The Best Architecture Books for Your Coffee Table

Explore modern and historical architectural marvels from around the world.

By Ana Chevalier | Updated Dec 29, 2020 3:44 PM

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Best Architecture Books

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Few aspects of our lives say more about who we are than the buildings we build to live and work within. Modern architecture is at the most diverse and rule-breaking period in history. The historical houses of America’s yesteryear bore a fair amount of similarity to one another. But across the globe today, no style is dominant.

The iconic foursquare houses that have been so ubiquitous throughout America are still constructed every day. But so are many nontraditional designs like shipping container houses, straw-bale houses, or the fusion of Neo-Baroque with glass pyramids like the Louvre in Paris, to name a few.

Exploring the world of architecture can be a fascinating and rewarding journey. Architecture coffee table books combine compelling imagery and background text to inform your perspective, with engaging cover designs that can add to home decor. The following titles are among the best architecture books for learning and display.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Architecture: A Visual History
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Micro Living: 40 Innovative Tiny Houses
  3. BEST MODERN ARCHITECTURE: Off the Grid: Houses for Escape
  4. BEST ON AMERICAN HOMES: Frank Lloyd Wright: The Houses
  5. BEST ARCHITECTURAL PHOTO: Sacred Spaces
Best Architecture Books

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What to Consider When Choosing the Best Architecture Books

Style and art are subjective, but gravity is utterly unforgiving. While there are artistic and design styles that become synonymous with a culture or period, the popular reaction to a building and the ability for that structure to endure time and weather are the most telling factors to gauge its significance. Here are some considerations to help in your search for the best architecture books.

Author Expertise

Authorities in architecture achieve their high standing in one of two ways: by graduating from an academic institution and working in that field as an architect or by peer acclaim. An architect must be licensed by the state and is subject to a host of laws and regulations. But some authorities have studied the architecture and achieved respect from their peers, without having ever designed a building themselves.

Like an art historian, one doesn’t have to be a painter themselves to know what works and what does not. Experts on architecture who have been featured on television programs, in magazines, or widely published are thoroughly vetted for their understanding and credentials.

If author expertise is a priority for you, be sure to read the biography of authors, photographers, and contributors provided by the publisher. Alternatively, you can do your own research on their backgrounds in architecture.

Publication Date

If you want to discover the latest architectural trends, you have to seek out the latest publications. But that’s not necessarily what everybody wants. Some people want to explore the architectural eras of the past, and the historical and cultural elements that shaped them.

If you’re interested in the architecture of a past time period, a recent publication date may not be as important. Some of the best books on historical architecture remain prominent for years. However, keep in mind that the images included in these titles may not be as clear, depending on the age of the book.

By contrast, modern architecture is constantly evolving, so recent publications are often more suitable. If you’re interested in architecture that involves advanced technology, such as self-sustaining homes, a book published 5 years ago would be considered outdated.

Visuals and Text

Coffee table books focus on imagery including photographs, illustrations, and building plans, with some titles containing more text than others. Consider whether you prefer a book that contains mostly architecture visuals or a mix of visuals and informative text.

Most publishers specify how many illustrations or photographs are included and the number of pages; compare the two to get a sense of how the book balances images and text.

Architecture Subjects

The world of architecture touches almost all facets of our lives, and the buildings we live and work in reflect the minute aspects of who we are. As such, the subjects of architecture books vary widely. These books can include one or more of the following subjects:

  • Residential architecture involves the art and techniques of designing and building homes, featuring topics like interior design and building styles such as Craftsman, Mid-Century Modern, Victorian, and Contemporary.
  • Commercial architecture deals with public spaces and buildings used for commercial purposes, such as office towers, museums, hotels, and airports. Books often feature building styles like Art Deco, Greek Revival, and Postmodern, and may also discuss technical concepts like structural integrity and building codes.
  • Sustainable architecture focuses on creating environmentally-friendly and energy efficient structures, featuring modern issues like climate change and conservation. Sustainable architecture books often showcase experimental designs and new technologies.
  • Landscape architecture involves the design and development of outdoor spaces such as private and public gardens, parks, and squares. Books include topics like gardening, climate, and sustainability. Landscape architecture books sometimes overlap with other architectural realms, like commercial and residential.
  • Vernacular architecture is characterized by local needs, materials, and traditions, and often does not involve a professional architect. Books often feature the use of natural materials, DIY design and construction, climate, and culture.
  • Religious architecture deals with the design and construction of sacred spaces or places of worship such as churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples, often in a cultural or historical context. These books may focus on structures associated with specific religions or spiritual beliefs, or a combination of varied sacral spaces.
  • Architectural history involves structures of the past, most commonly commercial, residential, and religious architecture. These books focus on historical periods like the Middle Ages, specific cultural periods like Classical Greece, or outline architectural history across eras.

Within these general subjects, some authors choose to focus on one notable figure, architectural firm, or school of architecture. Other titles feature multiple architects, often connected by a specific time period or design movement.

Our Top Picks

These top picks consider author credentials, publication date, and relevance of the subject matter. These titles are among the best architecture books to accentuate your coffee table.

Best Overall

Best Architecture Books

Explore the decorative features, principal elements, and the beautiful details of dozens of globally significant architectural structures including Machu Picchu, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Colosseum, Burj Khalifa, the Gherkin, and the Sydney Opera House.

The richly illustrated text offers a worldwide look at historical and contemporary buildings through stunning photographs and intriguing computer-generated cross-sections to enhance your understanding. See why certain design elements were common in specific eras and how these fantastic buildings have stood the test of time.

Architecture: A Visual History (2017) offers a captivating journey through time for those interested in our world’s most wondrous buildings. The author, Jonathan Glancey, is an architecture and design editor for The Guardian and an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Best Bang for the Buck

The Best Architecture Books Option: Micro Living: 40 Innovative Tiny Houses
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Derek Diedricksen profiles 40 tiny homes and reveals what it’s like to inhabit 400 square feet or less, alongside detailed photography and floor plans for each structure. Micro Living: 40 Innovative Tiny Houses (2018) highlights space-saving design ideas along with useful details on heating, electric, cooling, and plumbing systems. The real-life stories of residents tell the pleasures, as well as the challenges, of daily living in a very small space.

With tips and tricks on what to consider before you start building, including framing plans for a prototype tiny cabin, Micro Living is a great introduction to a whole architectural microcosm. Diedricksen is an established author of numerous tiny home books, and has been featured on multiple HGTV series and the DIY Network.

Best Modern Architecture

Best Architecture Books

Dominic Bradbury’s captivating photographic collection combines multiple facets of modern architecture: sustainable living, cutting-edge technology, and the escapism many of us dream of. Off the Grid: Houses for Escape (2019) reveals some of the world’s most innovative homes surrounded by extraordinary natural environments—from snow-covered cabins in the Northern Hemisphere to coastal retreats accessible only by boat, to remote locations of the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

Off the Grid reveals the fascinating eco-architecture of these enchanting and secluded retreats; how architects rise to the challenges imposed by extreme climates, remoteness, and sustainability through experimental design and advanced technology. Through 400 stunning color illustrations, readers are transported across the globe to explore new and exciting ways of life.

Dominic Bradbury is a journalist and established author who specializes in architecture and design. Bradbury writes for numerous prominent publications including World of Interiors, House & Garden, and Vogue Living and has several published works.

Best on American Homes

The Best Architecture Books Option: Frank Lloyd Wright: The Houses
Photo: amazon.com

The architectural works of Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) are among the most influential designs of the 20th century. His creative period spanned 70 years and over 1,000 structures that defined architectural movements of his era. Wright is celebrated as one of the founders of organic architecture, a philosophy centered around structural design that connects humanity and its environment.

Frank Lloyd Wright: The Houses showcases all 289 of his residential designs in exquisite color photographs. The photos taken by architectural photographer Alan Weintraub are interposed with a selection of floor plans and archival images, as well as text and essays by leading Wright scholars. This insightful, thoroughly engaging text takes readers through the designs that define the American homes of the 20th century, concepts that endure in modern residential structures.

Best Architectural Photo

The Best Architecture Books Option: Sacred Spaces
Photo: amazon.com

Religious buildings represent some of the most significant architectural achievements throughout history. Among them are magnificent Christian churches, enchanting structures designed to evoke wonder. Sacred Spaces: The Awe-Inspiring Architecture of Churches and Cathedrals (2018) takes readers on a tour of extraordinary religious landmarks and the architectural and cultural history behind them in breathtaking original photographs.

Sacred Spaces illuminates some of the most beautiful and imposing structures on earth, such as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Notre-Dame in Paris, and la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Centuries-old Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches, Roman, Gothic, Baroque, and modern structures are richly conveyed through imagery by acclaimed photographer Guillaume de Laubier and insightful text by Jacques Bosser.

Guillaume de Laubier specializes in architecture, interior design, decor, and lifestyle photography. His work is featured in numerous publications including Elle Decoration and Vogue. Jacques Bosser is a journalist and author of numerous books on architecture, design, and photography.

FAQs About Your New Architecture Books

The topic of architecture is based on an ancient and vast field of knowledge. This guide includes answers to common questions regarding architecture and architectural style.

Q. What is the difference between design and architecture?

In simplest terms, architecture deals with the overall concept of the building, and design deals with the finite details in addition to the overall structure. In terms of architects versus designers, the former is a licensed position, whereas designers are not regulated.

Q. What is the style of architecture today?

Contemporary, 21st-century architecture has no dominant style. It varies greatly throughout the world.

Q. How many styles of architecture are there?

There are countless architectural styles and sub-styles throughout history, associated with design movements, schools of architecture, religions, locations, and time periods.