Most Frequently Chosen Books

10 Most Frequently Chosen Design Books

October 7, 2015

Updated. — These 10 design books appear most frequently on the book lists of our designers, commentators, and other contributors. Click on each cover or title to see which contributors have selected the books—and what they have to say about them.

Interior spread from Robert Massin’s Letter and Image (1970).
Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture Robert Venturi

This award-winning “gentle manifesto” for a “non-straightforward architecture,” argues against the purist forms and tenets of orthodox modernism, and for an embrace of multiple and conflicting ideas that produce a more vital approach to built design. Using examples ranging from Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures to designs by Edwin Lutyens, Alvar Aalto, vernacular sources, and Venturi’s own work, the book, which has been translated into 18 languages since it was first published, makes a case for “the difficult whole.”

Towards a New Architecture (Vers une Architecture) Le Corbusier

From the Publisher (Frances Lincoln edition, 2008). Le Corbusier's pioneering manifesto in which he urged architects to cease thinking of architecture as a matter of historical styles and instead open their eyes to the modern world. Le Corbusier wrote simultaneously as an architect, city planner, historian, critic, discoverer, and prophet, and he illustrated Towards a New Architecture with striking images of airplanes, cars, and ocean liners, provocatively placed next to views of Classical Greece and Renaissance Rome. His slogans—such as “The house is a machine for living in”—and his “Reminders to Architects” changed how his contemporaries saw the relationship between architecture, technology, and history.

Delirious New York Rem Koolhaas

From the Publisher. Rem Koolhaas's celebration and analysis of New York depicts the city as a metaphor for the incredible variety of human behavior. At the end of the 19th, population, information, and technology explosions made Manhattan a laboratory for the invention and testing of a metropolitan lifestyle—"the culture of congestion"—and its architecture.

“Manhattan,” he writes, “is the 20th century's Rosetta Stone . . . occupied by architectural mutations (Central Park, the Skyscraper), utopian fragments (Rockefeller Center, the U.N. Building), and irrational phenomena (Radio City Music Hall).” Koolhaas interprets and reinterprets the dynamic relationship between architecture and culture in a number of telling episodes of New York's history, including the imposition of the Manhattan grid, the creation of Coney Island, and the development of the skyscraper. Delirious New York is also packed with intriguing and fun facts and illustrated with witty watercolors and quirky archival drawings, photographs, postcards, and maps. The spirit of this visionary investigation of Manhattan equals the energy of the city itself.

Le Corbusier: Oeuvre Complète (Complete Works) Willy Boesiger Editor

The complete works of Le Corbusier (1887–1965) in eight volumes. Published between 1929 and 1970, and reprinted in numerous editions ever since, it is a comprehensive record of the buildings, projects, sketchbooks, manifestos, drawings, and texts of arguably the 20th century’s most influential architect.

Learning from Las Vegas Robert Venturi
Denise Scott Brown
Steven Izenour

From the Publisher (revised edition, 1977): The book created a healthy controversy on its appearance in 1972, calling for architects to be more receptive to the tastes and values of “common” people and less immodest in their erections of “heroic,” self-aggrandizing monuments. This revision includes the full texts of Part I of the original, on the Las Vegas strip, and Part II, “Ugly and Ordinary Architecture, or the Decorated Shed,” a generalization from the findings of the first part on symbolism in architecture and the iconography of urban sprawl. Includes an added preface by Scott Brown.

A Pattern Language Christopher Alexander
Sara Ishikawa
Murray Silverstein

From the Publisher. At the core of the book is the point that in designing their environments people always rely on certain “languages,” which, like the languages we speak, allow them to articulate and communicate an infinite variety of designs within a formal system which gives them coherence. This book provides a language of this kind. It will enable a person to make a design for almost any kind of building, or any part of the built environment. 'Patterns', the units of this language, are answers to design problems (How high should a window sill be? How many stories should a building have? How much space in a neighborhood should be devoted to grass and trees?). More than 250 of the patterns in this pattern language are given: each consists of a problem statement, a discussion of a the problem with an illustration, sand a solution. As the authors say in their introduction, many of the patterns are archetypal, so deeply rooted in the nature of things that it seems likely that they will be a part of human nature, and human action, as much in five hundred years as they are today.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information Edward R. Tufte

From the Publisher. The classic book on statistical graphics, charts, tables. Theory and practice in the design of data graphics, 250 illustrations of the best (and a few of the worst) statistical graphics, with detailed analysis of how to display data for precise, effective, quick analysis. Design of the high-resolution displays, small multiples. Editing and improving graphics. The data-ink ratio. Time-series, relational graphics, data maps, multivariate designs. Detection of graphical deception: design variation vs. data variation. Sources of deception. Aesthetics and data graphical displays.
This is the second edition of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Recently published, this new edition provides excellent color reproductions of the many graphics of William Playfair, adds color to other images, and includes all the changes and corrections accumulated during 17 printings of the first edition.


Architecture Without Architects Bernard Rudofsky

From the Publisher. In this book, Bernard Rudofsky steps outside the narrowly defined discipline that has governed our sense of architectural history and discusses the art of building as a universal phenomenon. He introduces the reader to communal architecture--architecture produced not by specialists but by the spontaneous and continuing activity of a whole people with a common heritage, acting within a community experience. A prehistoric theater district for a hundred thousand spectators on the American continent and underground towns and villages (complete with schools, offices, and factories) inhabited by millions of people are among the unexpected phenomena he brings to light.

The beauty of "primitive" architecture has often been dismissed as accidental, but today we recognize in it an art form that has resulted from human intelligence applied to uniquely human modes of life. Indeed, Rudofsky sees the philosophy and practical knowledge of the untutored builders as untapped sources of inspiration for industrial man trapped in his chaotic cities.

Theory and Design in the First Machine Age Reyner Banham

From the Publisher. First published in 1960, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age has become required reading in numerous courses on the history of modern architecture and is widely regarded as one of the definitive books on the modern movement. It has influenced a generation of students and critics interested in the formation of attitudes, themes, and forms which were characteristic of artists and architects working primarily in Europe between 1900 and 1930 under the compulsion of new technological developments in the first machine age.

Letter and Image Robert Massin

An extensively illustrated survey of the role of type in culture from pre-history through the 1960s. French graphic designer and writer Robert Massin (b. 1925) is one of the key figures in the development of postwar graphic design. He served as art director for the preeminent French publisher Gallimard, devising its well-known Folio collection.

— Graphic designer and visual literature pioneer Warren Lehrer comments on Letter and Image:

“This comprehensive, profusely illustrated overview of how letters and images have intermingled in art and literature through history and around the world is still the best book ever made on the origins of what I’m calling visual literature. It chronicles the history of how letters and images were pretty much one and the same early on. Though they were separated into distinct fields (art and writing), the impulse to bring them back together continued as evidenced in letterforms intertwined with humans, foliage, and animals; pattern poetry, figured verse, calligrams, shaped poetry and prose; the use of letters in fine art; and modernist movements up to concrete poetry and other text-art of the 1960s.”

— Visual culture critic Rick Poynor says: “Massin’s anthology of letterforms as images, illustrated with more than 1,000 historical examples, is a phenomenal feat of visual research. First published in 1970, this cornucopia of peculiar characters has few peers to this day.”

 — Graphic designer Tom Geismar (Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv) notes that the book contains “many rare examples.”

On 2 other designers’ Book Lists.

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