Barry Bergdoll

Curator; Academic; Writer / Architecture / United States / Columbia University; The Museum of Modern Art

Books Every Architect Should Read

Long before I came to the conclusion that I wanted to study architectural history, I knew I wanted to collect books. Arranging my books in new classification systems in my room at home as a teenager on rainy days, I even imagined that being a librarian might be the best of all possible worlds. Ever since then I’ve had at least as many books I intend to read as books I have actually read. And ever since then I have been torn between the idea of a small collection of desert island books and a big house with every room lined in books—“dessert island” books, I suppose one could call those that would line the dining room—so that every after dinner conversation might be seasoned with reading and shared books. . . . View the complete text
12 books
W. G. Sebald

Sebald’s poetic interchange of photography and texts in counterpoint rather than illustration is to me one of the most compelling projects in late 20th-century literature. The relationship to architecture is of course only tangential, but his are the only books that when I finish, my temptation is simply to start again. The opening lines about 19th-century architecture, beginning in Antwerp, reveal that often the greatest texture of architectural appreciation comes from the least expected places.

John Summerson

A fantastic, quick entry into the meaning of the classical syntax of architecture that provides a lively understanding with no dogmatic belief in its eternal validity. These were original radio talks and they evoke a culture that believed at one point that architectural appreciation was vital for any citizen. This is something today that exists in very few places: in Mexico City, in Paris, and until recently in Caracas, where the much-missed William Nino had a lively debate weekly about architecture. Would that we could revive this culture in our cities.

Edward R. Ford

A rare, completely fresh take on the history of modern architecture. The way Ford reads buildings and the complex issues of the representation of structural and material qualities in them by either direct or metaphoric ways is inspiring not only for studying the architecture of the late 19th and 20th centuries but also for developing an architectural expression today.

William Strunk Jr.
E. B. White
Maira Kalman Illustrator

It has to be an edition with the added part by E. B. White on writing. It is one of the most useful, delightful, and wickedly funny books I have ever had the pleasure of reading, owning, assigning, and returning to. Even reading the part about the invitation to speak at the dedication of a cat hospital is something I am sometimes tempted to grab off the shelf during a dinner party to add to the hilarity. Architects and architecture students, too, might find it very helpful in preparing reports and presentations for clients to help wean them off the insider language of schools and the profession.

Alan Colquhoun

Colquhoun is one of the most insightful historians on 20th-century architecture. His penetrating essays integrate an accessible philosophical understanding with close reading of buildings in ways that are always refreshing and exemplary. They can be read over and over again.

Erwin Panofsky

A brilliant book—architectural history as cultural history at the highest level.

Robert Darnton

One of the great reads in recent history writing. It’s the sort of micro-history that I would love to see more of in architectural history.

E. J. Hobsbawm Editor
T. O. Ranger Editor

This book really changed the way I thought about myself as a historian and what I wanted to study. It is one of the great models for thinking about the ways in which buildings tell stories at certain times that because of their longevity become part of the stories that cities in turn tell.

Sigfried Giedion

Still a brilliant book that frames architecture in a new way. Giedion’s use of illustrations makes his books extraordinary works of page layout: you can enter the argument anywhere. Unless you are working on the historiography of modern architecture, there is no need to read the book from cover to cover—Giedion understood the idea of hypertext long before the Internet “invented” it.

David Leatherbarrow

Leatherbarrow is another writer whose value system I share, so I am always delighted to follow him to new territories, new examples, and new insights. It would be a great desert island vacation to match this book with Ruskin’s Stones of Venice.

John Ruskin

There is scarcely a book at once more stimulating and maddening on architecture. One can dip into it in places—the chapters on the Venice Lagoon, and of course the chapter “The Nature of Gothic,” which launched William Morris on his career, can be read as freestanding works.

This is the essential book of all Frampton’s writings to read, in any order. Frampton develops both a trajectory for the development of modern architecture and an ethos of building that should inspire architects in looking at a wide range of exemplary works and in making decisions about practice and individual projects.

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