Kent Kleinman

Academic; Writer; Designer / Architecture / United States / Cornell University College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

Books Every Architect Should Read

I enjoy access to one of the finest collections of art and architecture books in the country at Cornell University. But there are books with which one forges a special bond, books that are not necessarily greatest hits but ones that become intellectual companions and need to be always within view and grasp. I have listed some of these: books I admire greatly, durable accomplishments in and around the subject of architecture, books that have informed my thinking and to which I return often.

I consider each book in its specificity—its binding, font, layout, and weight, the post-its and marginalia—as a gift of thought and a form of physical connection to the author. For this reason, too, it is important to me to have these volumes physically close.

7 books
John Hejduk

“A Point of View” is sometimes left off citations of this extraordinary publication, but it is key to the work. This is a manifesto, a declaration of intent, a collective effort by faculty and students forged into a powerful vision of an architectural pedagogy, a landmark, and a beautifully crafted book.

Spiro Kostof

Spiro Kostof’s survey has special qualities that at the time were groundbreaking: he insisted that the drawing was as important as the built edifice as a object of study; he bucked the tradition of chronology as the only legitimate structure for the genre; and he insisted on including context as part of his subject matter, not just in his text, but also by producing new drawings of well-known sites showing surrounding conditions—often even the site’s topography. He oriented all site plans with north up as a didactic reminder of cardinal orientation as a kind of meta-context.

Clifford Geertz

Geertz is among the most insightful writers on culture and its proper mode of study. He is also one of the sharpest wits in print. He treats the interpretation of cultures as an art of keen observation, precise inscription, and creative interpretation, more akin to that of a literary critic than a social scientist. If nothing else, read the first chapter called “Thick Description,” and see if you ever experience a wink as you once did….

Ben Katchor

Ben Katchor is one of the great chroniclers of New York City, even if that means inventing places for familiar events or inventing events for real places. This graphic novel introduces us to such architectural wonders as Foyer Hall—a theater on Gymsarchus Ave at 11th Street comprising principally a foyer with a gently sloped floor to encourage crowds to mingle; the Symmetry Shop on Ainsaint Avenue in the Beauty Supply District (directly across the intersection from the Hot Aura Frankfurt School store); and the waterproof, topographically precise Puddle Map of the expanded metropolitan area.

Lars Lerup
Postscript by Peter Eisenman

Lars’s compact book is a meditation on the ultimately futile desire for architecture to escape the domestic narrative that shapes its material and formal configuration, and to frolic off in a state of degree-zero euphoria. Peter Eisenman’s afterword is revelatory—of Peter’s intellectual project as much as Lars’s.

Adolf Loos

The crime is that the entire corpus of Loos’s essays has not been translated into English. This volume (the title translates as “Nevertheless”)  contains gems such as “Keramika,” in which Loos embraces accident as an aesthetic principle; “Hands Off,” banishing the architect from touching anything that is supposed to have lasting value; and the obituary to Josef Veillich, with the observation celebrated by Aldo Rossi: “Man weiss, dass das ganze kunstgetue im wohnungswesen … keinen hund vom warmen ofen lockt” (roughly: “It is well known that all the artful novelties in housing . . . do not tempt the dog away from the warm stove”). As a discipline, we should get organized and get the entire opus translated and published.

Walter Pichler
Friedrich Achleitner Introduction

Anyone who admires Pichler’s work will already own this early anthology of his major projects; anyone not familiar with his major projects should get this book. Pichler’s complex of farm buildings in Burgenland is the subject of, and site for, almost all of the drawings and building projects featured in this volume. The inventiveness produced by self-imposed constraints of site, materials, and processes is astonishing. It is a great loss that Walter passed away recently, on July 16, 2012.

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