The best books to understand the art and profession of architecture

Julie D. Taylor Author Of Spa: The Sensuous Experience
By Julie D. Taylor

Who am I?

Books are my passion; architecture relates to my profession. The combination, for me, is pure joy. I get such pleasure building my personal library of architecture, design, art, and photography books. After having been a magazine editor and writer, I founded Taylor & Company in 1994, to promote the value of architecture and design. My respect for architects is deep—they create something that must function in all ways and are still able to express themselves creatively. The books I’ve selected are all written by architects, giving me an extra layer of admiration for their talents to express themselves in other media. 

I wrote...

Spa: The Sensuous Experience

By Robert D. Henry, Julie D. Taylor,

Book cover of Spa: The Sensuous Experience

What is my book about?

Spa: The Sensuous Experience is an international array of 50 beautifully designed spas. Each profile includes the spa’s location, design, and treatments—and how those traits all relate to each other to give a holistic experience. Divided into chapters based on spa type (day, medical, resort, thermal, etc.), the book welcomed guest essayists for each section. Sites as remote as Keflavik, Iceland, and as active as Las Vegas are included, along with major locales in North America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Australasia. The book also features a rare look at a day spa by eccentric Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Part travelogue, part design book, part treatment review, the book’s aim is to engage readers by enticing their senses.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Architecture Unbound: A Century of the Disruptive Avant-Garde

Why did I love this book?

This book is an incredibly impressive feat—20 years in the making, 876 pages—and is necessary to understand the architecture that defines our era. One of America’s most respected architecture critics, Giovannini has spent decades writing about the work of such seminal architects as Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Peter Eisenman, Wolf D. Prix of Coop Himmelb(l)au, Thom Mayne of Morphosis—and so many others that he came to know personally. Giovannini is the perfect person to craft this history. His erudite prose breaks down complex concepts into themes and timelines, putting architecture that resists context into comprehension. I also always love a book that takes its “objectness” into consideration. Weighing in at around 8 pounds, the object’s trapezoidal shape bucks orthogonal conventions—a perfect reflection of the work discussed in its pages. 

By Joseph Giovannini,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Architecture Unbound, noted architecture critic Joseph Giovannini proposes that our current architectural landscape ultimately emerged from transgressive and progressive art movements that had roiled Europe before and after World War I. By the 1960s, social unrest and cultural disruption opened the way for investigations into an inventive, antiauthoritarian architecture. Explorations emerged in the 1970s, and built projects surfaced in the 1980s, taking digital form in the 1990s, with large-scale projects finally landing on the far side of the millennium. Architecture Unbound traces all of these developments and influences, presenting an authoritative and illuminating history not only of the sources…

Truth and Lies in Architecture

By Richard Francis-Jones,

Book cover of Truth and Lies in Architecture

Why did I love this book?

For an architect to take an incisive, unflinching look at his own profession is refreshing and enlightening. Francis-Jones positions architecture’s strengths and failings in reflection to society, politics, equity, aspiration, ecology, power, and defiance. As a promoter of architects and what they do, I’m happy to see a title that places architecture in a broader scope, and in the same breath as other creative expressions, such as film, music, and literature. He raises questions and observations about the nature of architects and architecture that make one think: Is there any truth in architecture? Why are we driven to build so tall? Why do architects feel so sad, overwhelmed, and helpless? Conversely, within its rubric of architecture, Truth and Lies is a book about us—about how people engage and disengage from society and the consequences that ensue. 

By Richard Francis-Jones,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"'Truth and Lies in Architecture' delves deep into the soul of architects and their work." - Naser Nader Ibrahim, Amazing Architecture
This is a collection of provocative essays that journey into the vexed circumstance of contemporary architectural practice. The nature of the great cultural, social, political, environmental, and consumerist challenges facing the contemporary architect are explored, interpreted, and questioned, while drawing connections from architecture theory, philosophy, science, literature, and film sources in an attempt to negotiate the territory between the truth and lies in architecture.

These essays written by a leading Australian architect represent a level of comprehensive critical awareness…

Book cover of Designing a World-Class Architecture Firm: The People, Stories, and Strategies Behind HOK

Why did I love this book?

Today, so many large, established architecture firms’ names have been replaced by initials—SOM, HMC, ZGF, HOK, KPF, etc. Too many architecture professionals and students don’t realize or know the people behind the initials. To me, something is lost there. Putting a human face to global firm HOK, MacLeamy tells the stories of its founders—George Hellmuth, Gyo Obata, and George Kassabaum—along with those of many other firm leaders. What really makes this book necessary for anyone who needs to understand the business of architecture (that is, every architect) is that the author weaves pertinent how-to-design-a-business lessons into the history of the firm. It also contains MacLeamy’s personal story of his 50-year career at HOK, the final 13 of which were as CEO of a firm that had grown from 150 employees to nearly 2,000 and from a single office to 27 on three continents during his tenure. Both triumphs and failures are dissected and relayed in ways applicable to any size firm.

By Patrick Macleamy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Designing a World-Class Architecture Firm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Offers architects and creative services professionals exclusive insights and strategies for success from the former CEO of HOK.

Designing a World Class Architecture Firm: The People, Stories and Strategies Behind HOK tells the history of one of the largest design firms in the world and draws lessons from it that can help other architects, interior designers, urban planners and creative services professionals grow bigger or better. Former HOK CEO Patrick MacLeamy shares the revolutionary strategies HOK's founders deployed to create a brand-new type of architecture firm. He pulls no punches, revealing the triple crisis that almost bankrupted HOK and describes…

Book cover of Gesture and Response: 25 Buildings

Why did I love this book?

This is a personal peek at the work of a major firm by the “P” of KPF, one of the world’s leading skyscraper designers. Pedersen’s unpretentiousness and generosity of spirit are evident in the prose that accompanies the work. To my delight, the first building is 333 Wacker in Chicago, which, as a young art student living there, I saw being built. It became one of my favorites in a town legendary for its architecture. Buildings are personal to those who design them, and Pedersen tells intimate stories behind each of his 25 favorite designs. The surprise is that these are not precious little projects, but mostly very large, complex buildings for major clients, such as Samsung, World Bank, and Gannett. That said, the last of the projects featured is a jewel box of a house—the one he built for himself and his late wife of 60 years, to whom the book is dedicated. It doesn’t get more personal and heartfelt than that.

By William Pedersen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The work of Kohn Pedersen Fox is international in scope, collaborative in design, and a product of individual voices focused on a single objective - making an architecture, of our time, which creates strong bonds with the the specific place it occupies.

While William Pedersen founded the firm, with partners Gene Kohn and Shelley Fox, he never aspired to be a 'director of design.' They had the components with Gene's entrepreneurial drive, Shelley's management and Bill's design leadership - to be a large firm. 'Directing' the work of a large firm was not Bill's desire, instead he wanted to focus…

Book cover of Etudes: The Poetry of Dreams + Other Fragments

Why did I love this book?

An award-winning architect and poet, Marx explores creative ideas through poetry and watercolors, giving a very different way to view the art and craft of architecture. The paintings have a mysterious calm to them—evoking the work of Giorgio de Chirico—and are poetic in themselves. And then, you get actual poetry alongside the paintings! Graphic artist Jeremy Mende’s layout of the poems adds yet another layer of artistry. The tactility of the book as an object is delightful. Printed on thick watercolor paper, the book appears as a precious portfolio of secret thoughts and dreams. 

By John Marx,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

John Marx's watercolours, first published in the Architectural Review, are a captivating example of an architect's way of thinking. Subtle and quiet they are nonetheless compelling works in how they tackle a sense of place, of inhabiting space and time all the while resonating with the core of one's inner being. There is an existential quality to these watercolours that is rare to be found in this medium. Something akin to the psychologically piercing observational quality of artists like De Chirico or Hopper.

As architects strive to communicate their ideas, it is interesting to explore the world of Marx's watercolours…

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