Architectural education introduces students to a trove of reference materials that aim to influence how they think about design. But which ones are worth a coveted spot on the bookshelf? We asked six architects plus a few ARCHITECT staffers who studied architecture or engineering to share the texts they’ve held onto and why. 

David Salmela
David Salmela, FAIA
Principal at Salmela Architect, in Duluth, Minn.

The Language of Wood: Wood in Finnish Sculpture, Design, and Architecture, with essays by Juhani Pallasma, Hon. FAIA, Salme Sarajas-Korte, and Pekka Suhonen. (Museum of Finnish Architecture, 1987) | “The unique thing about The Language of Wood is the visual unwritten communication of Finnish design that reflects the essence of Finnish culture by saying so little, and proving that a picture is worth a thousand words. I haven’t read the essays for a long time but the beautiful graphics, the meaningful photo selection, and the timeless order of the book makes it hard for me not to go back to it for cultural visual inspiration.”

Sarah Whiting, Assoc. AIA
Partner at WW Architecture, in Houston, and dean and professor at Rice University’s School of Architecture

The Woman Destroyed (Gallimard Education, 1972) by Simone de Beauvoir; Willliam Cronon’s chapter on grain, titled "Pricing the Future," in his book Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (W.W. Norton, 1992); Neil Denari, FAIA’s, interview in Issue 3 of Project Journal; and Peter Eisenman, FAIA’s, introduction to his book Ten Canonical Buildings: 1950–2000 (Rizzoli, 2008). | “Architecture today needs the nimble but sustained form of the essay to advance, both as a discipline and as a field. So it’s to essayists that I turn. These writers provoke, with words that are as carefully composed as the arcs of their arguments. 'Essay' is a loose term. I return to de Beauvoir's very short novella Woman Destroyed time and time again as a reminder that the world—our architectural 'audience'—is comprised of individuals who never, ever, will really know one another. Similarly, certain chapters or interviews [listed above] are like essays for me; they continue to propel my thinking, even after the nth read.”

Blaine Brownell

Blaine Brownell, AIA
Director of graduate studies at the University of Minnesota’s School of Architecture

Designing Design, by Kenya Hara (Lars Müller Publishers, 2007) | As an architecture professor who specializes in technology, sustainability, and Japanese architecture, Brownell turns to this pure white, cloth-bound tome by Hara, a Japanese designer and curator, and the art director of home-goods maker Muji. Beautifully illustrated with photographs and drawings of Hara’s work alongside that of his mentors, the book explores the philosophy behind Japanese design. “Hara’s critical writings and design projects exemplify refined thinking,” Brownell says. “I refer to his 'Exformation' essay frequently.”

Elizabeth Donoff
Editor-in-chief, Architectural Lighting; M.Arch, Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL)

Towards a New Architecture, Le Corbusier (Dover Publications, 1985) | "The books that still have the most meaning to me center on my Steedman II Travelling Fellowship at WUSTL, which explored the use of architectural photography as a means for spatial representation in Le Corbusier’s Villa La Roche-Jeanneret and Villa Savoye. I would never have embarked on this project if I hadn’t read Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture. It provides a foundational reference point for architecture as whole. In it Le Corbusier outlines his principles and tenets for modern architecture, shaping not only his work but also that of future generations of architects. To study architecture without reading Towards a New Architecture would be like trying to learn to swim without water. It’s that essential."

Daniel Davis
Senior researcher at Case, in New York

Simulation and Its Discontents, by Sherry Turkle (MIT Press, 2009) | “If a book’s worth can be measured by how many times you’ve cited it, or how many people you’ve recommend read it, then Simulation and Its Discontents may be the most valuable book I’ve ever read. And reread, sentence for sentence. Turkle is an incredible writer but it is the larger story she tells, of architects and scientists being introduced to computers in the 1980s, that sustains my interest years later. She is able to articulate the politics and emotions of technology adoption in a way that helps explain our industry’s continued unease with technology.“ 

Ned Cramer, Assoc. AIA

Editor-in-chief, ARCHITECT, and group editorial director of design and commercial construction at Hanley Wood Media; B.Arch, Rice University

The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, by Walter Pater (Oxford University Press, 1987) | "In the closeted world of Victorian cultural criticism, Pater played counterpoint to the moralizing John Ruskin. Oscar Wilde described The Renaissance, a collection of essays Pater published in 1873, as 'the golden book of spirit and sense, the holy writ of beauty.' Experience was everything to Pater; his takes on Botticelli, da Vinci, Giorgione, and other masters are so personal as to approximate fiction. Whenever I feel the weight of mental complacency, the pull of received wisdom, Pater reminds me: “What we have to do is to be forever curiously testing new opinions and courting new impressions, never acquiescing in a facile orthodoxy.”

Deane Madsen

Deane Madsen, Assoc. AIA
Associate editor of design at ARCHITECT, Residential Architect, and Architectural Lighting; M.Arch, University of California, Los Angeles

On Architecture: Collected Reflections on a Century of Change, by Ada Louise Huxtable (Walker & Co., New York, 2008) | "I was writing a paper on Kallmann, McKinnell, and Knowles’ Boston City Hall and stumbled across the late Ada Louise Huxtable’s piece, 'Boston’s New City Hall' (The New York Times, Feb. 4, 1969), in which she described the 'architectural gap' between 'those who design and those who use the twentieth century’s buildings.' I’d heard her name before in theory classes, but it wasn’t until I read a review of an old building written when it was fresh—and began to page through the rest of her prolific career—that I began to understand her position of prominence in the field of architectural criticism. On Architecture is her retrospective greatest-hits tome of critiques, all of which she still supported: 'I called the buildings like I saw them, and I feel pretty much the same way now.'"

MIT Press

José Alvarez, AIA
Principal at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple Architects, in New Orleans

101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, by Matthew Frederick (MIT Press, 2007) | “This fantastic pocket-sized book is my professional companion. I picked it up well after my master’s of architecture, and since then, this reliable resource has helped me to break down the most complex design problems. Its clarity and simplicity always helps me focus back to the basic lessons in design and the creative process.”

Wanda Lau
Senior editor of technology, practice, and products at ARCHITECT, Residential Architect, and Architectural Lighting; S.M. Building Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Stone Skeleton: Structural Engineering of Masonry Architecture, Jacques Heyman (Cambridge University Press, 1997) | "Architecture initially captivated me with its beauty and ability to create a sense of place. Then I wanted to understand how buildings worked, and the aesthetic of architecture became cloaked in equilibrium equations and stress calculations.The Stone Skeleton, which was written by my graduate adviser's graduate adviser, reminded me that many of the world's most inspiring and longstanding structures can be explained using straightforward geometry, without the crutch of complex computational analysis. In 154 pages—with very few equations—Heyman explains how the Hagia Sofia, King's College Chapel, Westminster Abbey, and more stand. If only we could all be as lucid and concise."

Ronald Rael
Co-founder at Rael San Fratello Architects and Emerging Objects, in Oakland, Calif., and associate architecture professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design

Lequeu: An Architectural Enigma, by Philippe Duboy (MIT Press, 1986) | “I first came to know the work of [Jean-Jacque] Lequeu during my studies in Architectural History under Columbia [University] professor Mary McLeod in 1995. He and his contemporaries—Boullée, Ledoux, and Cointeraux—are very influential to my work, but his work stood out to me as completely original in conception, especially for the time period. The plates that focus on the figure and the body (human and animal), have taught me about the relationship between object and meaning in architecture and have helped me formulate attitudes about conveying politics and humor through architectural form.”