Read Slowly and Be Deeply Engaged: Tod Williams’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter October 4, 2012

Tod Williams

Architect Tod Williams: Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects (New York)

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Architect Tod Williams savors what he reads. “I read slowly and want to be deeply engaged,” Williams says in the introduction to his book list for Designers & Books.

Williams, the designer of such compelling buildings as the the recent new facility for the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and the American Folk Art Museum in New York (with partner Billie Tsien, also a Designers & Books contributor), ruminates on his book list selections, made up entirely of memoirs and fiction—from classic to contemporary. As he notes in a comment about one of the books on his list, the novel Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann—which interweaves the stories of disparate New York City residents in the 1970s—Williams is drawn to the “complex intersection of lives and feelings.”

Reflecting on Moby Dick, also a choice of several other Designers & Books architect contributors, including Steven Holl and Margaret McCurry, he acknowledges: “It took me years to appreciate, and once embraced it may never be surpassed.” Life with Picasso, a memoir by Françoise Gilot (who lived with the artist for 11 years), is “simultaneously deeply personal and coolly analytical.” And reading Annie Dillard’s The Living, a fictional account of 19th-century life in the Pacific Northwest, prompts Williams to comment, “The dark, dense richness and difficulty of the Pacific Northwest over a century ago made me wish I could live life in an enormous, entangled tree.”

The Architecture of the Barnes Foundation by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, 2012 (Skira Rizzoli)

Tod Williams and Billie Tsien have written two books together. One is the about-to-be-released chronicle of the creation of the new Barnes Foundation building, The Architecture of the Barnes Foundation (Skira Rizzoli, Fall 2012). The other is Work Life (2000, The Monacelli Press), which details ten of the architects’ projects and also features a personal essay exploring the partners’ working methods and lives together.


Note: Tod Williams and Billie Tsien will take part in a conversation with with architecture critic Paul Goldberger during Designers & Books Fair 2012, on Sunday October 28. For details and to purchase tickets to this program, please visit


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