Books that change how you think about architecture

Sometimes, you read a book and you forget it the next day. Other times you read a book and it changes the way you think for ever. This is especially true of some of the books that we read during the formative years of our education. 

The following books are ones that have greatly impacted our thinking and that we would recommend to anyone wanting to expand their understanding of architecture.

If any of these books appeal, we have provided links to purchase them (where possible, from Biblio).

The Most Beautiful House in the World - Witold Rybczynski
"It’s the story of an architect who decides to build a boat, but over time it turns into a house instead, and it’s all about how the design of his house evolves and why. He uses it as a basis for discussing all of architectural history in a really readable and accessible way, and why things are the way they are. It's a manifesto arguing against “showy” architecture, and for just designing things the way they need to be. I love this book so much I’ve bought copies for friends and office!" - David

Yes is more - BIG
"As a visual learner, I have always preferred using maps and diagrams to better understand a theory or concept. Many architectural theories and ‘required’ reading lists were heavy going and I found them a challenge to digest. This put me off many written architectural works for much of my first years in Architecture School. However, Yes is More is different, it's possibly best described as an “archi-comic”. It details BIG's (Bjarke Ingels Group) projects to date, both built and unbuilt, in the style of a comic book. The result is a detailed look at the thought processes behind projects, relaying information in an excitable manner through concise pieces of text and high quality diagrams and images that explain a concept.." - Liam

Making - Thomas Heatherwick
"This was the most inspirational book for me. It covers Heatherwick's projects over the past 20 years, both large and small scale. Heatherwick was personally involved in every detail of the book, ensuring that the most fascinating and personal aspects of each of the projects are revealed. It made me realise that the term “architecture” covered a lot more than traditional buildings with four walls and a roof. It helped me realise that anyone could design and make something." - Chloe

How children learn - John Holt
"This book was recommended reading when I was first training to be a teacher 30 years ago, which is strange because Holt is known as the champion of the ‘home school’ movement and was the first to coin the phrase ‘unschooling’. The book contains a series of anecdotal observations which challenge the way that traditional school based education is organised.

The premise is that “learning is as natural as breathing” to young children because they are curious and constantly trying to make sense of the world.

Creating an environment where people, children or adults, are not afraid to have a go, where it feels safe to make mistakes, where they are given time to ponder, self-correct, share ideas and eventually problem solve is one of the most effective ways of enabling learners (and architects)." - Dawn

The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses - Juhani Pallasmaa
"I read this book during the second stage of my architectural education and really enjoyed it. It is a short 'pamphlet style' book that is very concise and clear. Unlike a lot of architectural theory books it's written in a very accessible manner that is enjoyable to read.

I've always been interested in materials and details in architecture, and as I was writing my thesis about our relationship with materials it was a very pertinent read, as it discusses the ways that architecture affects our senses. After all this is how we 'experience architecture'."
- Randal

The Concise Townscape - Gordon Cullen
"I read this book in my second year. The book summarises, in a visual way, what architects mean when they talk about things like ‘place making’ and ‘sense of place’. It introduced me to architecture on an urban scale, how buildings relate to each other and how influential context is to design. It was the starting point for my interest in architectural history and my research into the psychological effects of historic buildings and places. As a bonus it is graphically beautiful, full of photographs and sketches and I would recommend it to anyone, architects or otherwise." - Jennifer

Designs on the Land - Alex S. MacLean
"I found a lot of the books on the required reading list quite inaccessible during my studies. I struggled to engage with books on theory and would always find more inspiration reading slightly random books on very specific topics - usually ones with a more generous picture-to-word ratio! 

One such book was 'Designs on the Land 'by Alex S. MacLean. The author, an aerial photographer, pilot and architect, takes you on an aerial journey across America, revealing the incredible patterns of development that occur at the intersection between natural and man-made landscapes. I found the combination of beautiful photographs and concise well written text so engaging that it went on to inspire the thought process behind my final project - which incorporated patterns of development as an integral part of the overall design." - Adam

The Four Elements of Architecture - Gottfried Semper
"Published in 1851, this book is an attempt to explain the origins of architecture through the lens of anthropology. The book divides architecture into four distinct elements: the hearth, the roof, the enclosure and the mound. The origins of each element can be found in the traditional crafts of ancient “barbarians”.

My design approach during university was often conceptually driven. My final thesis project ‘Foundation for the Arts’ in Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales; an Arts Foundation whereby, weaving studios and land-art workshops would produce contemporary art pieces using local resources such as wool, timber and slate with inspiration from the surrounding landscape and vernacular.

In order to generate a strong form and structural concept for the building, I reinterpreted Semper’s four elements by using concepts generated from the site and weaving process; incline, landscape/solid, warp and weft." - Julia

A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams - Michael Pollan
"The author Michael Pollan decided to design and build himself a place to write. Being new to the process, he revelled in every detail and decision, from its location and aspect, its form and materials, to how to construct it. And then he wrote a book about it. Along the way he re-discovered man’s need for shelter, his ability to create architecture from the simplest of shacks and the satisfaction of working with materials and building something for yourself. On the one hand, it’s only the story of building a basic cabin in the woods. On the other, its the complete history of architecture." - Andy

Poetics of Space - Gaston Bachelard
"When it comes to Architecture, I have learned that an intuitive and emotional approach suits me better than a rational one. Poetics of Space is not a book about Architecture or Design. It explores our emotional connection to spaces, the spaces in our memory, our dreams and our imagination. It talks about how the houses of our childhood, the staircase we ran up and down, the door to the cellar, the view from the attic, become a part of us. It puts into writing a lot of things I think we already knew somehow, intuitively!" - Anja