December 21, 2006

These are photo-heavy introductions that will allow you to dive in and find artists/trends you want to follow up on:

20th Centry Architecture by Jonathan Glancey.
20th Century Design by Catherine McDermott.
Design: A Crash Course by Paul Clark and Ulian Freeman.

These aren't definitive or overly academic. But they're great, especially the first two, for getting your bearings and getting a visual sense of various trends.
posted by wheat at 12:45 PM on December 21, 2006

Second the Ching, it was my first year architecture school biible, and while not a history book will give you a good idea about the basic elements of architectural design. Then read any of the history books suggested above.
Alexander, while fascinating to a designer, isn't really a good starting point for a novice.
posted by signal at 1:40 PM on December 21, 2006

Am i the only person here who's not a big fan of A Pattern Language? It's one way of looking at design, but fails to understand a phenomon such as Shanghai. Look at S, M, L or Delerious NY by Rem Koolhaus as a counterpoint to A.P.L.
posted by DenOfSizer at 1:42 PM on December 21, 2006

The Ten Books of Architecture of Vitruvius. What else do you need?
posted by yesno at 1:53 PM on December 21, 2006

I read From Bauhaus to Our House by Tom Wolfe years ago and seem to remember it being a very accessible read.

The copy I bought 2nd hand had real photos inside of buildings around my city that the previous reader thought matched what Wolfe was talking about. Nice.
posted by meech at 2:20 PM on December 21, 2006

I agree with many of the suggestions here, but you need to give us a better idea of why you're interested, what you want to learn, and how you learn best. It's hard to compress a 9-year educational process into a book suggestion without more specificity, but rest assured it's a fascinating topic whatever your angle. Anyway:
Design, construction, engineering, development, law, business?
Contemporary, recent, old, or ancient?
Design practice or design theory?
Small, medium, large, or macroscopic?
Words, pictures, or drawings?
People, history, evolution, ideas?
Vernacular or high design?
Big names & masterpieces or works specific to your region?
Interior, exterior, landscape, urban, suburban, rural?

BTW I wouldn't recommend Vitruvius, he's a bit boring and his theories weren't broadly applicable even in classical Rome.
posted by Chris4d at 5:08 PM on December 21, 2006

Yeah, Vitruvius is a historical souvenir, not much more. Interesting, but not really a good base for understanding contemporary architecture.
posted by signal at 7:55 PM on December 21, 2006

I second Architecture by Trachtenberg and Hyman. Just had an architectural history course, and this book is pretty good.
posted by luckypozzo at 8:34 PM on December 21, 2006

Concept Sourcebook, by Edward T White, is an amazing book if you can find it for cheap. I bought mine on e-bay after I oggled a friend's copy. It focuses on basic architectural elements and how they can be arranged for various functions and effects. Which sounds boring but it isn't - it has amazing hand-done illustrations and very thoughtful text. I am not an architect and I find it quite inspiring.
posted by mai at 9:00 PM on December 21, 2006

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