Seeing Things as You Have Never Seen Them Before: Books Every Architect Should Read—Paul Goldberger

By Steve Kroeter May 3, 2011
Paul Goldberger

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger (New York)

book list

What is the first role of books about architecture? “To interpret and explain: to be, in effect, the label on the museum wall, or the note in the concert program.” So writes architecture critic Paul Goldberger in a new essay for Designers & Books. But that’s only the beginning. He goes on to say, “The greatest buildings, like art and music and literature, can be interpreted in multiple ways. As there is no end to what can be said about Beethoven and Mozart, there is no end to what can be said about the work of Michelangelo and Palladio and Borromini and Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn.”

Included in the collection of books he enlighteningly and entertainingly describes are architectural guidebooks (“the best are clear about what they like and what they dislike”), novels (“Wharton makes you see architecture . . . as much more than a neutral setting”), biographies (“though one may wonder how much a chronicle of an architect’s bedmates will add to your understanding of his work”), autobiographies (“[Wright’s] Autobiography is one of the most exciting books about architecture that you can read”), books of essays (Summerson, Scully, and Mumford), a children’s book (Buildings that Wiggle Like a Fish), and a long, compellingly annotated list of well-known and also not-so-well known titles on an array of specialized architectural topics. He saves a special place at the end for Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The books he values most, Goldberger observes, are “the books that are personal, the books whose authors make you see things as you have never seen them before.”

If we could add one book to the list, it would be one Goldberger himself recently wrote, Why Architecture Matters (2009)—cited by architect Calvin Tsao on Designers & Books for emphasizing “the imperative of poetics in architecture.”

Our final assessment? Every architect should read Goldberger’s “Books Every Architect Should Read.”

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