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Rants and Wisdom



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In Rants and Wisdom

By lthomas

In Defense of Books

On 17, Mar 2017 | One Comment | 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.


  1. Wonderful Essay!!! It made me get down on my knees and sit on the floor at the foot of my own architectural library! Sigh… so many books, so little time!
    Another personal favorite: A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander

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