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Best Gift Books for Architects

Updated on June 23, 2014

Good Reads for Architects and Students

Looking for a present for the building-fan on your list?

Or an architecture-fan looking for reading suggestions?

Here are a few favorite or important or memorable or eye-candy books on the subjects of building and architecture or related subjects - including many personal favorites. Only 20 picks, but they're good ones.

The Architecture of Happiness

This is NOT a standard book about architecture.

It is a book about how design shapes our lives. How we see it and interact with it. About architecture - and beauty. (Beauty is a little out of fashion at architecture school.)

This is such an inquiring, reasoned, charmingly-written, and thoughtful book about the importance of design and environment that I'd like to see every designer - particularly architects - read it. And reread it. If you only choose one book, this is the one I'd recommend.

Author Alain de Botton is famous for beautifully written, thoughtful, even philosophical, books like How Proust Can Change Your Life or A Week at the Airport.

Palladian Villas

Palladian Villas
Palladian Villas

The Four Books of Architecture - by Andrea Palladio

THE book on architecture since first printed in 1570.

Andrea Palladio's work has been hugely influential for almost 450 years. His buildings are legendary. Very very beautiful. But if the Patient Reader will pick their way through the antique language and archaic print, they will find good advice from an architect so great a stylist that his designs still live after half a millennium, yet so pragmatic that his country villas housed both families and chickens... and still do! Many of his villas are still lived in today.

An inexpensive edition with beautiful illustrations (216 plates!) reprinted from the English edition by Ware in 1738.

Truly a classic.

The Villas of Palladio

This study of Palladio's work features seriously lovely drawings and renderings of his villas in a great (and expensive) new book. A perfect supplement to the Dover edition of Palladio's own Four Books of Architecture.

If you hesitate to plunk down this much money (think of it as an investment) or even if you DO, you'll also want to look for any photo-heavy book on "Palladian villas", "Villas of the Veneto" (where Palladio mainly worked), or "Italian Villas" which include Palladio's work. It's very helpful to an architect, particularly a student, to see both drawings and photographs of the same buildings. Introduces reality, ya know?

Visiting Palladio

A book by one of the (few) present day architectural critics and writers. Any book he's written is worthwhile. This one is on the work of master architect Andrea Palladio.

The Perfect House: A Journey with Renaissance Master Andrea Palladio
The Perfect House: A Journey with Renaissance Master Andrea Palladio

I love the idea of traveling with Palladio. (I understand that, in his day, he arrived at building sites by barge, dressed in velvet and satin, with an entourage of liveried servants!)


Coffee Table Books

If you can't visit the building in person (and you always should) then photography is your best chance. Nice big, lushly photographed coffeetable books are the architecture lover's best friends.

Here is what looks like a very interesting photo book on the work of the hugely important Modernist architect Le Corbusier with photos by perhaps his most famous photographer.

Villa Savoye

Villa Savoye
Villa Savoye


Looking for an it-covers-everything book on Modern architecture is hopeless... there are too many good choices!

But after the serious reading of de Boton or the up-coming Tom Wolfe or Jane Jacobs and the inscrutible text of Palladio, maybe it's time for a refreshing change. Pop-up architecture! Fun and informative.

Frank Gehry

This "complete works" volume is a door-stop for sure (Gehry has built and is building a lot!). Frank Gehry may be the single most inflential stylist in architecture today. There aren't many architects who can boast that they (almost) single-handedly revitalized a city, as his museum did for Bilbao, Spain.

How Modernism Invaded

A sardonic view from author Tom Wolfe (Bonfire of the Vanities) on modernism in America. Guaranteed to counterbalance any Rah!-Rah!-Go-Modern! propaganda at architecture school.

His musings about young architects lusting after Barcelona chairs will make almost any architect laugh - painfully true.

Criticism and Theory

Jane Jacobs - and this particular book - had a huge effect on how we now think about cities. A foundational book in modern urban planning... and strangely readable.

Other theoretical books that might be worth seeking out would be:

- Architectural Theory: from the Renaissance to the Present, published by Taschen - an illustrated listing and over-view

- The old guys: The Ten Books of Vitrutious, The Five Books of Alberti, and (though not theory) who can forget The Four Books of Palladio?

- The Stones of Venice, by John Ruskin - historically important though dense Victorian prose with hand-drawn illustrations

- Modernism was full of theoretical polemics (more or less readable). Most important were: Le Corbusier, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright...

- Learning from Las Vegas, by Venturi, Scott Brown, and Izenour - a tough but important read in arch. theory. Mother's House, by Venturi, is a more accessible start.

But for thoughtful and entertaining writing on architecture and especially city planning, FIRST read Jane Jacobs.

Other Times and Places

Other Times and Places
Other Times and Places


Another very influential architect, though his actual output of buildings was small, mainly his masterpiece the Glasgow School of Art and a series of tearooms.

But beautiful. And much published in his time, making his (and his wife's) Scottish Art Nouveau style widely influential.

This book becomes all the more fascinating and important because Mackintosh's masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art Library, recently burned! Read. See what we're now missing. (Send money to help the restoration if you can.)

Beaux Arts

A fascinating period in architecture, now being re-evaluated. McKim, Mead, and White were one of the most important architectural firms in America... and sometimes the most scandalous. Their residential designs - for robber barons and financial titans - are wonderful.

Iconoclasts and Fantasists

There is some marvelous architecture outside of the mainstream.

Sure Antonio Gaudi was working in the Art Nouveau style... but no one designed quite like Gaudi.

Roadside Design

Roadside Design
Roadside Design

More Idiosyncratic or Fantastic Architecture

Here's only one example of books on the topic of "weird" architecture.

Architecture most commonly designed by non-professional architect types... Folk Art they call it.

Buildings in Disguise: Architecture That Looks Like Animals, Food, and Other Things
Buildings in Disguise: Architecture That Looks Like Animals, Food, and Other Things

"Duck" buildings we called them in school, after a famous roadside building on Long Island - shaped like a duck.


Field Sketching

This slim book is one of the best I've seen in explaining in-the-field (and studio) sketching. Spare of text, but bursting with step-by-step examples. Highly recommended.

Specifically aimed at architects and designers.

What could be a better way to study architecture like Fallingwater than to study it al fresco - in line and color?



More Architectural Book Reviews

As I find book reviews that seem interesting to architectural readers, I'll post them here.

Not, Strictly, a Book... - It's a Film.

A fascinating look at one of the Modern Masters, Louis Kahn, from the viewpoint of his son. This documentary will interest anyone familiar with Kahn's work or interested in the relationship between genius and work and family.

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    • rasnasah profile image


      5 years ago

      Great Lens..very informative

    • Dee Gallemore profile image

      Dee Gallemore 

      6 years ago

      Great selection for architects . . . blessed!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      excellent lens, enjoyed this one alot, thank you!

    • emmaklarkins profile image


      6 years ago

      This is an excellent resource! Thanks for sharing!

    • cdevries profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @anonymous: I love Fallingwater too - a very poetic house. Thanks for visiting!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I took many architectural classes as I am an Interior Designer. Thanks for this great list and all of the helpful, interesting information on this lens. I love "falling water" and modernism. I think you covered this topic very well. Thank You.


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