Being in the field of Architecture, there is a wide possibility that one must have come across this book. 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School is a book by Matthew Frederick who himself is an architect and urban designer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is also a Professor who has taught in several colleges and universities. The book was originally published in the year 2000 and did a great job amongst the masses of the architecture fraternity. So much that in 2008 it won the Independent Publisher Silver Award in the Architecture category. The book gained a vast range of remarks, some stating it being too direct, while others mentioning it in the list of the must-read books for architecture students and practitioners. 

Book in Focus: 101 things I learnt in Architecture school by Mathew Fredrick - Sheet1
101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederik_©JM Architecture

Matthew Frederick’s book touches on the wide spectrum of architecture essentials, right from basic advice such as ‘how to draw a line’ to discussing some of the advanced concepts. As he mentions the inspiration for this book has been his dull architectural education followed by a lack of clarity. He also mentions that the 101 things are just the basis for developing the understanding for creating spaces, they are not meant to be taken as golden rules. 

Roger K. Lewis, a Professor from the University of Maryland once in an endorsement interview stated that: “architectural pearls of wisdom that every architecture student should understand, consider and embrace or perhaps reject when first learning the daunting process of design.”

Book in Focus: 101 things I learnt in Architecture school by Mathew Fredrick - Sheet2
Book having diagrams on side and brief explanation on other_©

The main strength of this book lies in the way the content is conveyed, simplistic yet effective. Also, the 101 pointers are supported with the relevant sketches which enhance the reading experience. The pointers are brief advice or tutorials in design, representation, drawings as well as thought processes. Each topic is about a two-page lesson, having both written explanations and supported by the diagrammatic representations. 

Design-based books are sometimes relatively strenuous to read in more of a twisted language, but one of the highlights of this book is that it is astonishingly simpler in terms of the language used. The language used by the author is very approachable and easy to go through, which could be easily understood by non-Archies too. 

One great aspect about this book is also that it does not go too deep into the wordy essays. The lessons are just like one-liner advice with a bit of an explanation, and not an extensive wordy report of the subject in detail. This quality is something that engages the users and makes this book a quick read.

This enables the reader to perceive things in their way. Many times going back to this book gives one a fresher perspective towards the project they are working on. 

Apart from talking about design processes and drawings, the author goes beyond the concerns of architectural studies. It frequently also highlights the non-architectural aspects, like the mindset required for the process of designing. For example, one of the lessons is about ‘managing your ego’ and not being too fascinated by one’s creation. But it also emphasizes being in the right zone for designing a building and being intrigued by it. 

The author talks about a thing as basic as ‘giving a name to the concept, be it anything. This helps to clear one’s mind step by step and gain a better understanding of the design process. 

Book in Focus: 101 things I learnt in Architecture school by Mathew Fredrick - Sheet3
Portable to carry and an easy read_©

When I had the chance to read this book for the first time in my architecture school, I was taken aback by the simplicity and the basic yet foundational knowledge it imparts. One of the best aspects I felt was this book didn’t demand consistent in-depth reading.

You can just run through the book and yet be able to come across some important pieces of lessons just by reading the headings or looking at the diagrammatic representation. Also, it need not be completed in one go, you could go back to it as and when required, just like going for the advice of your mentor. 

Some of my personal favorites have been the lessons imparted on perceiving and sensing space along with its context, initiation of the design process, using different mediums, and how specific-ness helps more in shaping up a good building. 

It’s astounding how this book subtly introduces some elementary architectural theories and concepts. Like the lessons on ‘figure and ground’, ‘urban sub-urban theory’, etc. The book navigates through the range of subjects right from basics to some of the thoughtful architectural concepts. A brief run-through of this book can help one clear his head and think differently in terms of solutions. 

It is kind of a book that could be carried along while commuting, to get certain inspiration and help clear one’s headspace while in the process of designing. Overall the segments and elaborations from this book stem from a deeper understanding of the design world and touch upon various aspects of it, while tends to impart intricate learnings to the readers.  


Book: Frederick, M. (2007). 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, Cambridge : The MIT Press   ISBN :  978-0-262-06266-4


Kimaya is a recent Architecture graduate. She loves to design, travel and learn through exploration. Her interests also lies in reading, narrating and capturing stories. With her designs and stories she desires to delve deeper into her passion.