The best books about architecture for non-experts

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was young, my parents gave me a book of quotations. I was hooked. Now I’m the solo librarian for NBBJ, a design firm with 12 offices worldwide and I select and buy books for all 12 offices. I search for the best books to inspire the designers I work with. But I’m aware that not everyone who works for an architectural firm is an architect. We have people in accounting, facilities, tech services, and more. I try to have a selection of books for these people, too – people who are interested in architecture, but aren’t experts. I have a Master’s in medieval history and a Master's in Library and Information Science.


I wrote...

The Architect Says: Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom

By Laura Dushkes,

Book cover of The Architect Says: Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom

What is my book about?

The Architect Says is a colorful compendium of quotations from more than one hundred of history's most opinionated design minds. Paired on page spreads like guests at a dinner party--an architect of today might sit next to a contemporary or someone from the eighteenth century--these sets of quotes convey a remarkable depth and diversity of thinking. Alternately wise and amusing, this elegant gem of a book makes the perfect gift for architects, students, and anyone curious about the ideas and personalities that have helped shape our built world.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Understanding Architecture

Laura Dushkes Why did I love this book?

I love this book for its approach to teaching about architecture. It’s not a textbook primer on the subject that starts with the ancient world and ends in the modern world. Instead, it covers the basic principles of architecture by covering themes, such as light, landscape, place, and matter. Each theme is illuminated by examples of buildings from the Egyptian pyramids to Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright. The text is easy to read and each example has ample photographs. Truly accessible to all.

By Robert McCarter, Juhani Pallasmaa,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Understanding Architecture as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Intended both as an introductory text for students and professionals in the field as well as an accessible read for the general public, Primer on Architecture (working title) addresses the basic principles of architecture and uncovers its ongoing influence in contemporary culture. The volume is organized in a series of chapters based on key architectural themes--space, time, matter, gravity, light, silence, dwelling, ritual, memory, landscape, and place--with an introductory essay for each chapter that includes a wide variety of historical examples from around the world followed by more in depth analyses of key buildings that further exemplify the theme of…


Book cover of The Architecture of Happiness

Laura Dushkes Why did I love this book?

This brief 280-page book illustrates the connection between us and our built environment – something that affects us all, but we don’t always appreciate. With illustrations that match the text, de Botton takes us around the world to show us how buildings and objects influence us – can make us happy or sad. A very accessible way to understand the philosophy of architecture. It will make you see your home and office in a new light.

By Alain De Botton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Architecture of Happiness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What makes a house beautiful? Is it serious to spend your time thinking about home decoration? Why do people disagree about taste? Can buildings make us happy? In The Architecture of Happiness Alain de Botton tackles a relationship central to our lives. Our buildings - and the objects we fill them with - affect us more profoundly than we might think. To take architecture seriously is to accept that we are, for better and for worse, different people in different places. De Botton suggests that it is architecture's task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be. Turning…


Book cover of Architecture of the Absurd: How "Genius" Disfigured a Practical Art

Laura Dushkes Why did I love this book?

Although not an architect or critic, Silber takes on the “Starchitect” who designs, not for the user, but for ego. Offering examples such as Liebeskind’s Royal Ontario Museum and Gehry’s Stata Center at MIT, Silber offers a bold argument that many of our leading lights too enmeshed in Archi-speak and have convinced clients to approve projects that don’t work. You may disagree with the author, but this slim volume will get you to think.

By John Silber,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Architecture of the Absurd as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Have you ever wondered why the Guggenheim is always covered in scaffolding? Why the slashes on the exterior of Libeskind's Jewish Museum, supposed to represent Jewish life in prewar Berlin, reappear, for no reason, on his Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto? Or why Gehry's design for an MIT lab for sensitive research has glass walls? Not to mention why, for $44.2 per square foot, it doesn't keep out the rain? You're not alone.
In Architecture of the Absurd, John Silber dares to peek behind the curtain of "genius" architects and expose their willful disdain for their clients, their budgets, and…


Book cover of Cubed: The Secret History of the Workplace

Laura Dushkes Why did I love this book?

Those of us who toil in an office might not be aware of the history of this workplace. But it has a fascinating background, and Saval beautifully shows the reader how our current office evolved from the 19th century through Frederick Taylor, who sought to transform workers into automatons and on to the dreaded cubicle. Eminently readable, you’ll never look at your office desk in the same way.

By Nikil Saval,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cubed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

You mean this place we go to five days a week has a history? Cubed reveals the unexplored yet surprising story of the places where most of the world's work—our work—gets done. From "Bartleby the Scrivener" to The Office, from the steno pool to the open-plan cubicle farm, Cubed is a fascinating, often funny, and sometimes disturbing anatomy of the white-collar world and how it came to be the way it is—and what it might become.

In the mid-nineteenth century clerks worked in small, dank spaces called “counting-houses.” These were all-male enclaves, where work was just paperwork. Most Americans considered…


Book cover of The Women Who Changed Architecture

Laura Dushkes Why did I love this book?

All of the architects mentioned in my other recommendations are men. Yet many women broke barriers to become noteworthy architects. This recently-published book aims to bring to readers the profiles of dozens of women architects. Organized by the birthdate of the architect, this book also has short essays throughout that bring context to the profiles. Some of the names will likely be new to you (Marion Mahony Griffin) and some well-known (Julia Morgan, Jeanne Gang). This is an excellent corrective to the history of architecture.

By Jan Cigliano Hartman (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Women Who Changed Architecture as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A visual and global chronicle of the triumphs, challenges, and impact of over 100 women in architecture, from early practitioners to contemporary leaders.

Marion Mahony Griffin passed the architectural licensure exam in 1898 and created exquisite drawings that buoyed the reputation of Frank Lloyd Wright. Her story is one of the many told in The Women Who Changed Architecture, which sets the record straight on the transformative impact women have made on architecture. With in-depth profiles and stunning images, this is the most comprehensive look at women in architecture around the world, from the nineteenth century to today. Discover contemporary…


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A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

By Victoria Golden, William Walters,

Book cover of A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

Victoria Golden Author Of A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Story teller Book fav swapper Movie buff A writer’s daughter Escapee from Beverly Hills

Victoria's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Four years old and homeless, William Walters boarded one of the last American Orphan Trains in 1930 and embarked on an astonishing quest through nine decades of U.S. and world history.

For 75 years, the Orphan Trains had transported 250,000 children from the streets and orphanages of the East Coast into homes in the emerging West, sometimes providing loving new families, other times delivering kids into nightmares. Taken by a cruel New Mexico couple, William faced a terrible trial, but his strength and resilience carried him forward into unforgettable adventures.

Whether escaping his abusers, jumping freights as a preteen during…

A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

By Victoria Golden, William Walters,

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED, NORTHERN CALIFORNIA BOOK AWARDS

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HONORABLE MENTION, ERIC HOFFER BOOK AWARDS, E-BOOK NONFICTION

FINALIST, NEXT GENERATION INDIE BOOK AWARDS, E-BOOK NONFICTION

FINALIST, NEXT GENERATION INDIE BOOK AWARDS, MEMOIRS (Overcoming Adversity)

HONORABLE MENTION, READERS' FAVORITE BOOK AWARDS, GENERAL NONFICTION

From 1854 to the early 1930s, the American Orphan Trains transported 250,000 children from the streets and orphanages of the East Coast into homes in the emerging West. Unfortunately, families waiting for the trains weren’t always dreams come true—many times they were nightmares.

William Walters was little more than a…


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