Favorite Books for Designers & Builders

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young women reading in Jose Plecnik's National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia

   I've participated in several "most important books" discussions recently. The following are the ones I consider most important to designers and builders. I'm using those terms broadly, focused on but not completely constrained to designing and building physical places, because other acts of designing and building can teach us a lot about physical place-making.

   One note: It may seem very strange, but I've included my own books in this list. Every author, in my opinion, should be passionate about the subject matter in their own books. As a matter of fact, if they don't consider that subject matter important enough to include it in a list of books that are most important to them, they never should have written the book in the first place… that's a "soup pot author"… something we all should hope never to be.

   Another note: What about preservation? I regard preservation as essential to sustainability, and also an integral part of architecture, so books that deal with preservation and reuse are included within whichever of the two categories for which they are most appropriate.

   The final note: There's no shadow of doubt that I've left off some very important books, because I've compiled this list by adding titles simply as they occur to me. So please let me know what you think I've forgotten. Also, there are some new releases such as The Plazas of New Mexico that I'm sure I'll add to the list, but I haven't seen them yet.



farm fields near Cerro Punta, Panama

Agricultural Urbanism: Handbook for Building Sustainable Food Systems in 21st Century Cities

Janine de la Salle & Mark Holland, editors, Green Frigate Books, 2010.

   This book sprang out of the work done at DPZ’s Southlands charrette near Vancouver, where several longstanding barriers to agricultural urbanism were shattered.

Public Produce: The New Urban Agriculture

Darrin Nordahl, Island Press, 2009.

   Excellent new book on agricultural urbanism.


appetizer in curvy white dish

In Defense of Food

Michael Pollan, Penguin, 2009.

   Drawing distinctions between “edible food-like substances” and real food, this book has multiple implications for the places where food is grown.

Omnivore’s Dilemma, The

Michael Pollan, Penguin, 2007.

   Now a classic, this book draws a bright line between the industrial food chain and more sustainable ways of growing what we eat. Essential to fully understanding Nourishable Places.


Original Green

icons of the eight foundations of the Original Green

Green Living: Architecture and Planning

Dr. Barbara Kenda & Steven Parissien, editors, Rizzoli, 2010.

   A collection of essays on sustainability; most take a far broader view than you ordinarily hear. Full disclosure: I wrote one of the essays, but there's a lot of material that's better than mine in the book.

Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World

His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, Harper, 2010.

   Prince Charles' watershed new book is hard to categorize because it is such a sweeping re-ordering of the way we view ourselves and the environment. I've put it with Original Green titles because the Original Green is also a broad re-ordering of ideas on sustainability, but really, this book is broader than any one category.

Kennedy Green House

Robin Wilson & Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2010.

   This book recounts the reconstruction of Bobby Kennedy, Jr.’s personal home after a devastating flood and mold & mildew infestation. This home exhibits numerous Original Green principles; Bobby wrote the Foreword to the Original Green

the Original Green [Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability]

Stephen A. Mouzon, Guild Foundation Press, 2010.

   This book lays out the broad proposition of the Original Green initiative.

New Urbanism Theory

Pensacola Street beach pavilion at Seaside, Florida

Architecture of Community, The

Léon Krier, Island Press, 2009.

   Watershed work by arguably the most important architecture & urbanism thinker of our time, who also happens to be an honorary member of the New Urban Guild.

Death and Life of Great American Cities, The

Jane Jacobs, Vintage, 1992.

   Classic definitive description of the sociology of American cities.

Geography of Nowhere, The

James Howard Kunstler, Simon & Schuster, 1993.

   Both hilarious and incisive, Kunstler skewers the world of sprawl we’ve built recently.

Language of Towns and Cities, The

Dhiru Thadani, Rizzoli, 2010.

   Excellent new work seems at first to be a richly-illustrated lexicon of town-making terms, but it’s actually much more than that. Beautifully illustrated with the author’s endearing pen-and-ink drawings.

New Urbanism, The, Toward an Architecture of Community

Peter Katz, McGraw-Hill, 1994.

   This is the early catalog of the emerging New Urbanism, and covers the pioneering developments. Still a best-seller after more than a decade.

Pattern Language, A

Christopher Alexander, Oxford University Press, 1977.

   This book is considered by many to be “the bible of New Urbanism.” 

Retrofitting Suburbia

Ellen Dunham-Jones & June Williamson, Wiley, 2008.

   This was the first authoritative New Urbanist book on the principles of suburban repair.

Sprawl Repair Manual

Galina Tachieva, Island Press, 2010.

   Essential book containing the latest sprawl repair techniques; a highly useful handbook. Galina sits on the board of the Guild Foundation.

Suburban Nation

Andrés Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Jeff Speck, North Point Press, 2001.

   Must-read story of how American suburbia was built, and why that’s a problem. A classic.

Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design With Nature

Douglas Farr, Wiley, 2007.

   Excellent new book by an author who is considered an authority both by New Urbanists and by mainstream sustainability advocates. Doug is also a member of the New Urban Guild.

Timeless Way of Building, The

Christopher Alexander, Oxford University Press, 1979.

   This is the absolutely essential precursor to A Pattern Language.

New Urbanism Practice

honeymoon cottages at Seaside, Florida

American Vitruvius: An Architects’ Handbook of Civic Art

   Werner Hegemann, Elbert Peets, Princeton Architectural Press, 1988.

Recent reprint of the 1922 classic which has been rediscovered by an entire generation of town planners. A valuable catalog of timeless techniques.

Boulevard Book, The

Allan Jacobs, Elizabeth Macdonald, Yodan Rofe, MIT Press, 2002

   Clearly the best resource available on multi-way boulevards that were once the staple of great urban places (and can be again).

Buildings of Main Street, The

Richard Longstreth, American Association for State & Local History Book Series, 2000

   This is the definitive book on Main Street building types. Town centers should not be designed or re-designed without it.

Courtyard Housing in Los Angeles

Stephanos Polyzoides, Roger Sherwood, James Tice, Julius Shulman, Princeton Architectural Press, 1992.

   This is a great analysis of a building type that is flexible enough to become a staple of higher-density urban fabric in many places.

New Civic Art, The

Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Robert Alminana, Rizzoli, 2003.

   Enormous new catalog of the elements of town planning. This book pays homage to the original Civic Art of a century ago, but is entirely new material.

Place Making: Developing Town Centers, Main Streets, and Urban Villages

Charles Bohl, Urban Land Institute, 2002.

   Excellent new summary of many of the new options in mixed-use places.

Pocket Neighborhoods

Ross Chapin, Taunton, 2011.

   Excellent new book on housing clusters & courts, focusing on both the theory and the practice of their creation.

Town Planning in Practice

Raymond Unwin, Princeton Architectural Press, 1994.

   Nearly a century after its initial publication, this book remains one of the best manuals available for the techniques of making great places.

New Urbanism Reference

side of honeymoon cottage at Seaside, Florida

Anatomy of the Village, The

Thomas Sharp, Penguin, 1946.

   Long out of print but still occasionally available, this little book is pound-for-pound the best reference ever printed on the English village structure.

Charter of the New Urbanism

Congress for the New Urbanism, McGraw-Hill, 2000.

   A 194-page expansion on the original 27-point Charter of the New Urbanism, written by the founders. Out of print, but worth it if you can get it.

New Urbanism: Best Practices Guide

Robert Steuteville, Philip Langdon, New Urban News Publications, 2009.

   Quite possibly the most complete reference to the New Urbanism written to date.

Plazas of Southern Europe

Process Architecture #16, 1980.

   This book, if you can find it, is a tremendously valuable resource, containing scale drawings and photos of dozens of well-known plazas. Most are in Italy, but a few other notable ones in the region are included.

Smart Growth Manual, The

Andrés Duany, Jeff Speck, Mike Lydon, McGraw-Hill, 2009.

   Best new book on New Urbanism; clear, concise guide to powerful patterns.

Urban Design Handbook

Urban Design Associates, Norton, 2003.

   A rare and intriguing comprehensive view inside the office practices of one of the most highly-respected planning firms operating today.

Visualizing Density

Julie Campoli, Alex MacLean, Lincoln Institute, 2007.

   One of the greatest impediments to building compact places is the public outcry against density. This book does a wonderful job of turning units per acre into pictures.

Architecture Theory

gateway into the central green of the College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina

Architecture: Choice or Fate

Leon Krier, Andreas Papadakis Publisher, 1998.

   This theoretical work by one of the most important thinkers of our day encompasses both the urban scale and the architectural scale. Intriguing read. 

New Palladians

Alireza Sagharchi & Lucien Steil, ArtMedia, 2010.

   Contemporary survey of architects working in the classical tradition.

Future of the Past, The

Steven Semes, Norton, 2009.

   This book brings rare clarity to issues bedeviling the presentation community today. An essential read whether you're involved in preservation or re-use.

Vision of Britain: A Personal View of Architecture, A

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, A. G. Carrick Ltd., 1989.

   A book written fairly early in HRH The Prince of Wales’ career as a healer of places; it includes some of the foundation ideas upon which his current principles of sustainable places are built.

Architecture Reference

classical temple front of historic building in Charleston, South Carolina

A Living Tradition [Architecture of the Bahamas]

Stephen A. Mouzon, Guild Foundation Press, 2007.

   This book rebuilds the architectural pattern book by including principles, not just particulars. “We do this because...”

American Builder's Companion, The

Asher Benjamin, Dover Publications, Inc., 1969.

   This was one of the most important pattern books of early 19th century American architecture.

Architectural Treasures of Early America 16V, The

Lisa C. Mullins, National Historical Society, 1988.

   This essential series of volumes contains most of the White Pine series of monographs from the 1920's and is the largest single collection of reference material I have ever seen on 18th and 19th century eastern and southern American architecture.

Architecture of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, The

Arthur Drexler, MIT Press, 1977.

   This is one of the essential history books on the classicism of the 19th century.

Architecture of the Old South

Mills Lane, Beehive Press, 1993.

   This is the summary volume of Lane's work. He has two books broken down by style and a series broken down by state. If you can afford it, buy the state series or the style series. If not, buy this one. Better yet, buy them all. They're that good.

Classical Architecture

Robert Adam, Harry N. Abrams, 1990.

   This is the other absolutely essential recent work on classical architecture (Chitham's being the first).

Classical Orders of Architecture, The

Robert Chitham, Rizzoli, 1995.

   This absolutely essential book describes both the orders and the origins of classical architecture in as great of detail as any contemporary work.

Country Builders Assistant, The

Asher Benjamin, Applewood Books, 1992.

   This was another of Benjamin's books that shaped the early American republic.

Creating a New Old House

Russell Versaci, Erik Kvalsvik, Taunton, 2007.

   This very popular book successfully told a present-day story of traditional design.

Creating the Not So Big House

Sarah Susanka, Grey Crawford, Taunton, 2002.

   This classic forever changed the way that people view houses, and in several ways paved the way for both the Katrina Cottages initiative, and the broader move to downsize American homes post-Meltdown.

Elements of Classical Architecture, The

Henry H. Reed, W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 2001.

   Great new book on classicism.

Elements of Style, The

Stephen Calloway, Simon & Schuster, 1996.

   This book summarizes the salient characteristics of elements such as doors, windows, stairs, etc. for a range of styles beginning generally in the 18th century. This very detailed work should be considered essential for anyone detailing a building in an existing style.

Field Guide to American Architecture, A

Carole Rifkind, Bonanza Books, 1980.

   Concise, excellent style guide.

Green Restorations: Sustainable Building and Historic Homes

Aaron Lubeck, New Society Publishers, 2010.

   Excellent new book on a subject that sorely needs more attention.

Great Georgian Houses of America

Ralph Reinhold, Dover Publications, Inc., 1970.

   This 2-volume set contains a wealth of wonderfully-composed detailed drawings of Georgian era buildings drawn as part of a public works project during the Great Depression.

History of Architecture, A

Sir Banister Fletcher, Scribners, 1975.

   This is the greatest single history of architecture ever written, with numerous reprints and updates through the years.

Parallel of the Classical Orders of Architecture

Johann Matthaus von Mauch, Acanthus Press, 1998.

   This volume illustrates the range of the five orders in antiquity, dispelling the Renaissance myth that classicism was built on fixed canons.

Rendering in Pen and Ink

Arthur Guptill, Watson Guptill, 1997.

   OK, so this reprint of the 1937 classic isn’t strictly about architecture, but it should be considered essential by anyone who is drawing architecture. Don’t go on a charrette without it.

Shingle Style and the Stick Style, The

Vincent Scully, Jr., Yale University Press, 1971.

   This continues to be the definitive history of a uniquely American style that developed from vernacular roots in the 19th century.

Traditional Construction Patterns

Stephen A. Mouzon, McGraw-Hill, 2004.

   This book lays out the do’s and don’ts of traditional construction, focusing on 108 patterns that are most often screwed up.

Vignola: Five Orders of Architecture, The

Pierre Esquie, William Helburn, 1890.

   Extremely important book if you can find it. There have been reprints in recent years.

House Plan Collections

house on Meeting Street in Charleston, South Carolina

Bienville Collection, The

Stephen A. Mouzon & Wanda W. Mouzon, Mouzon Design, 2007.

   This collection contains designs that are mixed-use like live/works, attached like townhouses, or both. Please note that none of the plans are based on specific buildings on Bienville Street. Rather, Bienville Street is an iconic place for this sort of architecture.

Carolina Inspirations I

Allison Ramsey Architects, 2001.

   First plan book by one of the most prolific architecture firms of the New Urbanism.

Carolina Inspirations II

Allison Ramsey Architects, 2007.

   Second plan book in series.

Carolina Inspirations III

Allison Ramsey Architects, 2001.

   Third plan book in series.

Gulf Coast Emergency House Plans

Stephen A. Mouzon, New Urban Guild Foundation, 2006.

   This is the first book of Katrina Cottage designs, done in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It contains designs by over a dozen designers, most members of the New Urban Guild.

Katrina Cottages Collection, The

Stephen A. Mouzon & Wanda W. Mouzon, Mouzon Design, 2007.

   This collection contains all types of Katrina Cottages, from Tiny Cottages to Kernel Cottages to Courtyard Cottages and more.

Key West Collection, The

Stephen A. Mouzon & Wanda W. Mouzon, Mouzon Design, 2007.

   This collection contains designs that are smaller and wood frame. Please note that none of the plans are based on specific houses in Key West. Rather, Key West is an iconic place for this sort of architecture.

Mooresville Collection, The

Stephen A. Mouzon & Wanda W. Mouzon, Mouzon Design, 2007.

   This collection contains designs that are larger, several of which are built of brick. Please note that none of the plans are based on specific houses in Mooresville. Rather, Mooresville is an iconic place for this sort of architecture.

Outbuildings: Garages, Guest Houses, and Workshops

Allison Ramsey Architects, 2005.

   This collection contains smaller structures meant to complement a larger main house.

Outbuildings Collection, The

Stephen A. Mouzon & Wanda W. Mouzon, Mouzon Design, 2007.

   This collection contains outbuilding designs, such as garages, carriage houses, pavilions, gazebos, towers, barns, and even an outhouse.

St. Augustine Collection, The

Stephen A. Mouzon & Wanda W. Mouzon, Mouzon Design, 2007.

   This collection contains designs appropriate to regions that are hot and humid and frequented by hurricanes, such as the American Gulf Coast and the Caribbean. Please note that none of the plans are based on specific houses in St. Augustine. Rather, St. Augustine is the most iconic place in the US for this sort of architecture.

Traditional Neighborhood Homes Collection

Moser Design Group, Digital Catalog, 2011.

   This online collection is the only non-book included in this reading list because it is important enough; The Moser Design Group is one of a small handful of the most prolific residential designers of the New Urbanism.


steam rising from manhole in Charleston, South Carolina

$20 Per Gallon

Christopher Steiner, Grand Central Publishing, 2009.

   Without doubt, the most optimistic take to date on the implications of the inevitable rise in gas prices.


Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown, and Company, 2005.

   Gladwell’s follow-up to The Tipping Point makes the case that our gut reaction may often be far more accurate than over-deliberation. This notion supports several underpinnings of the idea of living traditions.

Free Agent Nation

Daniel H. Pink, Business Plus, 2002.

   Pink lays out a new form of doing business that is overtaking the corporate model.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded

Thomas L. Friedman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

   Friedman’s follow-up to The World is Flat looks at implications of flattening and population growth on sustainability. It was the first best-seller outside the New Urbanism to properly affix blame to sprawl.


Albert-Lazlo Barabasi, Plume, 2003.

   This book lays out the new reality of vibrant webs of interconnected nodes versus the old hierarchical system; contains many implications for the operation of living traditions.

Long Emergency, The

James Howard Kunstler, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005.

   Kunstler’s words read like a horror story when written. Now, in retrospect, they read like prophecy as so many of the events have come true since the beginning of the Meltdown, and others seem to be shaping up to do so as well.

Long Tail, The

Chris Anderson, Hyperion, 2008.

   Groundbreaking book laying out the mechanics of the new niche-based markets that toppled the long-running “greatest hits” system, and is radically changing both the publishing and music industries.

Made to Stick

Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Random House, 2007.

   Excellent book about sticky ideas. Several principles underlaid the advances at the 2008 Rose Town Charrette.

New Rules for the New Economy

Kevin Kelly, Penguin, 1998.

   Considered obsolete by some because it was written before the dot-com bubble burst, it nonetheless contains a number of foundation ideas applicable to what we’re building today.


Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown, 2008.

   Gladwell’s tale of invisible advantages that lead to greatness carries several implications for place-making and sustainability.

Rise of the Creative Class, The

Richard Florida, Basic Books, 2002.

   Florida’s classic work has been trashed a bit recently because places restructuring according to his principles took a beating in the Meltdown. Other places did as well, of course. The core ideas are still sound.

Tipping Point, The

Malcolm Gladwell, Back Bay Books, 2002.

   Classic book that analyzes how trends begin. Contains strong implications for the beginnings of living traditions as well.

Whole New Mind, A

Daniel Pink, Riverhead Books, 2005.

   Pink proposes that the era of left-brained dominance is giving way to an age when the scales tip to the right-brained creatives.

Wisdom of Crowds, The

James Surowiecki, Anchor, 2005.

   Great description of the new collaborative environment that is flourishing outside the walls of “Fort Business.”

World is Flat, The

Thomas L. Friedman, Picador, 2007.

   This important work examines the confluence of a number of trends that have leveled the global playing field between the West and developing nations. Some flattening factors may be disappearing as energy costs increase, but many of the points remain valid.


Environmental Theory

stone wall running through meadow in Dartmoor National Forest, England

   This category includes books on all environmental issues not specifically related to placemaking.

Break Through

Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus, Houghton Mifflin, 2007.

   Pivotal treatise makes the case that today’s environmentalism can’t save the environment.

New Science

green ferns at Southlands, near Vancouver

   This category includes book on emerging sciences such as randomness and new developments in existing scientific disciplines such as quantum physics.


Janine M. Benyus, Harper Perennial, 2002.

   This classic spawned a movement that examines natural processes as inspiration for manmade.

Leadership and the New Science

Margaret J. Wheatley, Berrett Koehler Publishers, 2006.

   Written as a business management tool, this book has the added benefit of deciphering the new sciences for the rest of us in a more plain-spoken fashion than could have previously been imagined for quantum physics, etc. Lots of great cross-discipline insights.


remains of the town center of Waveland, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina

Cradle to Cradle

William McDonough, Michael Braungart, North Point Press, 2002.

   Highly influential; advocates radical expansion of our methods of reusing everything.

Web 2.0

global diagram of the blogosphere

Cluetrain Manifesto, The

Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Perseus Books, 2000.

   The 95 theses in this book underlie much of the thinking that has followed in the years since on Web 2.0.


Seth Godin, Portfolio Hardcover, 2010.

   Greatest rant yet on the end of the Factory Era, where you show up, take orders, and do your job.

Marketing to the Social Web

Larry Weber, Wiley, 2007.

   Superficially about marketing, this book deals more with network-building.

New Influencers, The

Paul Gillin, Quill Driver Books, 2007.

   Contains several living tradition implications.

Organization Man, The

William Whyte, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002 (originally published 1957.)

   Classic book describing conditions of the Era of the Company, the demise of which was largely the result of Web 2.0.


Seth Godin, Portfolio Hardcover, 2008.

   Godin looks at the antithesis of the place-based urban tribe, which is interest-based tribes that may be geographically dispersed. Living tradition implications.

Twitter Power

Joel Comm, Wiley, 2009.

   This is the best Web 2.0 how-to manual I have seen. Clear & concise style, exhaustive content.

Unleashing the Ideavirus

Seth Godin, Hyperion, 2001.

   Godin’s classic lays out the operations of ideas that spread… essential to the development of a living tradition.

Web 2.0: A Stragegy Guide

Amy Shuen, O’Reilly, 2008.

   This wide-ranging overview of the interactive web covers the bases that existed when it was written.

What No One Ever Tells You About Blogging and Podcasting

Ted Demopoulos, Kaplan Publishing, 2007.

   It’s a few years old, but it’s still got lots of highly useful stuff.

   ~Steve Mouzon

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