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Beginning Architecture…

Beginning the journey of becoming an architect is exciting and challenging. It’s a lifelong process of learning and understanding. As a beginner architecture student, you’re going to be exposed to a lot of new information and ideas.

You may find yourself confused by complex design concepts, struggling to communicate your ideas effectively, or feeling overwhelmed by the history and theory of architecture or how things are built and go together.

The right resources can make a big difference. I’ve compiled a list of the top ten books for beginner architecture students. They address these challenges and provide insights and guidance to help you succeed in your architectural studies, and well into practice.

I’ve divided these books into five categories – general studies, communications, design, construction and history. This list is a starting point to cover the basics in each of these areas. They’re not in any priority order, and they don’t go into deep philosophical theory. Most of these are references books to refer to as required rather than something you would read cover to cover. A lot of them have been around for a long time, regularly re-released with revisions, because they provide solid foundations and stand the test of time.

General

01 | 101 Things I Learned In Architecture School | Matthew Frederick

101 Things I Learned In Architecture School is a little one but a good one. It summarizes 101 key insights across all areas of architecture study and practice – including design principles, drawing, construction, communication and professional practice.

Why I recommend it:

  • Condenses complex architectural concepts into easily understandable steps and summaries.
  • Provides valuable insights and reminders at all stages of your journey as a student and practitioner.
  • Easy to read and flip through for inspiration.

02 | A Visual Dictionary Of Architecture | Francis Ching

A Visual Dictionary of Architecture by Francis Ching offers an overview of architectural terminology and vocabulary from design, drawing and communications to building type and construction. It has an extensive coverage of architectural building examples and serves as a detailed summary of architectural elements, concepts, and principles.

It’s full of simple definitions arranged alphabetically with insights into the historical, cultural, and functional significance of architectural elements. It explores how different architectural features have evolved over time and how they are used in various architectural styles and traditions.

Why I recommend it:

  • Quickly refer to this book whenever you encounter unfamiliar terminology for a quick and correct answer.
  • Easily expands your vocabulary of architectural terms through visual examples.
  • Allows you to explore related topics and terms beyond your immediate area of interest.

Communications

03 | Architectural Graphics [or Design Drawing] | Francis Ching

I’ve put these two books together. Architectural Graphics and Design Drawing by Francis Ching. They are similar but different.

Design drawing is a bigger book and probably more appropriate for beginners. It covers general drawing for design including architecture. It’s divided into three parts:

  • Drawing From Observations – Covers basic elements and principles of general drawing including line and shape, tone and texture, form and structure and space and depth.
  • Drawing Systems – More formal drawing types used in architectural representation including Multiview, paraline and perspective drawings.
  • Drawing from the imagination – Additional types of architectural drawing including diagramming, general composition and presentation.

Design Drawing is a great start. Architectural Graphics covers similar information but is more specific to architecture with less emphasis on general drawing techniques. It includes a summary of architectural drawing equipment which is quite useful. Have a look at both and see which one appeals.

Why I recommend it:

  • Clear explanations and illustrations of different architectural drawing techniques.
  • Hundreds of drawings and examples to gain inspiration from – without the need for long, confusing text or explanations.
  • An ongoing reference and reminder at whatever stage of your drawing journey.

04 | Studio Craft and Technique for Architects | Miriam Delaney

Studio Craft and Technique for Architects is a book I discovered recently and is perfect for first year students who have not done any drawing, art or making before. Or for those who don’t have a dedicated communications subject. This book takes you through:

  • Drawing and model-making equipment, basic principles of representation, drawing techniques, using drawing and models.
  • The practicalities of site survey, analysis and representation.
  • Basic characteristics of construction materials and an introduction to construction systems.

Why I recommend it:

  • Very easy to use reference for the practical aspects of studio drawing and construction in design.
  • Step-by-step tutorials and detailed instructions for creating architectural drawings and representation.
  • Helps students develop hands-on skills necessary for bringing your design concepts to life.

Design

05 | Form, Space and Order | Francis Ching

Form, Space and Order is the starting point for foundational design theory. It defines the basic elements and principles of architectural design that can be considered foundational building blocks in all design and different strategies for organising and relating these.

  • Primary elements – The basic building blocks of point, line and plane that make up all 3-dimensional architecture and design.
  • Form, Space and Organization – Different compositions and ways of creating 3-dimensional form and space.
  • Circulation – Strategies for circulation through a building.
  • Proportion and Scale – Systems and approaches to proportion and scale.
  • Principles – Principles of ordering elements of architecture.

Some schools of architecture don’t emphasize design theory and prefer students to explore freely. In this situation I see students struggle to find clear strategies of spatial organisation and the words to describe ideas or rationalise why you are making decisions. You’re designing in a vacuum.

If you regularly looked through this book with the intention of understanding the key elements and principles of architecture, you would have a really thorough foundation and a tonne of strategies to approach every design project.

Why I recommend it:

  • Provides foundational elements and principles of architecture and design in terms of creating and controlling form, volume and space.
  • Provides students with a design vocabulary, conceptual thinking and strategies to guide design decisions.
  • Clear illustrations and concise explanations without complex and confusing theoretical text.
  • Provides a solid foundation for developing design theory and thinking.

06 | Neufert Architects Data | Ernst and Peter Neufert

OR Metric Handbook: Planning and Design Data | Taylor and Francis Ltd

Neufert Architects Data and Metric Handbook are two very similar books that are often referenced interchangeably. They are similar but different. One may be preferred over the other depending on your university or location in the world. One may be better for certain projects, so keep them both in mind.

Both books cover detailed planning and design for different types of architectural buildings, spaces and infrastructure. They have extensive drawings and diagrams outlining key functional dimensions and requirements for different conditions.

In addition, Neufert explores infrastructure, construction and building elements in more detail, which is possibly why it is referred to as reference more often.

Either way, if you can get a hold of Neufert Architects Data or The Metric Handbook, they are an invaluable reference you can flick through and refer to for every project through your entire career. Most offices will have one hiding on a shelf somewhere.

Why I recommend it:

  • Comprehensive planning and functional design data across a huge range of building typologies – perfect for prompting space planning in any project.
  • Provides key sizes and relationship for preliminary and detailed design and planning.
  • Stops you having to reinvent the wheel every time you design something – you have a basic, functional layout as a starting point for any type of space you can imagine, leaving far more time for creativity and imagination.

07 | A Pattern Language | Christopher Alexander

A Pattern Language could be said to build on the foundations created with Form, Space and Order.

It presents a collection of design patterns and principles that repeat in cities and create liveable, human-centered environments. It offers insights into the underlying structure of successful architectural design at three scales – towns, buildings and detailed construction.

Why I recommend it:

  • Collection of timeless design patterns and principles that provide inspiration for human-centered environments.
  • Goes beyond functional or strategic organisation of space and considers social, cultural, and environmental factors in design.
  • Simple explanations and accompanying diagrams make it easy to understand.

Construction

08 | Building Construction Illustrated | Francis Ching

Building Construction Illustrated provides a comprehensive overview of building construction processes and techniques. It includes the fundamental systems of foundations, floors, walls, roof, doors and windows as well as mechanical, electrical and other special details. It has clear illustrations and detailed explanations that help you understand how basic buildings go together.

Why I recommend it:

  • Clear illustrations and detailed explanations of construction principles.
  • Comprehensive overview of building construction processes and techniques.
  • Helps students understand how buildings are constructed and assembled, from foundation to roof.

History

Architectural history is a huge subject and there are thousands of books available. The two I’ve selected cover older, more ancient architecture and modern architecture respectively. There are many other books that cover these two different contexts which may be referenced in your studies. They all have something to offer. These are just a start.

These two books cover the generally taught and accepted architectural narrative. However, none of us were alive to confirmany of the history. So like anything subjective (none of us, I would encourage you over time to question these views, consider other perspectives and form your own ideas about architecture.

09 | “History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals” by Spiro Kostof and Greg Castillo

History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals provides a comprehensive survey of architectural history, exploring the cultural, social, and religious contexts in which buildings were created.

The book is organized chronologically and considers architecture across a range of regions. It goes beyond just describing the buildings to consider the context of broader society, culture and politics – thought-provoking for new students!

Why I recommend it:

  • Presents as a connected narrative through the history of architecture rather than just a record of buildings and styles.
  • Considers architectural history in the context of cultural, social, and religious contexts.
  • Provides rich visual narrative to accompany the more in-depth text.

10 | Modern Architecture: A Critical History | Kenneth Frampton

A Critical History examines the modernist movement in architecture, tracing its origins and evolution from the 19th century onwards.

This book explores ideologies and the broader cultural, social, and economic contexts in which modern architecture emerged. This goes beyond just a record of architectural styles and examples and opens up the beginnings of broader topics for student discussion and consideration.

Why I recommend it:

  • Traces the origins, evolution, and impact of modern architecture.
  • Provides one critical examination of the modernist movement in architecture –  and provokes critical thinking.
  • Prompts students to begin to think of the broader social, cultural, economic and political contexts of architecture – rather than existing in an isolated  bubble.

What Next?

The top ten beginner books listed here offer invaluable insights and guidance, covering a broad range of topics. Whether you want to improve your communication skills, deepen your understanding of design principles, or explore the rich history of architecture, these books are indispensable companions on your journey to becoming a successful architect.

Until next time…

Liz at ArchiMash