Architects don’t read

I’m an Architect and my wife is a librarian. So, you’d think we have a lot of books, and, you’d be right. But, don’t get me wrong. I haven’t read most of them. Mostly, I just buy them, put them on a shelf for years, and stare at them. Ever few months I’ll take one down and flip through it, it’s like I’m taunting it. I’m not going to read it. This morning I decided to read something. So, I browsed the shelves and looked through a few of them. It was like strolling down memory lane. I found myself pulling down my favorites, and remembering how much I love them. With each book, I would remember when I read them. Mostly, I just held the books and skimmed my memories. Man, I love these books. I think it’s possible to tell the character of a person by looking at their books. I think the books we choose to own define who we are. Or (more likely) who we aspire to be. So, this morning, I spent hours looking through the shelves, thinking of who I was, who I am, and, who I want to be… I didn’t read a damn thing.

But, I did scan some of my favorites, Does that count?

Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text – The only thing better than not reading, is not reading someone’s literary criticism of books that you also, did not read. The layers, and layers, of irony. In general, I think literary criticism is pompous crap. But, this book, is beautiful. the Bliss…

Dennis Hillier, Against Architecture – The writings of George Bataille – Again, literary criticism of books I never read. But, the title alone guarantees it a place on my shelf. Notre Dame on fire? seriously awesome. I read this as I took the bus to and from work in Chicago 18 years ago. I didn’t understand a word. But, the homeless guys on the bus thought I was really cool.

Italo Calvino – Invisible Cities – Probably the most important book I’ve ever read. Marco Polo describes the cities he’s visited to Kubla Khan. The descriptions of the cities are surreal, little tone poems. Lovely, lovely, surreal tone poems. I think I’ve been sketching the images this book conjures in my head for years. I read it while I was working on my thesis project in school. And, during my final crit. one of the professors described my project as “Calvinoesque”. That made me very happy, and just a little uncomfortable.

Robert Venturi – Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture – I really don’t like Venturi’s work, but this book is a masterpiece. I love the discarding of the “easy” order of modernism, and the embrace of the messy complexity and contradictions inherit in our work. the “Both and”, not the “either or”. I saw a film in school on “post modernism”. In it, Philip Johnson described how reading this book changed the direction of his work entirely. He called it  “Bobby Venturi’s book – complexity and complexity, or whatever.” The irony of that line wasn’t lost on the film maker.

e.e. cummings – 50 poems – I think my short attention span is well suited for poetry. This book is great to pick up for a quick creative fix. And, ee’s poems were as much about structure, or the lack of structure as anything else. The pattern the words form on the page is as important as the meaning of the words. There’s architecture in these poems.


Einstein for Beginners – I read this before I started Architecture school. I was a physics major for a year or so. Yep, I was/am a major geek. I’ve always been fascinated with the structure of the universe. I also love the contradictions you find when you study science, particularly in Einstein’s work. The answer usually depends on the context. How fast is that airplane moving? That depends on where you are. On the ground, it’s a slow moving dot in the sky. Right next to it, it’s a blur of super-sonic speed that will burn your skin off. But, sit inside the plane, and you have no sense of moving at all. That’s relativity…for beginners

Alain Robbe-Grillet – In the Labyrinth – There’s a soldier, a boy, some snow, a bar, a photograph of a soldier, in a bar, that photo’s in the boys pocket, and he runs down the street towards a soldier in a bar, looking at the photograph of a boy in the snow. Holy crap it’s like a verbal labyrinth in there. He LITERALLY reuses sentences, word for word, multiple times in this book. You find yourself thinking you’ve read this before, and you have, but not quite…no, not quite… freaking labyrinth.

Such Places as Memory – John Hejduk – Architect+Professor+Artist+Poet=<man-crush>. John, you had me at “a house knows who loves it”

So, that’s a few of my favorites. Let me know a few of yours. But, I’ll tell you right now, I’m not going to read them. Cause, Architect’s don’t read.