James Biber

Architect / United States / Biber Architects

James Biber’s Book List

There are those books that, like record covers of old, one can spend a lot of time poring over. For me, these tend to be visual feasts, though some literary works are equally involving. The self-taught lessons learned in these compulsive bouts are not easily forgotten (and neither are those lyrics and liner notes), and drugs have nothing to do with it.

18 books
Bernhard Leitner

A study of precision, clarity, and control. A house built by a philosopher acting as an architect (as opposed to the other way around) that competes with John Pawson for ascetic luxury. And it was for his sister!

Hans Wingler

I attended college intending to be a biologist. That turned out to be a bad idea, but it wasn’t until I borrowed this massive volume from my father that I had the courage to try architecture. Winters are bleak in Ithaca and so were freshman dorms. I spent an entire semester of short, dark days studying every single page of this book, the first of the now ubiquitous gargantuan design books. It was very convincing.

Charles H. Gibbs-Smith

The conception, design, and construction of an enormous, completely demountable, glass, wood, and cast-iron building in nine months would be a miracle today; in 1851 it was a feat of divine intervention. This book, published in facsimile by the V&A from the original and bought during my first trip to Europe, contains the entire set of gorgeous hand-drawn, ink-on-vellum working drawings. From it I learned more about how buildings are put together (and in this case, taken apart and put back together again) than from any other single book. The Crystal Palace was 1,851 feet long (get it?), a trope Daniel Libeskind’s Freedom Tower (1,776 feet high, get it?) seems to have kept alive. Maybe he has a copy of it too…

Christian Marclay

Just like the 24-hour movie collage, there are still images from movies featuring clocks counting nearly every minute of an entire day. Just as insane as the film and just as captivating. If you have seen the installation, you know that while it sounds like a neat idea taken to an extreme, it is actually a new form of narrative. People would stay for hours because it was so interesting, not because the doors were locked.

Marie Luise Gothein

When I knew nothing about gardens and landscape I learned everything I needed to know from this book. I finally own a copy after using it decades ago.

Bernd Becher
Hilla Becher

You could pick practically any of the Bechers’ volumes, but this and Typologies (also on my Book List) cover the field for me. Photographed under the gray, soft light of clouded skies, these collected images of industrial artifacts approach the subject from the typological organization (essentially a genus and species of industry) and from the sweeping landscape of modern ruin. Their photographs are always beautiful, but the books allow a comparative study that most gallery shows can’t.

Erik Larson

Hindsight has a way of creating an amnesia about what you once didn't know. The view of the worst genocidal maniac and his psychopathic Reich, all documented by verbatim dialogue (mostly from private contemporary written accounts), is an exercise in the famous “boiling frog” theorem. It was, at nearly every point, inconceivable that Hitler, Göring, Himmler, Goebbels, Hess (and dozens of other less well-known and more complex figures) along with the entire nation could be led to the end we now know. This account is a remarkable and excruciating—and instructive.

Italo Calvino

A beautiful tale of all cities and one city. I feel as though I live in one of them though (spoiler alert) Venice is a wonderful punch line.

MoMA has produced a huge number of significant books (Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, 1966, was not unique) but this one appeared at precisely the right time for me. The corresponding exhibition put Italy at the very forefront of design at a time of relative architectural poverty in the United States. The vellum cover, filled with colorful cutouts of iconic pieces, was designed by Ambasz and remains a brittle, yellowed jacket on my copy.

Willy Boesiger Editor

That it only takes eight volumes to contain the entire architectural oeuvre of this gargantuan figure is the real surprise. Owning the complete set seemed entirely out of reach when I first was introduced to the set in architecture school. I bought a single volume (52–57) for $17 in college, and eventually owned the entire set. It is so packed with intelligence (a friend called it “the idea book”) that I will never fully exhaust it as a reference.

Gyorgy Kepes

I am new to this series, published in the 1960s and ‘70s, which, along with Module, Proportion, Symmetry, Rhythm, includes Structure in Art and Science and Arts of the Environment. They are a serious and detailed collection of design thought from people like John Cage, Rudolf Arnheim, Max Bill, Buckminster Fuller, Paolo Nervi, Fumiko Maki, Alison and Peter Smithson, and Robert Smithson. I was attracted by the cover art and titles, and the books turn out to be equally rich in content.

Corinne May Botz

Photographs and other “evidence” from Frances Glessner Lee’s forensic dollhouses, used to teach crime detection in the 1940s. Lee, who grew up in H.H. Richardson’s famed Glessner House in Chicago, built these highly accurate and evidence-laden crime scenes at 1” = 1’-0 and used each as a lesson. They are beautiful and strange, photographed exquisitely and copiously explained. They are also insane.

D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson

Another link between my biology studies and architecture is this mathematical study of form in nature. All the famous examples, plus many, many more and a deep mathematical analysis of every one of them.

Peter Papademetriou

The first complete study of the Maison de Verre by Pierre Chareau, written by Kenneth Frampton. Plus Alan Colquhoun on typology, Allan Greenberg on Lutyens, Walter Benjamin on Paris, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, and Emilio Ambasz, all wrapped in a black debossed Pirelli Tile pattern. Need I say more?

Christien Meindertsma

Based on a culture of using every part of a slaughtered animal, this book traces every part of Pig 05049 to hundreds of end products. Beautiful, weird, and fascinating.

Vilém Flusser

Language as a key for unlocking design. Every essay is too much to absorb.

Bernd Becher
Hilla Becher
Text by Armin Zweite

See my comments on Industrial Landscapes by Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Egle R. Trincanato

A study, with beautiful hand-drawn plans, sections, and elevations, of Venice’s multiple housing. Timely postwar study of what is actually remarkably modern architecture in the less-touristed portions of Venice.

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