To cap off 2013, ARCHITECT asked a few critics and contributors to list their favorite architecture and design books of 2013. This informal panel picked books that even devoted design readers may have overlooked, plus some titles that no one can afford to miss. Here are seven titles they named as their favorites of the year (and one editor's pick for good measure).


Ballad

Credit: Enchanted Lion Books


Ballad, by Blexbolex (Enchanted Lion Books, Nov. 2013)

The year’s best book about architecture is Ballad, a graphic novel by French illustrator Bernard Granger, known as Blexbolex. It is a children’s book only as Louis Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats were for preschoolers. In it, an overfamiliar walk to school expands into a cryptic hero’s journey. Meticulously melancholic illustrations, one per page, are captioned by a spare narrative of nouns: the school, the street, the bridge, the melody, the getaway, the stairway, the fortress, the stranger, the witch, the storm—all documenting how the city travels through its wanderers as they travel through it, with the luminous logic of dreams. —Thomas de Monchaux


Designing the Creative Child

Credit: University of Minnesota Press


Designing the Creative Child: Playthings and Places in Midcentury America (Architecture, Landscape and Amer Culture), by Amy F. Ogata (University of Minnesota Press, April 2013)

In this history of the postwar toyscape, Ogata tours you through the playrooms, playgrounds, schools, and science museums of the era. She reveals how much of the current look of upper-income childhood—fetishization of wood, obsession with educational value—was constructed in the late 1940s and 1950s. Parental anxieties have also been passed down, albeit in new forms: Parents of the 1940s bought crayons in hopes that their children would not be spectators, but makers; today, we teach them to code. —Alexandra Lange


Never Built Los Angeles

Credit: Metropolis Books


Never Built Los Angeles, by Sam Lubell, Greg Goldin, and Thom Mayne, FAIA (foreword) (Metropolis Books, July 2013)

An impressive volume in tribute to visionaries, lost causes, and broken dreams, Never Built Los Angeles gazes backwards at the city's unrealized architecture with little nostalgia. More robustly historical than the exhibition it accompanied, the catalog spells out many of the backstories to the vanquished projects—the power plays and missteps that proved their undoing. Chock full of skyscrapers and civic schemes, the books also testifies to the soft spot that Lubell and Goldin have for monorails and (more justifiably) for the 1930 Olmsted-Bartholomew Plan for the Los Angeles Region, which would have established green space before the sprawl. —Mimi Zeiger


New Museums in China

Credit: Princeton Architectural Press


New Museums in China, by Clare Jacobson (Princeton Architectural Press, Oct. 2013)

I may be biased, because the author is a friend and former colleage, but Clare Jacobson's New Museums in China seems much more than a simple survey to me. This is a book that will stand the test of time, a monograph that critics and scholars will be looking back on for decades to come, to explain what may be the most remarkable cultural building boom in history. —Mark Lamster


Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Credit: Back Bay Books


Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel, by Maria Semple (Back Bay Books, April 2013)

My favorite novel published this year (in paperback) was Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette? It's about a celebrated architect who becomes a recluse in her Seattle home and then vanishes. The satire is pitch-perfect, and Semple gets the world of architecture right, too. I was glad Bernadette turned out to be a frustrated idealist—unlike the shifty architect-thief in Alice Munro's Dear Life, or the controlling architect-husband in Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding. Amanda Kolson Hurley


The Metropolitan Revolution

Credit: Brookings Institution Press


The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy, by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley (Brookings Institution Press, June 2013)

This book lays out an argument that has its roots in the work of Jane Jacobs, claiming that metropolitan regions have become the key economic unit of the global economy and politically, the most effective scale at which to get things done. With case studies of cities as diverse as New York, Cleveland, Houston, and Denver, the book emphasizes the importance of “innovation districts” in giving birth to new economic activity and in increasing the pace of new discoveries. This argument has profound implications for architecture, design, and planning, and the book is well worth the time to read. —Thomas Fisher, Assoc. AIA


Schottenfreude

Credit: Blue Rider Press


Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition, by Ben Schott (Blue Rider Press, Oct. 2013) 

I've always been stunned by the German language ability to concoct new, incredibly nuanced words to describe complex situations and emotions, but Schott elevates it to a whole new level. The book is as hilarious as it is deep and moving. And—I always have a hidden agenda—it demonstrates that even language is a form of design. —Paola Antonelli


World Man

Credit: Princeton Architectural Press


R. Buckminster Fuller, World Man, by Daniel López-Pérez (editor), Alejandro Zaera-Polo (contributor), Stan Allen (contributor) (Princeton Architectural Press, Dec. 2013)

The book compiles a never-before-published lecture delivered by Buckminster Fuller at the Princeton University School of Architecture in 1966, one year before his 250-foot diameter geodesic dome was erected for the U.S. pavilion at Expo '67 in Montreal. The lecture encapsulates Bucky's best ideas, and the book is an an interesting design object to boot: World Man couples the photocopied pages of his lecture notes with engineering diagrams and original lecture notes. —Editor's pick