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The best architecture and design books of 2016

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Calling all design-loving bookworms

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Get cozy with a good architecture and design book this holiday season.
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‘Tis the season for curling up by a roaring fire (or a ten-hour video of a burning Yule log on Netflix, which is a thing). What better hearthside accessory than a good book?

We’ve rounded up 17 of the year’s best books about architecture and design—from the engaging textbook-style tome to the heavy-on-the-pictures monograph and many other genres in between.

Fan of Frank Lloyd Wright? There’s something for you. Want to think about how architecture, psychology, and history intersect? We know a book you’ll want to meet. Won’t get around to buying books from this list before the holidays? Fret not! In the northern hemisphere, at least, it’ll be winter long after December 25.


Never Built New York

by Greg Goldin, Sam Lubell (Foreword by Daniel Libeskind)

From the authors of successful Never Built Los Angeles, Never Built New York imagines what the city might have looked like if unrealized parks, skyscrapers, and bridges had moved beyond the drawing board.

Filled with engaging sketches and renderings, the book illustrates the ideas of architects who could have drastically transformed the city. Highlights include Frank Lloyd Wright’s last project, his dream city and Key Plan for Ellis Island; Stephen Holl’s Bridge of Houses, which would have taken over the High Line; and Buckminster Fuller’s design for the Brooklyn Dodger’s Stadium, complete with his iconic geodesic dome.

Paola Antonelli, senior curator of the Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, praised the book for its “imaginative, opinionated attempts to compete for New York’s attention and shape its future, knowing that a mark left on this city will be forever felt around the world.”

The World of Charles and Ray Eames

by Catherine Ince, Lotte Johnson, Eames Demetrios, Patricia Kirkham, Eric Schuldenfrei

Curbed critic Alexandra Lange calls The World of Charles and Ray Eames—the first extensive book on the design couple’s legacy in more than a decade—a “lushly illustrated tome.” It covers everything from their dress and films to their multi-media exhibitions and, of course, their furniture through a collection of essays, reviews, and writings by the Eames themselves.

Left to right: cover of Modern Forms: A Subjective Atlas of 20th Century Architecture, published by Prestel; cover of Never Built New York, published by Metropolis Books; cover of The World of Charles and Ray Eames, published by Rizzoli.
Left to right: cover of Modern Forms: A Subjective Atlas of 20th Century Architecture, published by Prestel; cover of Never Built New York, published by Metropolis Books; cover of The World of Charles and Ray Eames, published by Rizzoli.

Modern Forms: A Subjective Atlas of 20th-Century Architecture

by Nicolas Grospierre

More than just a collection of photographs, Modern Forms is a study of modernist buildings—both known and not-so-well-known—by award-winning photographer Nicolas Grospierre. Interestingly enough, Grospierre has no previous architecture or photography training. Instead, his study of political science led him to document modernist buildings across the globe as the embodiment of political ideologies.

From behind the lens, he explores and portrays a wide range of buildings that have defined the modernist movement, from Eero Saarinen’s Gateway Arch in St. Louis to the Eames House in California. A comprehensive catalogue of a defining architecture style, this book is a great addition to any architecture-obsessed bookshelf.

Top This and Other Parables of Design: Selected Writings by Phil Patton

Top This and Other Parables of Design is Phil Patton’s chronicle of his love for design. It’s a compilation of 40 pieces that best represent his portfolio. Covering his wide range of interests and punctuated with witty text, the book is a guide for anyone looking into the multifaceted nature of design. Chee Pearlman, Patton’s editor at i-D magazine, said that “his insight takes the reader beyond the object to an understanding of its broadest sociological context.”

Dark Space: Architecture, Representation, Black Identity

by Mario Goodman

This book, a series of five essays, takes a deeper look at the way African-American culture is represented through architecture. Wanting to move beyond cultural stereotypes and cliches that demonstrate “Africanism” through form, Goodman investigates African American identity.

The book poses questions and offers solutions for ways to tell the spatial story and heritage of the African-American diaspora. AIANY says a highlight is “Gooden’s amazing gift for walking a reader through a work of architecture.”

Left to right: cover of Tham ma da: The Adventurous Interiors of Paola Navone, published by Pointed Leaf Press; the NASA Graphics Standards Manual; cover of Prefabulous Small Houses, published by Taunton Press.
Left to right: cover of Tham ma da: The Adventurous Interiors of Paola Navone, published by Pointed Leaf Press; the NASA Graphics Standards Manual; cover of Prefabulous Small Houses, published by Taunton Press.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration Graphics Standards Manual

For a piece of history, you can buy a reprint of NASA’s guide to its famous ‘worm’ logo. The manual came out in 1976, and last year a Kickstarter campaign exceeded its target goal to bring this relic back to life, much to the delight of science and design nerds.

The book is “a wonderful example of modernist design thinking that was prevalent in the ’70s and the ’60s,” said Hamish Smyth, a designer at the firm Pentagram told the New York Times. Smyth and Jesse Reed, the duo behind the reprint, is also responsible for a reprint of the New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standard Manual.

Tham ma da: The Adventurous Interiors of Paola Navone

by Spencer Bailey

Tham ma da, which means “everyday” in Thai, is a beautiful, in-depth look at the 30-plus-year career of Milan-based architect and designer Paola Navone. This hefty coffee table book by Spencer Bailey, editor in chief of Surface magazine, offers a look inside the spirited designer’s world. Navone is known for her exuberant and colorful interiors, and Tham ma da showcases her wide range, from private homes in France to hotels in Thailand.

Prefabulous Small Houses

by Sheri Koones

Think prefab homes lack character and space? Think again. Koones aims to shatter preconceptions about prefab houses with her latest book, which highlights 32 prefab homes. Prefabulous Small Houses takes a look at the different benefits, like sus that prefab construction offers, such as greener and cheaper than building from the ground up.

This is Frank Lloyd Wright

by Ian Volner

Dozens of books have been written about Frank Lloyd Wright and his work, but This is Frank Lloyd Wright—the first architectural title from Laurence King's This is ... illustrated artist monograph seriesmanages to stand out thanks to the charming and beautiful illustrations by Michael Kirkham and Ian Volner’s sharp writing. The vignettes highlight the formative and famous events in the architect’s life to create a brief, yet comprehensive narrative.

Cover of The Creative Architect: Inside the Great Midcentury Personality Study, published by The Monacelli Press; cover of This is Frank Lloyd Wright, published by Laurence King Publishing; cover of Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist, published by th
Left to right: cover of The Creative Architect: Inside the Great Midcentury Personality Study, published by The Monacelli Press; cover of This is Frank Lloyd Wright, published by Laurence King Publishing; cover of Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist, published by the Jewish Museum.

Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist

by Jens Hoffmann and Claudia J. Nahson

Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist, designed by Miko McGinty and Rita Jules, was deemed the “prettiest design book” of the year by Alexandra Lange and Mark Lamster. The monograph accompanied a well-reviewed exhibition of the Brazilian landscape architects work at New York City’s Jewish Museum. It looks not only at his lush landscapes, but also explores his paintings, sculptures, drawings, mosaics, and more.

The Creative Architect: Inside the Great Midcentury Personality Study

by Pierluigi Serraino

Ever wonder what the secret sauce is for a successful creative career? You’d be far from the first: In the late 1950s, academics at the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Personality Assessment and Research established a study to try and root out an answer to this burning question by examining the lives of Eero Saarinen, I. M. Pei, Philip Johnson, and over three-dozen high-profile midcentury architects.

In The Creative Architect, author Pierluigi Serraino chronicles the little-known research project—and this confluence of psychological inquiry and the world of design.

The Battle for Home: The Vision of a Young Architect in Syria

by Marwa al-Sabouni

Sabouni draws on her experiences as a Syrian architect to illustrate the relationship between the built environment and destruction of her homeland. The book is filled with firsthand accounts of living through the bombings, chronicling the breakdown of Syria.

It also offers a perspective on how architecture can play a crucial role in rebuilding identity in a time of devastation and aid reconciliation. The Los Angeles Review of Books calls The Battle for Home “Sabouni’s elegy...a memoir about survival, and a kind of manifesto.”

Architecture’s Odd Couple: Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson

by Hugh Howard

Howard’s book explores the unspoken dynamic and relationship Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson, painting a portrait of this odd couple. He argues that their public rivalry actually inspired fruitful conversation and allowed the duo to become as influential as they were, and still are.

Between the two of them, they have built some of America’s most well-recognized architecture and Architecture’s Odd Couple features many of the iconic structures, such as Fallingwater and the Glass House. The book has already garnered much praise and acclamation, including reviews from New York Times Book Review, Architectural Digest, and The Washington Post.

Manual of Section

by Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, David J. Lewis

There’s no glamour in the architectural section, that slice-through-a-building familiar to building-loving nerds. Sections, after all, are largely relegated to construction drawings and other official documents. (Plans and elevations, meanwhile, capture public imaginations more easily.)

Enter Manual of Section, penned by the three founders of New York City firm Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis. Their 208-page book celebrates the oft-forgotten section in all its glory, like the odd shapes revealed by a slice through a particular part of a building or the unexpected connections—via stair or hall or escalator—revealed between areas of a structure.

By the People: Designing a Better America

by Cynthia E. Smith

The third book in Cooper Hewitt’s series on socially responsible design, By the People is a book for those looking to understand how design can help challenge poverty and social inequality. Smith examines current social, economic, and environmental issues across America in her book. With engaging art, essays, and interviews with designers and architects who are building innovative solutions, By the People is described as a “true manual.”

Color at Home: A Young House Love Coloring Book

by Sherry Petersik, John Petersik

Embrace your inner child with this adult coloring book. Full of interior design eye-candy, Color at Home allows you to bring life to home decor with your own color scheme. It’s also a good way to test out new decorating ideas without picking up a paintbrush.

Twenty Over Eighty: Conversations on a Lifetime in Architecture and Design

by Aileen Kwun, Bryn Smith

Kwun and Smith’s book profiles 20 creative professionals over the age of 80 in a Q and A format. Conversations with people from every sect of the design field—architecture, advertising, furniture, graphic, product, and industrial design—reveal what it’s like to be in the industry for the entirety of your life. For every young designer and architect out there, this book will serve as inspiration for generations to come.