Hanif Kara

Design Director and Co-Founder
AKTII (Previously Adams Kara Taylor)
London, United Kingdom

Professor in Practice of Architectural Technology
Graduate School of Design
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States


Peter Rice, An Engineer Imagines (1998)

This is perhaps the engineering book I refer to the most as it is the one that has kept my faith in the discipline beyond its technical dimensions. Peter was a polymath and the last of a generation that has inspires many of us. Whenever I need a reality check, I turn to this book.

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

This is one of the few novels I keep and refer to. It has changed my use of the English language, and of course, it is also one of the best American novels. Reading it is a great way to learn the English language.

Jan Gehl and Lars Gemzoe, Public Spaces, Public Life (1996)

This publication has led me to think beyond buildings and to develop a wider knowledge of the built environment. The book synthesized for me how we as “designers” can impact the wellbeing of society since it made me appreciate the fact that the impact of our work goes far beyond the engineering of buildings per se. It explains in the simplest of manners the role of public space in making cities. This has allowed me - among other things - to relegate the design of a given artifact (which includes my own preoccupation with structures) to its proper place within the larger context of the built environment.

Reyner Banham, Design by Choice (1981)

This book has had a strong an impact on many members of my generation, particularly as we embarked on the first steps of our professional careers. I read it when I was starting my first year in university as a student of Civil and Structural Engineering. The book opened my mind early on to the many connections between design / engineering and other disciplines such as sociology and anthropology. Banham's writing, with its concise and simple but unique language, was a revelation for a young engineer like me.

Christopher Alexander, Notes on the Synthesis of Form (1964)

I bought this book only after hearing Alexander speak, but thinking that he is not a great speaker. Upon reading his work, however, I understood the effect he has had on the teaching and practice of design. This book is hugely important as it reminded and assured me (as well as many others) about the importance of process. In fact, as our world has gotten exponentially more complex, and as we are being forced to handle more and more DATA, particularly over the last thirty years, I always need to remind myself that intuition is not enough, and that processes are essential to the production of buildings. This book also urges us to break down these processes into small pieces, taking the power of mathematics as a tool to conceptualize "orders/hierarchies" and "patterns", and bringing attention to the importance of producing diagrams as design instruments whose importance goes beyond the communication of ideas.

Adriaan Beukers and Ed van Hinte, Lightness: The Inevitable Renaissance of Minimum Energy Structures (1998)

This book is more of a “snack read,” but is also very well put together and provides a simple approach to very big challenges. It takes powerful examples from nature to explain key advances in technology, and puts these into perspective. It also gives reality to dramatic possibilities and impossibilities in concepts such as “tensigrity”, “tension structure”, “bending” and so on.


Geoffrey Scott, The Architecture of Humanism: A Study in the History of Taste (1914)

This book was recommended to me by a friend many years ago when we were reviewing projects designed by others as members of the United Kingdom's Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE). Given that I am biased to technology, he thought it would inspire me to also look into classical design and the history of taste. Fortunately, he was right.


December 16, 2014