Rahul Mehrotra

Professor and Chair, Department of Urban Planning and Design
Graduate School of Design
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA


The following are books I read during my first three years of architectural education, and they continue to be the ones that I would say have had the greatest influence on me, and that also have stayed with me.


James L Adams, Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas, 1975

This book showed me how to think outside the box. The author systematically deconstructs the taboos that condition our thinking - which often limit creativity on account of the biases we already have embedded in our minds. I read this book during the month I entered architecture school, and it was the greatest introduction one could get to conceptual thinking as a critical tool for design.


Christopher Alexander, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, 1977

This book is a classic in that through abstraction, Christopher Alexander blurs the boundaries between the vernacular, timeless, modern, and the everyday, as well as between architecture and the way people inhabit space. Besides equipping designers to think at the fine grain, it also was for me a great introduction to design research and its usefulness as we observe the world around us


R Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, 1968

The mind-blowing thing about this book was that besides communicating through its title the finite nature of our planet and its resources (something that took the world many decades to articulate), it provided an amazing insight into how systems are interconnected and into the synergies that are critical to creating a sustainable and efficient management of the planet. But the concepts here were also a fabulous introduction to understanding cities and more complex landscapes.


Laurence Peter, The Peter Plan: A proposal for survival, 1976

In some sense, this was my introduction to ecology, environmentalism, and optimistic thinking. A wonderful format of quotes, stories, ideas, and projections of the future collide in this little paperback. It went on to become a trilogy with the Peter Principle and Peter Prescription. I would describe The Peter Plan as a primer that gave real images (through people and stories) to what books like Silent Spring and other literature on environmentalism from the early 1970 were warning us about.


Charles Jencks, The Language of Post -Modern Architecture, 1977

This is a seminal book, which I read the year after it was published. It was confusing for me as a student on account of the richness of its disparate images, but it added an incredible dimension to the otherwise pure historical narratives we were being offered in architecture school. Studying in India, this book also made sense because as students we saw the coexistence of many architectural vocabularies in the Indian urban landscape, and the book’s arguments were therefore familiar to us. But, fortunately, as one saw the implications of post-modernism, the book finally taught me to watch out for the pitfalls of the superficial caricaturing of history in contemporary architecture.


May 18, 2014