The best books on traditional architecture and its contribution to contemporary practice

Who am I?

As a student fifty years ago I struggled with architecture. I have spent my whole career as an architect and teacher trying to understand how it works. All my books are intended to convey that understanding to others as clearly as I can. I believe that architecture is a universal language of place-making, simply and directly expressed in the traditional architectures of different cultures around the world, and lifted into the realms of poetry by some gifted individuals. For many years I taught at the Welsh School of Architecture in Cardiff, Wales. I am currently Professor Emeritus at The University of Dundee in Scotland. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Analysing Architecture: the Universal Language of Place-Making

What is my book about?

This book is about how architecture works. I wrote it to help student architects but it is of general relevance. Professional or not, we are all born architects, as evident in our fascination as children with constructing dens and forts. Architecture is a universal language of place-making shared by people around the world. Putting to one side conventional art-historical labels, my book focuses on timeless underlying strategies for designing houses, temples, gardens, cities…

Analysing Architecture has two sisters: Twenty-Five Buildings Every Architect Should Understand and Exercises in Architecture: Learning to Think as an Architect. Together, filled with many drawings, they explore architecture through theory, case studies, and exercises. My linked series of Analysing Architecture Notebooks includes volumes on Metaphor, Children as Place-Makers, Curve, and Shadow.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan: The Role of Traditional Japanese Art and Architecture in the Work of Frank Lloyd Wright

Simon Unwin Why did I love this book?

All of my recommendations are about the ways modern architects have learnt from traditional architecture. The first appeared when I began working on the first edition of Analysing Architecture back in the 1990s. It is Kevin Nute’s exploration of the ideas that Frank Lloyd Wright gleaned from encounters with traditional Japanese architecture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nute’s book influenced my perception of architectural creativity as not fitting neatly into separate historical/stylistic categories, but as a realm of possible cross-fertilisation across cultures.

By Kevin Nute,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book is the first thorough account of Frank Lloyd Wright's relationship with Japan and its arts. It presents significant new information on the nature and extent of Wright's formal and philosophical debt to Japanese art and architecture.

Eight primary channels of influence are examined in detail, from Japanese prints to specific individuals and publications, and the evidence of their impact on Wright is illustrated through a mixture of textual and drawn analyses.


Book cover of From Shinto to Ando: Studies in Architectural Anthropology in Japan

Simon Unwin Why did I love this book?

This book focuses on Japanese traditional architecture and its influence on present-day architects. By drawing a line from traditional Shinto architecture to the work of the modern architect Tadao Ando it shows that rather than being distinct categories, modern and traditional architecture share a historical continuum, and that, in a way, great architectural ideas never die. It also brings to attention approaches to space and light that any architect might beneficially explore in contemporary design.

By Gunter Nitschke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From Shinto to Ando as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This thorough and meticulous study of Japanese architecture is based on thirty years of field research by the architect and urban planner, Gunter Nitschke. A major anthropological survey, it traces the imperial, religious and domestic architecture in connection with the rituals and rites of Japanese society from Shinto to the modern day in the form of architecture by the renowned Tadao Ando. This collection of essays explores two threads of the evolution of Japanese architecture: the styles and the rituals which have perservered through the centuries, maintaining a traditional stronghold, and the styles and rituals which have adapted to the…


Book cover of Elements For Self-Knowledge

Simon Unwin Why did I love this book?

Konstantinidis was a leading modern architect in Greece. Filled with his own sketches and photographs, he put this book together to illustrate his debt to the traditional architecture of his own country. It implies a line of shared relationship with landscape and materials going back thousands of years, to Callicrates and Ictinus (architects of the Parthenon) and beyond. I like that this book includes pictorial sketches and plans of traditional buildings, as well as constructional details showing the uses of materials readily available from the land.

By Aris Konstantinidis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Elements For Self-Knowledge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Book cover of The Artless Word: Mies van der Rohe on the Building Art

Simon Unwin Why did I love this book?

Two of the biggest names in twentieth-century architecture. Thoroughly researched, Neumeyer’s book explores the thought processes of the first, the generally taciturn German architect Mies van der Rohe. It includes a discussion of his fascination with traditional African architecture and its clear relationship between form and the constructional potential of specific materials (timber, grass, stone, rope, mud…) which of course translates into Mies’s own work with modern materials (welded steel and plate glass). But there is a lot more to this book than that; too much to cover here.

By Fritz Neumeyer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German


Book cover of Turkish Architecture and Urbanism through the eyes of Le Corbusier

Simon Unwin Why did I love this book?

Illustrated with many of the sketches made by Le Corbusier during his legendary 1911 ‘Journey to the East,’ when he travelled from northern Europe down to the Middle East, Kortan’s book examines the lessons possibly the greatest architect and urban designer of the twentieth century learnt from the traditional Ottoman architecture of Istanbul and Anatolia, including its poetic relationship between inhabitation and spatial organisation. This book is in Turkish, English, and French.

All these books have reinforced my understanding of architecture as a universal language of place-making shared by all cultures around the globe, and as the richest and endlessly fascinating expression of our relationship with the world in which we find ourselves…

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Book cover of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

Maryka Biaggio Author Of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

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Who am I?

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What is my book about?

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What is this book about?

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Interested in architecture, Japan, and Tokyo?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about architecture, Japan, and Tokyo.

Architecture Explore 78 books about architecture
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