AASL Column, January 2020
Lucy Campbell and Barbara Opar, column editors
Column by Barbara Opar

Books of the Decade

The end of a decade is always cause for both reflection and evaluation. That includes books. In late December of 2019, CNN posted online what they considered the most influential books of the decade. The article began with the statement that “A decade is in part defined by its books. And recent days have seen many roundups of the best books of the 2010s — the titles that critics consider the pinnacle of literary excellence.” (https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/30/entertainment/decades-most-influential-books-trnd/index.html.)

Some of CNN’s list was not surprising but still provocative. Included was Fifty Shades of Grey. Influential—yes. Of literary excellence—maybe not! I must also admit that I have not read a few of the titles on their list.  But that list served to make me wonder what architecture books would be considered the most influential of the past decade. And what defines influence?  Do already known authors continue to receive accolades and recommendations? Certainly, Rem Koolhaas fits that criteria. I have included several of his books on my list and feel that those titles are indeed ones with which most of you would agree.  How important are library circulation counts or Amazon best sellers in determining influence?  Do faculty referrals or use in academic course reserves trump general circulation? Some books receive high use in libraries or are cited for a few years but then seem to fade. Influence can derive from a combination of factors including traditional academic tracking like citation counts and mentions on social media. We must also consider that one title might generate interest in a topic (Atlas of Brutalist Architecture or Archigram: the book) and, as such, lead to more titles and expanded research in an area.  Ever notice how when one book comes out on a given topic more seem to follow.

Some of the specific titles below (Elements, Fundamentals, Project Japan) are ones that most everyone will agree have been influential. I presume, though, that not everyone will agree with all my choices. However, in considering the titles, I came to realize that certain topics stand out (net-zero or climate-related topics) or that certain publishers (DAMDI who published Program Diagrams) have made a substantial difference. When considering topics that generated a great deal of interest with respect to architecture during the course of the past decade, these came to mind: climate change, net-zero energy design, sustainability, building materials, the small house movement, modern architectural movements such as the Bauhaus, Brutalism, and metabolism. Some topics will always dominate the discipline such as architectural detailing (De-tail –kultur). Certain authors—Farshid Moussavi being one—have written works on architecture that have been and continue to be influential in teaching.  The Function of Style—while not as popular here as her Function of Form or Function of Ornament- is nonetheless an important title. Jimenez’s book is a graphic novel—a highly original topic in architecture. Books on individual projects are not frequent, but when they appear such as The High Line they prove to be of great use. My last selection is a new edition of Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, a title surely on everyone’s list of influential architecture books of the past century.

As we enter the next decade new Bauhaus books are being issued on its 100th anniversary. These, as well as topics yet to be envisioned, will make up the most influential books of the next decade.

But without further ado, here is my list of the most influential architecture books of 2010-2020.

The List:

BIG Bjarke Ingels Group. Hot to cold: An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation. Köln: Taschen, 2015.

Chalk, Warren. Archigram: the book. London: Circa Press, 2018.

Hootman, Thomas. Net Zero Energy Design: A Guide for Commercial Architecture.  Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley & Sons, 2013.

Koolhaas, Rem. Elements. Venice: Marsilio, 2014.

Koolhaas, Rem. Fundamentals: 14th International Architecture Exhibition. Venice: Marsilio, 2014.

Koolhaas, Rem. Project Japan: Metabolism Talks. Köln: TASCHEN GmbH, 2011.

Kumpusch, Christoph A. De-tail– kultur: if buildings had DNA : case studies of mutations: the complex behavior of collective detail, 10 lenses, 12+1 projects. Beijing: AADCU Program, 2016. 

James Corner Field Operations. The High Line: Foreseen, Unforeseen. New York: Phaidon, 2015.

Lai, Jimenez. Citizens of no place: An Architectural Graphic Novel.  New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2012.

Lewis, Paul. Manual of Section. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2016.

Metaborizumu no mirai toshi = Metabolism, The City of the Future. Tōkyō: Shinkenchikusha, 2011.

Moussavi, Farshid. The Function of Style. New York: Actar, 2014.

Mostafavi, Mohsen. Ecological Urbanism. Baden, Switzerland: Lars Müller, 2010.

Pyo, Miyoung. Program Diagrams. Seoul: DAMDI, 2011.

Venturi, Robert. Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction at Fifty. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019.