The 10 Best Architecture Books

Updated July 05, 2017 by Melissa Harr

10 Best Architecture Books
Best High-End
Best Mid-Range
Best Inexpensive
We spent 45 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. For those studying or working in the field, anything from our selection of architecture books would make either essential reading or a perfect gift. But given that many of the structures featured in these editions are so stunning and/or innovative that they could be considered works of art, nonprofessionals who simply appreciate beauty and design would enjoy these volumes, too. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best architecture book on Amazon.

10. Architecture: A World History

Architecture: A World History is condensed to give you a brief look at every significant architectural movement, from pre-history and antiquity all the way to modern day buildings. It's wonderfully illustrated with 600 stunning examples of the art at its finest.
  • short bios of greats in the field
  • small enough to travel with
  • a little light on details
Publisher Borden, Daniel
Model n/a
Weight 2 pounds
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

9. Prefabulous Small Houses

If you’ve always thought that prefab homes are too small, drab, or inferior, Prefabulous Small Houses will make you think again. It exhibits 32 gorgeous compact residences that will show you just how exciting these efficient little places can be.
  • eco-friendly choices
  • foreword by robert redford
  • could use more actionable info
Publisher Taunton Press
Model n/a
Weight 2.3 pounds
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

8. The Architecture Reference & Specification Book

The Architecture Reference & Specification Book is small enough to be kept in your bag, so you can pull it out when needed, making it the choice for quick reminders now and then. It contains highly compact data that’s both easy to read and indispensable.
  • includes crucial planning guidance
  • has a travel guide feel
  • professionals may find it too basic
Publisher Rockport Publishers
Model n/a
Weight 1.1 pounds
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

7. Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek is a unique look at hidden hideouts and stunning cabin retreats located in beautiful natural settings. It focuses on simple, yet elegant, rustic designs that will inspire you to build your very own hideaway and leave the hustle and bustle of city life.
  • shows how to use small spaces wisely
  • impressive blend of styles
  • only showcases expensive homes
Publisher Gestalten Verlag
Model n/a
Weight 3.8 pounds
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

6. Latin America in Construction

Latin America in Construction is a visual feast for those interested in the design aspects and motivation behind buildings located everywhere from Mexico to Cuba. It boasts a large number of full-page, high resolution photos along with pre-construction sketches.
  • contains a wealth of materials
  • includes cool vintage pics
  • could use more written content
Publisher imusti
Model n/a
Weight 4.9 pounds
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

5. The Story of Buildings

The Story of Buildings is a great choice for getting kids interested in the field. It has a distinctive format with detailed illustrations that take you inside famous buildings to see how they go together. Each chapter begins with a historical overview of the time period.
  • features 16 well-known buildings
  • lots of double-page images
  • events timeline a bit unclear
Publisher Candlewick Press MA
Model n/a
Weight 2.2 pounds
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

4. Midcentury Houses Today

For Midcentury Houses Today, the authors carefully selected a group of 16 houses to examine a culture of American home building between the 1950s and 1978. Each one is rendered in great detail, with everything from floor plans to photos.
  • wonderful layout
  • owner commentaries
  • makes a good coffee table book
Publisher Midcentury Houses Today
Model n/a
Weight 3.7 pounds
Rating 4.4 / 5.0

3. 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School

101 Things I Learned in Architecture School is a handy book for students to keep as a reference guide to designing and drawing. Penned by an instructor and urban designer, it expresses concepts in an intelligible and simple manner and avoids obscure academic jargon.
  • builds subject matter literacy
  • format unlike most other references
  • extremely usable tips and info
Publisher imusti
Model n/a
Weight 13.6 ounces
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

2. Seeking New York

Seeking New York is all about the architecture of Manhattan, tracing its history through buildings, one by one. It’s the perfect gift for anybody who loves city planning, construction, or New York, and it is conveniently divided by neighborhoods for ease of reading.
  • plenty of details
  • shows demolished structures
  • enchanting and interesting stories
Publisher Universe
Model n/a
Weight 16 ounces
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

1. A Field Guide to American Houses

Since its original publication in 1984, A Field Guide to American Houses has been one of the most beloved guides for lovers of homes and aspiring architects alike. In this revised edition, you’ll find a wealth of facts, pictures, descriptions, and much, much more.
  • covers over 50 styles
  • written in an accessible manner
  • thorough bibliography
Publisher McAlester Virginia Sava
Model n/a
Weight 3.4 pounds
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

The Architecture Book: Architecture as Art and Literature

Architecture is an almost universally fascinating subject. One needs no understanding for the actual function of a flying buttress to remark on its striking shape; one need not know a Gothic arch from a basic post-and-lintel to appreciate the amazing advances human beings have achieved in the design and construction of edifices in the few thousand years from which we have extant structures. In the grand scheme of history, the journey from Stonehenge to Notre Dame to the Sydney Opera House has been a diminutive span indeed.

While obtaining a deep understanding of architecture is essentially impossible without the completion of years of schooling and advanced degrees followed by plentiful professional plying of the trade, anyone with an interest in buildings as engineering marvels, as works of great beauty, and/or as testaments to a period in history can enjoy reading up on the subject, provided he or she finds the right book.

There are three primary lenses through which the layman can appreciate architecture. The first of these is to see the technical prowess -- the mathematics and engineering -- behind the design; the second approach is to appreciate great architecture for its inherent aesthetic value, seeing a home or building as a work of art; third, one can study the history and development of architecture through time, examining both the effect that the ages had on structures and how certain significant buildings had an impact on the course of history. (Many structures fall into all three categories, with a Roman aqueduct or the Golden Gate Bridge serving as two examples separated by two millennia.)

Many people will of course be able to appreciate more than one of these aspects of architecture, but identifying which focus will most appeal to you (or the recipient of an architecture book as a gift, as applicable) will make your search for the right architecture book easier and more fruitful. Even within each category, you will still have to look about a bit to find that one perfect tome.

In the technical realm, for example, on can find books dedicated to the process of drawing (or sketching) plans for a project or books that are packed with references that provide actual information useful for the working architect or the student. The aesthetic appreciator could spend days studying famous homes, churches, skyscrapers, and so forth -- few books will do justice to beautiful buildings of all stripes, so try to pick a niche (residences of the 20th century, e.g.) and occupy it fully. And for the lover of the history of architecture, some survey-style books can be found that review building throughout the ages, but better still may be a volume dedicated to some distinct era, be it as specific as Midcentury American designs or the Italian Renaissance at large.

The Broad Strokes: Architecture Briefly Defined

The word architecture is primarily used to define one of two things. First is simply the buildings of a given time, space, or style at large. One might hear a remark such as: "The architecture of the Soviets was bland and cold, designed to be functional without care for beauty." Or: "The architecture of New York City reaches skyward both due to the confines of Manhattan and the audacity of the American spirit."

Architecture can also refer to the process of designing a given structure: to the mathematics, engineering, and artful considerations that one or more trained and proficient architects must weigh when designing a building.

Few endeavors merge the artistic and technical worlds in the same way as architecture. To be a "success," a building must be both aesthetically pleasing and logistically functional. The architect must fit every element a home or building needs -- from staircases to bathrooms to space for wiring and ducts to roofs that properly shed rain or bear snow loads -- into a form that also pleases the eye from without and allows for comfortable, productive existence within. Witness the glorious brick duomo of Florence cathedral -- the largest brick dome in the world -- designed by Brunelleschi in the middle of the 15th century as a crowning example of engineering and artistry working together. More modest examples include simply a well-designed single-family residence with a floor plan conducive to convenience and comfort.

Architecture is so challenging an undertaking because its proper execution requires a working knowledge of so many factors, from the properties of building materials to zoning regulations to the effects of weather and temperature on a structure to the management of a budget. There are, simply put, so many ways for an architect to fail in his or her endeavors. But a great architectural success often stands the test of time.

A Few Recent Architects You Must Know

If there's any chance the subject of architecture might come up at an imminent dinner party, client dinner, or on a date, you will be well-served to know at least a thing or two about a few of the world's most renowned recent architects. Having at least a cursory knowledge of the work of these three men should at least help you design a conversational scaffold on which you can climb to other topics.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is most often known simple as Mies (pronounced Meese). This German-born American architect worked for many decades during the 1900s, creating both some of the most iconic homes and buildings of 20th century America. These include skyscrapers like Chicago's IBM Plaza and modernist private residences such as the famed Farnsworth House. Few architects could bring such grace to towering edifices and one-floor, one-room retreats alike.

Frank Lloyd Wright lived from 1867 to 1959, and during his nine decades of life, he created some of the most striking homes the world has ever seen. Wright's long career spanned multiple major architectural movements, including the so-called Prairie Style, the Craftsman school, Japanese-influenced designs, and decidedly modern structures, such as the iconic residence Fallingwater, a home built directly over a natural waterfall. While his personal life was a series of divorces, distance from his children, rumor and gossip, his prowess as an artistic architect was never in doubt; Wright was already designing full homes well before his 25th birthday.

Frank Gehry is considered by many to be the greatest living, working architect. A master of lyrical, undulating edifices often wrapped in shimmering metals, he has redefined the bounds of materials and form many times over. Look no further than the celebrated Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles or the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to see his work in its both modern and timeless glory.

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Last updated on July 05, 2017 by Melissa Harr

Melissa is a writer, editor, and EFL educator from the U.S. She's worked in the field since earning her B.A. in 2012, during which time she's judged fiction contests, taught English in Asia, and authored e-courses about arts and crafts. In her free time, she likes to make stuff out of sticks and string.

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