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Rants and Wisdom



In Rants and Wisdom

By lthomas

In Defense of Books

On 17, Mar 2017 | In Rants and Wisdom | By lthomas

Recently I began a series I’ve called “The Year of Architectural Understanding.” When I started to write the first essay in the series (about architectural styles and building terms) I began my process in my office in my personal architectural library. As I paged through my favorite volumes I lamented the lack of BOOKS (yes, real paper books) in so many offices and professional lives.

During my architectural education I learned to love spending hours in the Architectural and Design Library at Virginia Tech. When I began my career in Boston some 37 years ago, one of the things I first looked for in the firms I visited were libraries. A firm without a library, or only a “technical library,” was soulless. I could not imagine it. Curating my own library has been a passion for me ever since. I have to admit that these days only a few of us seem to enjoy the experience of getting away from our desks and computer monitors to lose ourselves in paper images and bindings. But I love it.

I know that there is and surely any topic or image can be researched with Google but, for me, there is something special about a book. Pulling out books and coming upon topics that I perhaps was not even looking for (surprise!!) or rediscovering a favorite forgotten book or sketches from an important architect, perhaps no longer “in vogue,” are all pure bliss. I would hope that all firms, even small ones such as mine, still invest in fabulous libraries full of real books about architects, architecture, art, graphics and design. But alas, I wonder. Have design libraries gone the way of drafting, sketching and lettering?

Let us not digress. Do you like to rediscover the wonders of paging through a book without any expectation of what you might find? Or perhaps – sigh – would you like to know what this is like because you’ve never actually indulged in this seemingly obsolete pastime? If so, here are a few of my favorite books you can likely track down at a library or bookseller:

Everything written or drawn by Sarah Susanka or Francis Ching are classics!!


My favorite books on thoughtful additions/alterations:
Good House Parts, Dennis Wedlick
New Room for Old Houses, Shirley
The Distinctive Home, Eck

Some books about varied vernacular design:
Chesapeake-The Eastern Shore, Lewis/Fallin; Adirondack Home, Kylloe; The Villas of Lucca, Bedini; American Houses, Mary Miers

Some titles about varied styles:
Cottage, Connolly/Wasserman; New City Home, Clagett; Updating Classic America Ranches, Connelly; Beach Houses, Schezen/Webb; The Bungalow, Duchscherer/Keister

Books on gardens and landscape design, which are SO important!:
The Outdoor Living Room, Martha Baker; Outdoor Rooms, Julie Taylor and Trellis and Gazebos, part of a great three-book series of historic drawings by Peter Harrison

Other books with great drawings:
Details and Elements of Design The Field Guide to American Houses, McAlester; Pictorial Encyclopedia of Historic Architectural Plans Details and Elements, Haneman; Staircases, Design and Construction, Kabermann

And finally, books on architects, history and monographs, a list that will never end!:
Alvar Aalto: Synopsis – Painting, Architecture, Sculpture; any books on the works of Le Corbusier, James Stirling, Frank Lloyd Wright, Aaldo Rossi, Robert Stern, Mies Van der Rohe, Carlo Scarpa, Mario Botta or Richard Meier; and the classic and revered treatise from antiquity, Vitruvius’s The 10 Books on Architecture.