Books Every Architect Should Read: Kent Kleinman’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter August 28, 2012
Kent Kleinman

Dean and architect Kent Kleinman: Cornell University, College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (Ithaca, New York)

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In time for a new academic year for design and architecture schools, our newest “dean’s list” of books comes from Kent Kleinman, the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. Although he enjoys “access to one of the finest collections of art and architecture books in the country at Cornell University. . . there are books with which one forges a special bond, books that are not necessarily greatest hits but ones that become intellectual companions,” Kleinman says in the introduction to his book list for Designers & Books. These are “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.” He considers 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.”

Kent Kleinman and Leslie Van Duzer, Mies van der Rohe: The Krefeld Villas, 2005 (Princeton Architectural Press)

Among the titles that make the list are John Hejduk’s Education of an Architect: A Point of View, which Kleinman calls “an extraordinary publication . . 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.” He cites Spiro Kostof’s A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals for its “special qualities that at the time [1985] were groundbreaking,” including Kostof’s insistence on showing a building’s context. “Architecture, in the end,” Kostof writes in this book, “is nothing less than the gift of making places for some human purpose.”

Kleinman challenges would-be readers of Clifford Geerz’s witty study The Interpretation of Culture to “read the first chapter called ‘Thick Description,’ and see if you ever experience a wink as you once did….” He also advises members of the architectural profession to translate the entirety of Adolf Loos’s essays, collected in Trotzdem (“Nevertheless”), which is on Kleinman’s book list: “As a discipline, we should get organized and get the entire opus translated and published.”

Kent Kleinman, Joanna Merwood-Salisbury, and Lois Weinthal. eds., After Taste: Expanded Practice in Interior Design, 2011 (Princeton Architectural Press)

And about Walter Pichler: Drawings, Sculpture, Buildings, which features the work of the visionary Austrian architect and artist who became known in the early 1960s and passed away this July. Kleinman states: “Anyone not familiar with his major projects should get this book. The inventiveness produced by self-imposed constraints of site, materials, and processes is astonishing. It is a great loss that Walter passed away recently.”

A scholar of 20th-century European modernism, Kleinman is the author or editor of five books, including analyses of the work of Mies van der Rohe and Adolf Loos, and most recently After Taste: Expanded Practice in Interior Design (2011, Princeton Architectural Press), which explores the role of taste in the evolution of interior design as a discipline from the 18th to the 20th century.

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