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How to Learn About Architecture If It’s Your Passion

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

For less than $300 start your own personal Bachelor of Architecture program



I didn’t go to architecture school.


Maybe you didn’t either?


I wish I knew more about it. I’m curious how and why buildings are built in certain ways. I wonder how architecture impacts my community.


For less than $300 you can begin your own personal Bachelor of Architecture program. Based on the data from 96,301 public syllabi, I was able to learn the most frequently taught books (at a university level) in architecture.


It’s by no means a complete curriculum but it’s a great, data-driven, start. What follows are the top 10 most popular books assigned in university architecture classrooms worldwide.


There are affiliate links in this article which means I earn income from purchases through links on this page. If you’re thinking about grabbing a book, doing it here helps me write and research more.



Image credit: Amazon


Francis D.K. Ching (1936 — ) is a registered architect and design graphics writer. He is the Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington in Seattle.


From the Amazon book description,


“Ching communicates core principles of building construction in a way that resonates with those beginning their education and those well into their careers looking to brush up on the basics.”



Image credit: Amazon


From the Amazon book description,


“This book explains form and space in relation to light, view, openings, and enclosures and explores the organization of space, and the elements and relationships of circulation, as well as proportion and scale.”



Image credit: Amazon


Kevin Lynch (1918–1984) studied with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin and later obtained a Bachelor of City Planning degree from MIT. He was on the faculty of MIT’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning, where he was named Professor Emeritus of City Planning.


From the Amazon book description,


“What does the city’s form actually mean to the people who live there? What can the city planner do to make the city’s image more vivid and memorable to the city dweller? To answer these questions, Mr. Lynch, supported by studies of Los Angeles, Boston, and Jersey City, formulates a new criterion — imageability — and shows its potential value as a guide for the building and rebuilding of cities.”



Image Credit: Amazon


Jane Jacobs (1916–2006) was a journalist, author, theorist, and activist who influenced urban studies, sociology, and economics.


From the Amazon book description,


“In prose of outstanding immediacy, Jane Jacobs writes about what makes streets safe or unsafe; about what constitutes a neighborhood, and what function it serves within the larger organism of the city; about why some neighborhoods remain impoverished while others regenerate themselves.”



Image credit: Amazon


From the Amazon book description,


“…a comprehensive introduction to using graphic tools and drafting conventions to translate architectural ideas into effective visual presentations, using hundreds of the author’s distinctive drawings to illustrate the topic effectively.”



Image credit: Amazon


Christopher Alexander (1936 — ) is the emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His theories about the nature of human-centered design have affected fields beyond architecture, including urban design, software, sociology, and others.


From the Amazon book description,


“…At the core of these books is the idea that people should design for themselves their own houses, streets, and communities. This idea may be radical (it implies a radical transformation of the architectural profession) but it comes simply from the observation that most of the wonderful places of the world were not made by architects but by the people.”


Image credit: Amazon


Michael Braungart (1958 — ) is a German chemist, former Greenpeace Activist, and visionary environmental thinker who advocates that humans can make a positive instead of a negative environmental impact by redesigning industrial production.


From the Amazon book description,


“…A tree produces thousands of blossoms in order to create another tree, yet we do not consider its abundance wasteful but safe, beautiful, and highly effective; hence, “waste equals food” is the first principle the book sets forth. Products might be designed so that, after their useful life, they provide nourishment for something new…”



Image credit: Amazon


Kenneth Frampton (1936 — )is a British architect, critic, and historian. He is regarded as one of the world’s leading historians of modernist architecture.


From the Amazon book description,


“Starting with the cultural developments since 1750 that drove the modern movement, moving through the creation of modern architecture, and exploring the effects of globalization and the phenomenon of international celebrity architects, this book is the definitive history of modern architecture.”



Image credit: Amazon


Andrea Deplazes (1960 — ) is a professor of architecture and construction at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich). He is also the co-owner of the architectural firm Bearth + Deplazes in Chur, Switzerland.


From the Amazon book description,


“Systematically structured and prepared with the student in mind, the book conveys in one volume the necessary basic technical building construction knowledge to enable readers to implement a wide range of designs.”



Image credit: Amazon


Editor Richard T. LeGates and Fredrick Stout bring together a collection of over 60 essays that cover topics such as sustainable urban development, globalization, the impact of technology on cities, resilient cities, and urban theory.


What Patterns Do We See In The Top 10 Books?

Understanding what a city is, how to use form and space, how to make sure what you’ve designed can be built, and the history of the craft cast a wide, entry-level net into the profession of architecture.


To the uninitiated, these are all names we’ve never heard of. In the United States, the most most popular architect is probably Frank Lloyd Wright who’s thinking likely influenced Kevin Lynch. That said no big, household names make the list.


More surprising might be the worldwide popularity of content from Francis D. K. Ching, who holds 3 of the top 10 spots on the list.


Unfortunately, there isn’t much diversity here. 1 female and 1 person of color make up the top 10. As a small caveat, there might be additional diversity in the compilation of articles in the City Reader.


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