You are looking for that essay – different from your usual ones / you have to make a gift to your architect friend / the architect friend is you / no, you are not, but it is your hidden passion / you are a student looking for inspiration…
Whatever the reason why you are reading these lines, yes, you are in the right place.
I have read many books on architecture: the first volumes were a sort of baptism obliged by academic teachers, then one text brought out another, architecture libraries were increasingly attractive and today they keep the passion alive.
Of course, it is also possible to find similar information from the internet … yet the book still has the merit of making the experience more intense. And take your eyes off the screens.
So, let’s divide my favourite ones category by category:
It’s better not
Yes, even if we are not talking about recipes – where anyone has the right to write about it, even if they are specialist and niche books, in the reality the risk of buying a useless book is high. Very high.
Or rather: I am very selective, and I can’t stand the 90% of the production of books in the sector, which I consider useless. Give me some healthy snobbery in this regard.
First of all: the compilations.
80% of the texts in bookstores. Volumes – also very pleasant, modern, shiny, well bookbinded – which bring together different projects, all apparently beautiful. A Playlist: instead of buying The Wall by the Pink Floyd, you are buying a Hit Mania Dance Something with the Las Ketchup inside.
It is really difficult to find smart, reasoned, non-interest-driven collections that also reflect your expectations.
I can forgive the choice of a Compilation only in cases of conscious superficial interest (daydreaming about tree houses, stopping the foot of the table, decorating the side table) or for particular projects, for which a volume like All the Telephone Booths of the World could perhaps give that unexpected idea for a new Telephone Booth. Of necessity virtue.
Second place: I don’t have the money for iconographic sources.
Excluding the Histories of Architecture, which deal with iconic architectures easy findable on the internet, I wonder how useful are many monographs (not essays, attention) with 10 images, 2 plans and 300 pages of text – including 100 of bibliography amount of € 50].
One of the architects, victim of this phenomenon, seems to be Carlo Scarpa [please, suggest me a nice book about him]. Surely it is a sign that there is very little material about him, yet it is not even so: because photographs about Palazzo Steri + Tomba Brion + Castelvecchio / just to say three of them / taken in a way to describe the details, could fill 400 pages. Rights, money… I can’t explain it otherwise.
Third place: I write because I have to
Nothing new under the sun. As with any other sectoral publication, here too we find the books of the unsolicited academics, those concluded in a hurry, the “noisy” volumes on the latest legislation, those that magnify photos and fonts to make up for the lack of content.
Third place: I write because I have to
Nothing new under the sun. As any other sectoral publication, also here we find unrequested books of academics, those concluded in a hurry, the “noisy” volumes on the latest legislation, those that magnify photos and fonts to make up for the lack of content.
Predictable paragraph, already prepared from the previous one. Yes, the monographs are absolutely the most significant texts, which allow you to learn more and better appreciate an architect without stopping at the single “hit”. The only cons: in some cases you waste a lot of money, because falling into the trap of “better not” is easy: there are many silly, superficial, contentless monographs.
First place: Complete works with unreasonable costs
L’oeuvre complete by Le Corbusier, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Frank LLoyd Wright Monograph 1887-1953, Peter Zumthor – Buildings and projects 1985-2013 etc. etc.
It starts from € 300 and reaches € 1,000, depending on the collection and / or fame of the Sacred Monster of the case. Impossible to find them used, you can browse them with joy only in architecture libraries. But they are the only comprehensive, exhaustive texts from which it is truly impossible to ask for more (and thanks, you will say).
Second place: the Electa or Taschen necklaces
Almost all the books in these necklaces have proven to be excellent. For the Electa (cost from 30 to 90 €) I found that of Toyo Ito, Waro Kishi, Alvar Aalto beautiful. They are generally more complete monographs than those of the cousin-economist Taschen, of whom I have nevertheless appreciated the maximum volume of Piano, that of Hundertwasser and Gaudi. The 10 euro mini-monographs are well done and concise at the right point, without being empty of content. If you are not looking for a heart monograph, Taschen is the right compromise.
Second place: the Electa or Taschen series
Almost all the books in these series have proven to be excellent. For the Electa (costs from 30 to 90 €) I found beautiful those of Toyo Ito, Waro Kishi, Alvar Aalto, Shuhei Endo. They are monographs generally more complete than those of the economic-friend Taschen, of whom I have nevertheless appreciated the big volume of Piano, the one of Hundertwasser and Gaudi. The 10 euro mini-monographs are well done and concise at the right point, without being empty of content. If you are not looking for the perfect/all-inclusive monograph, Taschen is the right compromise.
Third place: unexpected texts
Volumes not connected to specific series, but which have been excellent in capturing the work of the architect in question! Obviously, before preparing a gift, be sure that the architect is appreciated by your friend.
Gio Ponti. Art falls in love with the industry of Gio Ponti, Maria Giuseppina Grasso Cannizzo by Chiara Rizzica, Alvaro Siza: Imagining The Evidence by Álvaro Siza, Nikos Ktenas. Simple / complex by Salvatore Amaddeo, Rudolf Steiner Architect by Vittorio Leti Messina.
Without a doubt, the essays of the best contemporary architects.
They have upgraded both their language and their aesthetics, so as to be understandable to novice students or even simple enthusiasts. Not for this, they make a minor contribution, on the contrary, I found them beautiful, and each of these deserves a separate review. I therefore suggest:
Yes is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution by BIG, Parallax: Architecture and Perception by Steven Holl, Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas.
Without a doubt: the histories of architecture.
I have preferences, but it is unlikely that a history of architecture – well written – will leave you unsatisfied. There’s enough for everyone: fascinating, synthetic, pro-American, pro-organic, pro-nationalist, pro-European … each always gives a different contribution.
Our teacher indeed, Prof. Iolanda Lima, assigned 3 “gigantic” texts, by three different authors, only for the contemporary history. But hell if she was right.
Beginning from my favourite, a list of the ones I know better:
Modern architecture of the twentieth century by William JR Curtis, History of modern architecture by Bruno Zevi, The history of architecture 1905-2018 by Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi, History of modern architecture by Kenneth Frampton, Outlines of the History of architecture by Lorenzo Bartolini Salimbeni.
Bonus track, very beautiful historical essay: The architectural space from Rome to Byzantium by Sergio Bettini.
Last but not least, the “manifesto-texts”, compulsory in the various architectural courses and which many of you have in mind. But I will tell you, they are not among my favorites:
Towards an architecture by Le Corbusier, Elementary observations on the construction of Heinrich Tessenow, Da cosa nasce cosa of Bruno Munari, Complexity and Contradictions in architecture by Robert Venturi, etc. etc.
And… thank you
for getting to the end of this long article.
If something noteworthy / that struck you is not present here, please let me know – it will be a pleasure for me to have a look at it!