So you want to study architecture? You want books and readings I might recommend for someone beginning architectural education? Here’s a ‘top twenty’ list to get you started:
1. Architecture: Form, Space, and Order by Francis Ching is a great architectural primer. It introduces great architecture beautifully drawn, and to the vocabulary that architecture uses – of special interest are the many wonderful illustrations of how buildings affect the humans who occupy them.
2. Body, Memory, and Architecture (Yale Paperbound), by Kent Bloomer and architect Charles Moore is recommended, but with reservations. Bloomer and Moore argue that architecture works well when it realises that the basic spatial dimension in architecture is the human body and the sensual and physical interactions we have with the architecture around us – a great starting point. Unfortunately however, in arguing against the overt rationalism of much modernist architecture they do tend to ignore the crucial impact architecture makes on us intellectually. Nonetheless, they do a great job in setting the proper starting point for understanding architecture – the effect it has on those who occupy it.
4. Written to answer Louis Torres' and Michell Marder Kamhi's fatuous assertion in What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand that architecture is not art, my own article 'What is Architecture?'<www.solohq.solopassion.com/Articles/Cresswell/What_Is_Architecture.shtml> humbly offers a short, illustrated introduction to the essentials of what architecture is not, as well as what it actually is.
6. Louis Sullivan was Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor – his Henry Cameron (see 'The Fountainhead' below). Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings (Dover Architecture) was not as you might think a book about kindergartens, but a primer “for the young architect … who comes to the author for a post-graduate course” – one who seeks to unfold “those natural, spontaneous powers which had been submerged and ignored during his academic training.” In prose that sometime hasn’t aged well he argues that every building expresses its creator, and the creator of every building should seek to express its purpose – just as nature does “in her own creations.”
7. A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals, by Spiro Kostof. Every architecture student needs at least one history of architecture to understand what has been built, and why. Unlike many similar surveys, Kostof’s book has the advantage that it understands first that architecture has a context that is difficult to explain in photos alone, and it is this context that helps gives meaning to the architecture; and second, that architecture is (as Ruskin suggested) built-in ritual. (“All architecture proposes an effect on the human mind, not merely a service to the human frame.’ Ruskin. “Ritual may be said to be the poetry of function: insofar as a building is shaped by ritual it does not simply house function, it comments on it.” Kostof)
8. Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities began a revolution in thinking about cities when first published. Subtitled ‘The Failure of Town Planning’ it has ironically become a new mantra for the unthinking and the town planners (but I repeat myself), which should not detract from its many important lessons about the “importance of pavement.” Those still in thrall to the planningprofession might usefully accompany this reading with Bernard Siegan’s dry but direct Land Use Without Zoning.
9. For a clue to why great cities died and why Marxism and Philip Johnson helped to kill them, Tom Wolfe’s hilarious From Bauhaus to Our House is a must. Unfortunately published too soon to skewer the currently popular deconstructionist shibboleth, for those in thrall to - or tempted by - either the empty rationalism of bourgeois-proofed modernism or the flaccid confections of post-modernism then Bauhaus offers challenging prose, great laugh-out-loud reading, and the gleeful puncturing of posturing architectural blowhards. Auckland architect the late Claude Megson used to offer young architectural students the pithy criticism: “If it doesn’t have meaning then it’s just w**king” - Wolfe targets the w**kers, and hits his mark.
11. If you want to be an architect, then you’ll need to understand why it is that things don’t fall down (or at least, not so often that when they do so it’s still news). Fortunately, there is a “splendid book” by Engineer J.E. Gordon called Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down that will help you integrate your structure with your architecture (as you should). Professor Gordon won’t tell you how structure expresses ideas (as Frank Lloyd Wright argued they do - see for example his quote at www.organonarchitecture.co.nz), but he does explain why birds have feathers, as well as the strength of bridges, boats and aeroplanes. Essential.
13. And of course, every architectural student should read, or hopefully re-read, Ayn Rand’s magnificent novel of integrity in action, The Fountainhead. Howard Roark laughed. He certainly did, and so will you – with joy!
14. Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities is like red wine - quite simply it is a delight that should not be missed.
15. Even today an architect still needs to draw. Betty Edwards considers drawing a skill that can be taught rather than something one is born with (or without; Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain amply justifies her view, while the subtitle does just what it promises.