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Books That Helped Me Get Through Architecture School

[Photo: © Ossip van Duivenbode]

[Photo: © Ossip van Duivenbode]

Studying Architecture can be very DIY in the sense that when you get a project, you have some liberty in regards to how you choose to solve the problem. There is usually a symbiotic relationship with your professor or mentor, and for that relationship to work, you have to bring ideas and options. Sometimes those options come from within, and sometimes you need a little push to come up with new things. Your professors might direct you towards something, but the research is all up to you and sometimes a Google search won't help you narrow things down when you have no idea what it is you are looking for.

There are a lot of coffee table books relating to architecture out there that have a bunch of flashy pictures of modern exteriors or little surface tips, but most of these don’t give true insight to the depths, reasonings, concepts, methods and diagrammatical information that make architecture so great. I started building my architecture library before I even started architecture school and while I was in school, I always purchased a book or two at the beginning of each course.

Architecture libraries are your friends and most architecture schools have an amazing selection of books. I always scheduled to spend at least one day of each week in the library browsing and reading books. In fact when I finished my degree I felt a bit regretful over not exploiting this amazing resource even more. Here are my favorite books that helped me through school:

1. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards

drawing on the right side of the brain

This book does precisely what the title says: it teaches you how to draw using the right side of your brain. I’ve heard countless times phrases like “ I don’t know how to draw” or “ I’m just not good at it.” Drawing, like math, is something that you learn by practicing, learning the rules, and figuring out how to apply or break them. Whether you are a beginner or an expert at drawing, this book provides useful information that can be applied for the rest of your life in the field of architecture. Being able to put your ideas onto paper is something you will have to do, even if you just want to do BIM or CAD drawings. Eventually you will have to sketch, diagram, and explain concepts.

2. Visual Notes for Architects and Designers, Norman Crowe and Paul Laseau

visual notes for architects and designers

This is a quick and handy read, highlighting the importance of sketching and note-taking. A sketch can do things that your camera may not. Taking notes, analyzing on the spot, and detailing what you need are some of the very important skills that this book will teach you.

3. Precedents in Architecture: Analytic Diagrams, Formative Ideas, and Partís, Roger Clark and Michael Pause

precedents in architecture

One day you’re sitting in one of your first classes thinking, “ hmmm, I think I’m starting to understand this a little bit”...and then the professor tells you to bring them the partí for your project for the next class. That’s where this book comes in. It helps you understand how to tell the story of your building through example diagrams of existing buildings.

4. Lessons for Students in Architecture, Herman Hertzberger

lessons for students in architecture

I read this book midway through my degree and sometimes I wish I had read it in my early days. Written by Dutch architect and educator Herman Hertzberger, this book is a collection of his lectures and illustrations that have inspired students for decades.

5. Oppositions Reader: Selected Readings from a Journal for Ideas and Criticism in Architecture 1973-1984, Michael Hays

oppositions reader

After you read through your architectural history and theory books, this is a must-read. Most of these essays you can find online and read for free, but having the ability to read through them one by one is indispensable.

6. Architecture Theory since 1968, Michael Hays

architecture theory since 1968

History is not my favorite topic mainly because it takes so much from me, much more than a design class. Out of the ten history/theory classes I took during my studies, I always found theory classes to have a more active pace. They were all interesting and worth my while, but I felt a stronger connection to modern / post-modern theorist that often shared similar or interconnecting points of view - reading one would often lead you to another. Learning history of classical Architecture or Vitruvius Ten books on Architecture gave great insight in my formative years, but it did not compare to the feeling of learning about all these young theorists that wanted to break the norm and put out into the world these “radical" ideas.

7. Architecture: Form, Space and Order, Francis D. K. Ching

architecture: form space and order

This one is one of those absolute essential books that everyone getting into architecture should own and read, and re-read, and reference when you get the chance. Ching has a large collection of books that are must haves which usually include beautifully hand-drawn diagrams that help you understand somewhat complex concepts with ease. Bonus Ching book: Building Construction Illustrated will get you out of a pinch and help you understand how things that we can't see with the mere eye tie together.

8. Data Flow: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design, Robert Klanten

data flow

An efficient diagram can say what a hundred words cannot. Often, Architecture deals with highly complex problems; being able to distill it into a comprehensible graphic is priceless for the design process. Being able to show solutions to the presented problems as effective as possible is indispensable.

9. Architectural Graphic Standards, The American Institute of Architects

architectural graphic standards

​This book needs no introduction. If you want to be an architect, you will spend plenty of time drawing. This book is THE dictionary on how to draw the things your professor is recommending you to draw, but you have no idea how to draw it (or how to even search the internet on how to draw it).

10. The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton

the architecture of happiness

This book humanizes architecture with beautifully written metaphors. It’s a great introduction to architecture that can be enjoyed by non designers, although you will probably need to have a dictionary by your side while you’re reading it.

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