From Towards an Architecture by Le Corbusier (1923) to Elements by Rem Koolhaas (2014) architecture books have gradually become powerful tools for architectural action. They reveal all of the contradictions in the practice of architecture and forge a notion of architectural culture or simply of architecture as a culture that proved itself very significant from the end of the post-war period to the end of the century.
Architects’ work is contingent. Assignments may or may not come in, and when they do, they may or may not be desired. They may also be truncated for various reasons involving economics, communication or building. This is why if architects want to elaborate a discourse surrounding their work, they need mediums that go beyond the building and the design. And books are the ideal medium for contextualising production within the prevailing theories of the times. They allow architects to make the relationship between their work and its cultural surroundings explicit.
To understand what is considered an architect’s book, several different definitions of their basic characteristics can be put forward. In the introduction to The Manhattan Transcripts, Bernard Tschumi establishes an initial distinction between architects’ books and books about architecture. The former develop an existence and rationale of their own. They are not illustrated with buildings or cities but instead seek to delve into underlying ideas. They can be read as sequences, although not all of them have narrative power, and they explore the bounds of architecture and its knowledge through theoretical designs and attempts at abstraction.
In Raisons d’écrire. Livres d’architectes. 1945-1999, Pierre Chabard and Marilena Kourniati call the works architects’ books. Through their analysis of these seven books they define what these books have in common. They merge theory and practice into a single discourse. They present the reader with the world of architecture as a complex, creative, theoretical and, in short, built whole. They are published by architects and place work done over a period of time into context. They unify concepts, buildings and designs. They are not books on theory or books of photographs of built spaces or of drawings or diagrams. An architect’s book is akin to an architectural design in and of itself.
The Architecture of the Great City, Athens Charter, Can Our Cities Survive?, Urban Structuring The Architecture of the City, Learning from Las Vegas, S, M, L, XL, Intertwining, Points + Lines, Farmax, and other are architects’ books that shape a way of practicing architecture based on a narrative, on the development of architectural principles and systems of organisation. Not only do they remain pertinent, they are key for those who aim to build designs or thought, or better yet, designs and thought together. These books contain stances that range from identifying both built and published designs, thus attaching a category of architecture to the book itself, to being complementary, as the book constructs what buildings cannot. All of these books enable architecture to intellectually and creatively grow and make breakthroughs.