Center for the Study of the Built Environment
I consider James Ackerman, who is 94 years old, to be one of the greatest architectural historians of our day. This book presents an example of superb writing on architectural history, theory, and criticism. Ackerman's writing is clear, concise, incisive, and illuminating. One only wishes that most of today's architectural historians and critics are able to write half as well as and half as clearly as he does.
I do not recall who it was, but someone once wrote that if he is stranded on a deserted island and could only have one book, it would be this one. The book provides a most useful guide for designing architectural elements, spaces, and environments, ranging from a window to a kitchen to a town. It provides very thoughtful information based on how people interact with and relate to the built world around them.
This book features in-depth and honest conversations about architecture with a number of the great architects of their time including Louis Kahn, Philip Johnson, Charles Moore, Paul Rudolph, Robert Venturi, and Denis Scott Brown. I read it as a third-year student of architecture; it transformed my understanding of architecture.
Jan Gehl is one of the great urbanists of our time, as is evident in his design / planning work and his writings. Our understanding today of how cities may interact with people in a humane manner that values the pedestrian and celebrates public spaces where all can come together is very much influenced by Gehl's work and by his writings, including New City Spaces.
William J. Mitchell, City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn, 1996; and E-Topia: “Urban life, Jim – but not as we know it”, 2000
William Mitchell died prematurely in 2010. He was a true visionary. He wrote beautifully and insightfully about how the ongoing revolutionary changes affecting information technologies are transforming our built environments and how we interact with them. Much of what he predicted in his writings is taking place today.
Witold Rybczynski has an ability to communicate the complexities of architecture and urbanism in a crisp and clear manner to both specialists and to the general audience, but without descending into oversimplification and overgeneralization. In the first of these two books, he addresses the evolution of the house; in the second, he addresses the evolution of the city.
This book has been reprinted a number of times, most lately in 2009. It provides a sharp and witty attack on both Modern and Post-modern architecture. It also serves as a strong reminder to architects that they should not take themselves too seriously, for their influence on society and on the built environment is far more limited than they wish to believe.
June 16, 2014