1. Theory of Mouldings
By C. Howard Walker
Foreword by Richard Sammons
In 1926, when C. Howard Walker wrote his definitive guide to moldings, architects would have been familiar enough with the grammar of classicism to tell a scotia from a topus. This reissued textbook does not belittle those less knowledgeable about historical form; it simply plunges ahead with meticulously drawn examples from antiquity, the early 12th century, or a Litchfield, Conn., colonial. Walker (1857–1936) was a professor at MIT and a partner at Walker and Kimball, the Boston firm that led the design of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. His discussion of the benefits of shadow and profile and the dangers of monotony from careless combination make this 146-page ode to cove and ovolo worth immersion, even in the modern age. W.W. Norton; $25

2. Vignelli from A to Z
By Massimo Vignelli
Few design teams have been as influential in as many contexts as Massimo and Lella Vignelli, Italian-born New York designers who have shaped the public presence of IBM, American Airlines, and the National Park Service. Now the Vignellis have encapsulated their views in an alphabetized series of essays drawn from Massimo's lectures at Harvard. “A” is for ambiguity, which Vignelli treats as a positive force. “C” is for chromotype, their 1970s approach to branding through consistent use of color. After chapters on furniture, garments, interiors, lighting, magazines, objects, and product design—the Vignellis excel at all of the above—come the issues of quality and responsibility. Quality, Massimo writes, comes from sticking with good clients and rigorously pursuing “intellectual elegance.” If you can achieve quality, responsibility will be a snap. The Images Publishing Group/ACC Distribution; $50

3. Building the Empire State
Edited by Carol Willis
The recent AIA survey of Americans' favorite buildings ranked the Empire State Building securely on top. This paperback (first published in hardback in 1998) provides an opportunity for time travel back to its creation. Carol Willis, director of the Skyscraper Museum, tracked down a 1930s notebook that documents construction of the 1,250-foot building. An anonymous scribe, typing on blue-lined graph paper, kept track of details from equipment, payrolls, and schedules to loss of life (six workers and one pedestrian, all told). The last line preserves the sense of awe that accompanied completion of the building on March 1, 1931, after 11 months' labor. “Viewed in the light of Faith,” the scribe wrote, “it stands out clearly against the sky as a noble monument reflecting the glory of God, Who had given such power to man.” W.W. Norton; $19.95.

4. The Yale Building Project: The First 40 Years
By Richard W. Hayes
Foreword by Robert A.M. Stern
When Charles W. Moore became dean at Yale in 1966, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society was taking off and students were primed for political engagement. Turning away from his predecessor Paul Rudolph's focus on form, Moore launched a revolutionary design-build initiative, enticing first-year students to get down and dirty. This book reconstructs what followed, year by year. In the beginning, students designed camp cabins for inner-city children, a playground for autistic children, and a health center in coal country. In the 1980s the program wandered into more luxurious territory: beach gazebos, a pavilion for Yale staff retreats. But a joint project in 1989 with Habitat for Humanity turned attention back toward affordable housing in New Haven, where the program remains focused today. Yale University Press; $45