Phyllis Lambert

Critic; Curator; Academic; Editor; Lecturer; Executive / Architecture; Urban Design/Urban Planning / Canada / Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA)

10 Books on Buildings, Cities, and Landscapes

The following books have always been with me. Every architect might well read them now, but timing was significant in the evolution of my work. The point is that young architects, architects tout court, must be deeply and widely engaged in reading—asking essential questions.

My reading is concerned with the interaction between building and landscape, and the social context writ large. This is true as well for the novels I list below, for which the quality of language also weighs strongly, as does the quality of form in the built world.

10 books
Leonardo Benevolo

When I read Leonardo Benevolo’s The Origins of Modern Town Planning (published in English in 1967) in the 1970s, I was struck by the importance of political theory manifested in the social positions of the 19th-century Utopian reformers, and the link between the technical and the political, which had been lost or ignored. To me this connection, put forward in this slim book, was revelatory, making a strong argument that got lost in larger studies. This publication supported my nascent sense of justice in the city and in buildings—not as objects, but as part of social, economic, and political life and the refinements of the art of architecture.

Henry James

My undergraduate thesis was based on Henry James’s Notes of a Son and Brother and the necessity James felt to live in Europe. This coincided with a time when I was searching my own discomfort with American culture. Reading James became a lifelong pursuit of mine for its subtle and not so subtle America-Europe dichotomy.

Walt Whitman

Various forms of literature, including poetry, have obsessed me. As a child I loved the force of ideas and language in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I learned about Whitman from books on the sculptor Jacob Epstein. As a child, I asked for and received books on sculptors, especially the beautiful letterpress editions produced by Phaidon Press at that time.

T. S. Eliot

The avant-la-lettre postmodernism of Thomas Stearns Eliot, resurgent in the discourse of the art and discipline of architecture, continues in books I am currently reading, such as the work of Anne Carson—Grief Lessons, Eros the Bittersweet, Antigonick, Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse. This, in turn, connects to my readings in Greek literature—I have been studying and photographing ancient Greek sites and landscape for over 20 years in the Aegean and Mediterranean.

James S. Ackerman

James Ackerman’s Palladio, and Joseph Rykwert’s The Idea of a Town: the Anthropology of Urban Form in Rome, Italy and the Ancient World, were revolutionary when written and exciting for me, in their consideration of the contexts of buildings and city. Ackerman looks beyond buildings to the larger environment of history, society, landscape, and the city; Rykwert looks beyond the instrumental to myth and ritual that shape and even create the man-made environment. When architectural history was mostly concerned, like art history, with connoisseurship, reading Ackerman’s Palladio was a huge relief to me in 1974 when it was first published, confirming my own interest on architecture in the city.

Giovanna Borasi Editor

Journeys (referring to both the book and the exhibition that it accompanied, produced by the CCA in 2010) questions issues raised by increased global movement. What is the cultural significance of a border today? How does the drawing of a map change the reality on the ground? How do different cultural approaches to the use of public space define a city? Do we need to preserve our regional or national landscape, or can we accept and incorporate changes brought from other parts of the world?

Aldous Huxley

As an adolescent I was intrigued by social conditioning described in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, without any moral judgment, as well as the technological inventions, many of which have materialized (except the “feelies”).

Mirko Zardini Editor

This book and the exhibition it originally accompanied challenge the dominance of the visual in exploring perceptions of the city that have traditionally been ignored, repressed, or maligned, offering complex analyses of the comforts, communication systems, and sensory dimensions of urban life—thus advancing a new spectrum of experience and engagement.

Joseph Rykwert

When Rykwert published this book in 1976, the city was still largely ignored both conceptually and holistically. Rykwert wrote that the city “had to enshrine the hopes and fears of its citizens,” so that it engaged the active role of the inhabitants and their underlying systems of belief as well as the place. Also see my comments on Palladio by James Ackerman.

Herman Melville

At university Herman Melville’s Moby Dick mesmerized me by its vast range of space and ideas coupled with a cataloguing of minutiae, the sublime antiquarian language, the smell of puritanical early American settlement, the Pequod and its crew as metaphor for the United States racially and politically, and the idea of alternative learning expressed by Ishmael for whom the adventures of the Pequod were his Yale and his Harvard.

comments powered by Disqus