Book Recommendations


These are books related to planning and architecture that I have read and would recommend to any planner or planning student.

A Country of Cities by Vishaan Chakrabarti – An interesting and quick read partially due to the excellent illustrations of SHoP Architects that appear throughout the book. Though containing its fair share of architectural high-mindedness, including the belief that smaller cities and towns aren’t worth the effort, it has good information on trends in urbanization and interesting future predictions.

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander et al – A wonderful source of information and studies on urban design and architecture, Alexander outlines patterns of development and building that almost anyone can understand.

A Theory of Architecture, by Nikos A. Salingaros – This book begins with arguments based on physics and mathematics towards traditional architecture systems and ends with a psychological study of why modernism is bad for our universal psyche.

The American Vitruvius: An Architect’s Handbook of Civic Art by Werner Hegemann and Elbert Peets – A book with almost as many graphics as words, this work analyzes the civic structures of Europe and America and teaches basic principles about why the best spaces work.

Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam – In this book, Putnam shows that Americans have less social capital – are less civically and socially engaged – than we were in the past, and investigates why.  Among the major causes are suburbanization and television.

Car Sick by Lynn Sloman – This book investigates the negative impacts of a car-addicted culture and how to overcome them, focusing on soft solutions (cheap or free techniques based mostly on informing people) and small-scale improvements (adding bike lanes and improving transit).

Cities for People by Jan Gehl – This book does a great job of diagnosing the issues that make cities uncomfortable for pedestrians and recommending simple solutions for fixing them. Gehl is the master of the pedestrian and bike realm, and this book is him at his best.

Community by Design by Kenneth B. Hall and Gerald A. Porterfield – Although they use comic sans, this is still a credible source for basic information on urban design.  Great for planning commissioners.

Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart – A book about how we need to change our processes of manufacturing and development.  William McDonough is an award winning planner and architect and leader in green design.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs – This book should be required reading for any planner.  Very well written, and even nearing 50 years old, is very pertinent today.  Jacobs uses examples from New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, and a number of other stories to tell why Modernist redevelopment is wrong and how we can fix cities the right way.

Early American Architecture by Hugh Morrison – A book about architecture in America from the colonial period to about 1800, including insights into the development of local traditions in building and city planning.

Form-Based Codes by Daniel G. Parolek, Karen Parolek, and Paul C. Crawford – Essentially a how-to book as far as creating form-based codes.  I actually used this book to create a form-based code for a neighborhood in Provo, and it made the task quite simple.

Frank Lloyd Wright: Master Builder by Bruce B. Pfeiffer and David Larkin – Essentially a coffee table book, but with a few interesting insights in the development of the works of one of America’s greatest architects.

The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler – An entertaining glimpse into the problems with suburban development.  Kunstler tracks its history and examines examples across the country.

The Great Neighborhood Book by Jay Walljasper and the Project for Public Spaces – A great book that is easy to understand for planners and non-planners alike about grassroots, ground-up placemaking.  Highly recommended for those not educated in planning who want to make a difference in their neighborhoods.

Great Streets by Allan B. Jacobs – This is a comprehensive and beautiful guide to streets. It lays out a number of examples and what makes them great, compares different street patterns, and analyzes what goes into a great street.

Home from Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler – The sequel to the previous book.  It offers a few solutions to the problem of suburban development, as well as a few stories on other development trends such as organic farming.

How to Live Well Without Owning a Car by Chris Balish – A short book about techniques you can use to live car-lite or car-free.  Includes this newscaster’s first-person experiences with living without a car.

The Image of the City by Kevin Lynch – Lynch develops simple patterns by which to examine a city.  These patterns include paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks.  A dense but rewarding read.

Last Harvest by Witold Rybczynski – This book tracks the development of a traditional neighborhood development from the idea stage to the earliest move-ins, with commentary on the development process throughout history along the way.  It really helped me understand development in the Northeast and how it differs from the Southwest.

The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler – In this book, Kunstler tracks the history of oil and our dependence on foreign sources in modern America.  Includes entertainingly dire predictions of what will happen in various regions of the country when we run out of oil.

Modern Architecture since 1900 by William J.R. Curtis – A well-written and illustrated explanation of modern architecture.  I got it because I hate modern architecture and thought that if I learned about it I would hate it less.  I still hate it, but at least I better understand the motivation behind it.

The Nature of Order: The Phenomenon of Life by Christopher Alexander – Another great book by Christopher Alexander.  This book examines what Alexander calls “the wholeness” of buildings and how they make us feel, as well as how this wholeness can be calculated mathematically.

The New Civic Art by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Robert Alminana – An extensive collection of urban images, maps, and designs from around the world, most of which are classic urbanism and not New Urbanism, but should be used to influence New Urbanist development.

The New Urbanism by Peter Katz – a catalog of New Urbanist projects.  It’s interesting to see which ones were actually built (many of the better ones, in my opinion, were not).  Also led to me not being as big a fan of Peter Calthorpe.

The Next American Metropolis by Peter Calthorpe – In this book, Calthorpe outlines the basic principles of transit-oriented development, including how to design streets and other urban spaces near transit.

The Option of Urbanism by Christopher B. Leinberger – An interesting and reasonably impartial book about how urbanism has been zoned out of codes, and how it should be allowed so that the market, rather than codes, dictate development.  Includes sections on the pros and cons of both urbanism and suburbanism.

Planning and Urban Design Standards by the American Planning Association, Frederick R. Steiner, and Kent Butler – The official planning handbook from the APA.  Has great images and standards, and helps convince city officials that you don’t make this crap up.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro – This tome (1162 pages, not including notes, bibliography, interviews, and index) details Robert Moses‘ rise to power, what he was able to accomplish, the means (some legitimate, many underhanded) he used to achieve them, and how he lost it all. A great book of lessons for anyone trying to accomplish great works.

Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith by Eric O. Jacobsen – A very interesting analysis of urbanism from a Christian perspective. This book is well-written and accessible both to those who are not familiar with urban development and those who may have only a cursory knowledge of Christianity.

The Small House Book by Jay Shafer – Although Jay needs to hire a better copy editor, this little book is full of great information. Not only does it talk about over-consumption in a variety of forms, it teaches a person the basics of building their own house and gives a catalog of Jay’s products from Tumbleweed Houses.

Suburban Nation by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck – An interesting read in which the authors vehemently denounce suburban development and the harm that it has done to our country.

Sustainable Communities by Sim Van der Ryn and Peter Calthorpe – Contains a plethora of information of green design before sustainable was even a buzzword.  Includes both city and building designs.

Sustainable Environments by Yenna Chan – A simple, picture-heavy book that catalogs sustainable building strategies and projects that have employed them.

The Ten Books on Architecture by Vitruvius – Just as applicable today as it was 2000 years ago.  In addition to specifics on classical design, Vitruvius explains how to best lay out cities relative to the sun and prevailing winds.  Also includes less applicable information, such as how to build catapults.

The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander – This book is meant to be somewhat of an introduction to A Pattern Language. Though less of a guide than its successor, this book does have a few good examples of what Alexander has accomplished using patterns.

Towns and Town-Building Principles by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk – Although essentially just a catalog of DPZ’s early work, it does have some great essays and shows some of the reasoning behind what was built.

Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser – This book emphasizes the importance of smart people gathering in cities to exchange ideas. It has a number of policy recommendations for how to make cities more competitive, as well as more balanced explanations of why sprawl occurs.

The Urban Design Handbook by Urban Design Associates – A detailed book, written by a leading urban design firm, about their process, concepts that they use, and examples from their work.  it even goes so far as to include the UDA filing system.

Walkable City by Jeff Speck – Probably the best-regarded planning book of 2013. It is very readable and gives clear guidance about how to make cities that are safe and enjoyable for people.

Why Buildings Fall Down by Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori – The sequel to Why Buildings Stand Up (see below), this book explains structural failures ranging from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to the World Trade Center.  If you read it, you’ll learn a whole lot about redundancy.

Why Buildings Stand Up by Mario Salvadori – An interesting and easy to understand book about the advancement in structure throughout history.  Includes in-depth discussions about steel and concrete construction and the geometry of buildings.

One Response to Book Recommendations

  1. Greetings and thanks for these resources!
    Along these lines you might find a book that I co-authored useful: Spatial Mathematics.

    http://www.crcpress.com/product/isbn/9781466505322

    Joseph Kerski

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