Diana Balmori

Urban Designer; Landscape Designer / United States / Balmori Associates, Inc.

Diana Balmori’s Book List

This list of books is not at all homogeneous. But it isn’t random, either. These books have remained true companions of mine after others (although they produced immediate pleasure) have faded into oblivion.

13 books
Cornelius Tacitus
Introduction and notes by Alfred Gudeman
I include the seemingly odd choice of Tacitus’s Germania because it was a revelation to me when my father, a linguist, gave it to me for a translating exercise in my Latin classes with him. I was pretty fluent in Latin at that point and had read and translated many of Horace's odes, which interested me not at all. . . . View the complete text
Richard Rosenblum

A classic. It is the only book I have found about an art form (in this case, garden stones) that is not by a scholar but by an artist in a similar discipline. I could mention a few others, but none are as perceptive as this. After reading it just as I was starting work in China, I felt that the only way to read about an art form was to read something by an artist in an allied field. It is my vade mecum (reference manual) and in my eyes the ideal book about an art form.

Kakuzo Okakura

I’ve used this book in undergraduate architecture seminars. I’ve presented the rules it gives for designing teahouse paths (rojis) as an example of guidelines for designing that do not promote imitation or a particular (in this case, Japanese) aesthetic. It is a brilliant way of establishing rules without dictating a particular style.


The Spanish writer Azorín is the closest parallel to Tacitus (see my comments on Agricola and Germania by Tacitus) and is the reason El Libro de Levante, a collection of essays describing eastern Spain, became an equally golden standard for me. Azorín is a hero to me because, like Tacitus, he is terse, despite the fact that Spanish is a wordy language. He adopted the short essay form, which he delivered with great mastery. He is the 20th-century Spanish Joseph Addison or William Hazlitt.

Robert Pogue Harrison

Robert Pogue Harrison provides a conceptual frame for the work of making a garden, pointing to the importance—and at times, the necessity—of creating and caring for it. Gardens are fundamental, he says, in giving order to our relation to nature, rather than bringing an order to nature. That is the idea that made this book a favorite of mine.

Robin W. Winks

Mysteries interest me as a genre, not as individual books. I think their appeal for me is the fascination of following a clue, having it lead nowhere, and then finding another, which leads to the solution—a process that is much like conducting research in history or science. Within the genre, I have strong favorites. When I was a child I loved Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Now, Dorothy Sayers, Rex Stout, Emma Lathen, Sarah Caudwell, and Sara Paretsky are the mystery writers I like best.

Noboru Karizumi

This appears to be a strictly technical book—but do you know how different the roots of trees are from one another? Curiously, that is not at all common knowledge. This Japanese treasure, given to me by my colleague Masahiro Soma, is a chunky book with illustration after illustration of tree roots, shown with a scale indicating their actual dimensions. It is a rare gem—but alas, it is only in Japanese, undoubtedly a tool for those in the field of landscape design and probably not of interest to those outside of it.

Virginia Woolf

I’ve read everything Virginia Woolf wrote, beginning with her earliest works. Of all prose, hers is the most probing of inner inexpressible states, and on top of that, it is beautiful. Her very abstract and experimental writing keeps the narrative line clear, unlike Joyce’s. To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, and A Room of One’s Own are her masterpieces.

Gai Wang
Translated and edited by Mai-mai Sze

The Mustard Seed Garden of Painting is the most widely used handbook of painting in China. It is the most thorough and delightful work ever written on the discipline of an art form (in this case, Chinese painting), presented in a very clear and orderly manner. Landscape as a discipline has for a long time lacked discipline. This book, though at first glance about Chinese painting, is really about landscape and its portrayal. As in Europe in the 1600s, painting and landscape in China were intertwined, and the word “landscape” referred first to a painting of a landscape and later to the thing painted. So The Mustard Seed Garden of Painting is a rare and valuable dictionary of landscape forms as well as a detailed portrayal of the discipline dealing with those forms. A priceless observation is: “To be without method is deplorable, but to depend entirely on method is worse. The end of all method is to seem to have no method.”

This is a favorite of mine because of my love of bridges. Perhaps I love them because from the time I was five until I was seven, an architect uncle took me for walks in London to look at them. Also, this book was the first prize for an architecture school competition that I won in my first year at college, and it is a treasured possession.

Virginia Woolf

See my comments on Mrs. Dalloway.

Virginia Woolf

See my comments on Mrs. Dalloway.

I got onto this book through my friend the artist Siah Armajani. It has something in common with The Mustard Seed Book of Painting, in that it studies patterns that can be obtained through the use of rigorous geometric rules but that achieve variety and playfulness within that framework.

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