An architect can never stop learning, and exposure to books on design and architecture induces into a designer’s mind a fresh take and a certain depth in the unfathomable dimensions of design. Not only is every book a new step that spells progress, but it also creates a vortex of thought in the mind, as the design is and will be subjective. Nevertheless, some books on critical thinking, design, and architecture have been composed so well, they are must-haves on every architect’s shelf. Here is a crate of 10 books every architect must own-

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1. De Architectura- Vitruvius

Architecture has no defined realm without the 10 volumes that are defined as the Bible of Architecture, written by Vitruvius in 40 B.C. Dedicating his life to the art and techniques involved in architecture, these principles have been condensed and can be found as a single volume now.

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De Architectura, Vitruvius, ©

The concepts of strength, utility, and beauty- firmitas, utilitas & venustas in Latin come from Vitruvius’ 3 core pillars of architecture, long before any of the art movements were even conceived or thought about. Anthropometry and its relation to architecture were born here, an essential book for all architects to have.

2. Form, Space & Order- Francis D.K Ching

Fundamentals of design are often explained in architecture school, yet no one details it in the depth of D.K Ching’s book, Form, Space, and Order. Many successful revisions and additions later, this book remains a staple on all kinds of design, offering an in-depth study on the specifics, the aesthetics, and most importantly the overall study of the shell of design. 

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Form, Space & Order, Francis D.K Ching, ©

Complex topics have been simplified using clear diagrams and text that condense the basics of all design in one book, without sacrificing the magnitude of importance of topics due to their complexity.

3. Analysing Architecture- Simon Unwin

Analytics of architecture are often met with scrutiny due to the subjectivity that revolves around design, but Unwins’ book Analysing Architecture offers essential tools and guides, underlining a grammar for the buildings that are studied. Explaining buildings with ‘themes’ and ‘moves’, Unwin breaks down a complex art form that can be studied with observation and spatial coherence.

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Analysing Architecture, Simon Unwin ©

Using common everyday examples to explain the depth of design decisions, Analysing Architecture is a book that creates a frame around the lens that architects see the world.

4. Architecture & Disjunction- Bernard Tschumi 

Tschumi has mastered the art of deconstructed space, and this book attests to that very fact. With instigated analyses and essays on architectural discourse over many platforms, Tschumi delivers a complex insight into the depths and realms of that layer design. He looks into the discipline itself, a new world culture relating to it, and the elements of the program.

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Architecture & Disjunction, Bernard Tschumi, ©

The essays compiled in this book are radical and oppose the core principles of modernist design, yet must be read for the alternative pedagogy and dissection of urban contexts that he points out must be resolved, to look at a better approach to design and architecture.

5. A Pattern Language- Christopher Alexander, Murray Silverstein & Sara Ishikawa

One of the best-known critical analyses of architecture and design comes from Alexander’s contrasting yet detailed study of the patterns involved in built form. He focuses on organic growth from communities and unplanned zones, forming a ‘first theory’ that looks at a value system and the forces that impact these designs of entire built patterns.

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A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander & Others, ©

Beginning with the conceptualization and development to the implementation and outcomes of Alexander’s theory, he makes sure he leaves no stone unturned while proposing and explaining a radical idea with examples and the purity of design that adapts with society.

6. Elements of Architecture- Rem Koolhas, Irma Boom

In this book on critical thinking, Koolhas not only looks at the “micro-narratives” of a structure- the elements that come together to form the built outcomes, but also a collection of essays, and excerpts from the Venice Biennale 2014. Koolhas shred down to the last elements of built form, what kind of impact they have and how they are in constant evolution.

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Elements of Architecture, Rem Koolhas & Irma Boom, ©

Boom and Koolhas go into excavated detail of these elements, choosing examples as well as translating the transition that is slow but noticed with observation. Though it is 2400 pages thick, it includes a variety of drawings, images, and essays to make it clear to viewers, the beauty and depth of architecture.

7. Towards an Architecture- Le Corbusier

Corbusier left behind a portfolio of modernist masterpieces for the world to see but also had texts that were intriguing and gave an insight into the minds of a genius. Towards an Architecture looks at buildings via proportion and plan, facades, and sketches by Corbusier, analyzing art and architecture that inspired him.

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Towards An Architecture, Le Corbusier, ©

The almost illegible scrawls in the book have impeccable observations as side notes, techniques on what basic forms comprise a given structure, and a dissection of the theories of architecture in every built form. It is a staple foundation book for all students and one that is a glimpse into the mind of a master architect.

8. Understanding Architecture- Juhani Pallasmaa

Teaching via examples is a profound yet clear way of understanding the preliminary basics of architecture, and Pallasmaa’s book on critical thinking does precisely that. Analyzing the fundamentals through 72 buildings from all around the world, Pallasmaa teaches through themes, divided into 12 in this book.

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Understanding Architecture, Juhani Pallasmaa & Robert McCarter, ©

Comprehensive and simplified for any reader, this book ensures these themes are recurring patterns while looking at them from a different perspective, adding depth to the principles of design involving architecture. 

9. The Death and Life of Great American Cities- Jane Jacobs

It is difficult to list only one book on critical thinking by Jane Jacobs, yet if it must be one, this tops the list. Using examples of cities in America, the “great nation of progress”, Jacobs details exactly where they fail, with incisive examples and analysis by location. 

A single read explains how well Jacobs understands architecture, and where towers fail to address the need of the user and paint a picture black. A collector’s item for students and professionals.

The Death & Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs, ©

10. Ephemeral Urbanism: Does Permanence Matter? – Felip Vera, Jose Mayoral & Rahul Mehrotra

The trio discusses temporal built forms and activities, with examples such as the Oktoberfest & the Kumbh Mela, speculating on how long-term urban planning policies should be. A composed piece of works from the Architekturmuseum’s exhibition on the same, it looks at examples all over the world of temporary or impermanent architecture.

Ephemeral Urbanism, Felip Vera, Jose Mayoral & Rahul Mehrotra, ©

It is not the unique nature that makes this book interesting, but the topic that has been delved into with so much detail. Laymen taking over as architects without knowing the basics makes us wonder what gives architects the high table in planning. An interesting insight into a controversial topic.


Nishant Verma is a designated college nerd and has been writing ever since you could define the term “bullying”, first to vent out feelings and eventually to an amateur writer. Pastimes include productive activities- reading, writing, movies, the history of music and architecture, with whom he enjoys a love-hate relationship.

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