Reading List

…that has informed and influenced thinking toward design…


The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander

Identifying patterns, relationships and designs that work and bring a building together as a whole.


How Buildings Learn by Steward Brand

The adaptability of buildings over time – a look at the building not just as a space but what happens over its life evolving to fit different times, different technologies and different needs.


The Old Way of Seeing  by Jonathan Hale

An attack on contemporary design for its lack of harmony, contrast, tension and scale relative to builders of an earlier age. “Architecture is the play of patterns derived from nature and ourselves”, and today’s buildings lack that intuitive sense.


Thermal Delight in Architecture by Lisa Heschong

An exploration into our association with thermal qualities, and how we use and are stimulated by them. It advocates more natural methods of heating and cooling in our built spaces in contrast to the high energy-consuming mechanisms that produce sterile and unfulfilling environments.


The Simple House by Sarah Nettleton

The Not So Big House by Susan Susanka

Both Nettleton and Susanka respond to the perception that bigger is better, in contrast to the belief that more fulfillment can come from better design at smaller scale – quality over quantity. While these commentaries focus on the living and cost efficiencies of smaller homes, the broader implications of a smaller carbon footprint, etc., have now become all too evident.



The Regional City: Planning for the End of Sprawl by Peter Calthorpe, et al.

Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Andres Duanay, et al.

Both Calthorpe’s and Duany’s work gave rise to New Urbanism as a response to the effects of suburban sprawl with potential design solutions. Good in their identification of the problems but not convinced by their solutions.


Monocultures and Multiculturalism by Thomas Fisher

Ecology as a means to encourage greater diversity in our communities through small, incremental evolution assisted by design.


This Land by Anthony Flint

More thoughts on sprawl and where we are going as communities and as a society.


The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

The classic work which challenges the success of centralized city planning by focusing on the vibrant and diverse neighborhoods which evolve organically and naturally.  Can we apply these concepts to the small towns of America?


Hot Towns: The Future of the Fastest Growing Communities in America by Peter Wolf

An analysis of what Wolf terms The Fifth Migration which is reinvigorating small communities both economically and socially across America.


Business, Society, Sustainability

The Company We Keep: Reinventing Small Business for People, Community and Place by John Abrams

A biography of a design/ build firm and how it integrates its work, its people and its ideas into a community to achieve common goals and objectives for the better of the whole.


The Soul of Capitalism by William Greider

Recognizing that capitalism has produced enormous advancement to societies over the centuries, this work looks at ways to keep it relevant, moral and beneficial to all in an age where wealth disparity becomes more pronounced to the extent that it threatens the system.


Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution by Paul Hawken, et al.

Putting a cost on the effects of industrialized capitalism on our environment and society, and offering ideas to mitigate these problems to create a better living environment going forward.


Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough

Solutions to the waste of our resources in our consumption and ideas to mitigate the polluting effects of the way in which we dispose of our products as we have evolved into a disposable society.


Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E. F. Schumacher

An early analysis that stresses the need to build our economies around our communities rather than for the benefit of large corporations, to provide scale, control and fulfillment in all of our lives over the way we live and work.

Broader Thinking

…older classics that still resonate with our heritage combined with contemporary works that inspire values as to how we live, work and play.

The National Experience, The Democratic Experience, The Creators and Cleopatra’s Nose by Daniel J. Boorstin

A variety of essays from the thinking of Jefferson to the Japanese use of wood to the emergence of the skyscraper as part of the American vernacular.


Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade of America by Douglas G. Brinkley

An inspirational study of the man as a conservationist and environmentalist, both deeply knowledgeable and well ahead of his time. A long book that moves quickly given the cast of fascinating characters and the great telling of the story. Provides a good sense of how important Roosevelt was in changing the course of American thinking toward conservation.


The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin

Ostensibly, Chatwin tracks the ancient spiritual pathways – the songlines – across Australia as part of the religious nomadic rituals that connect the indigenous Aboriginals to their land and their heritage. However, it transcends into a deeper and more broad question about man, and where we have been and where we are going as part of our universe/ environment.


Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford

Crawford says “Many people are trying to recover a field of vision that is basically human in scale, and extricate themselves from the dependence on the obscure forces of a global economy.” Using craft, or the “trades”, as a basis for regaining our independence in a society that has been increasingly “dumbed down”, we can restore our sense of self-esteem in the way we live and work.


“Nature” and other essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The initial basis of the transcendental movement linking individual spiritualism to the natural environment. Good to reflect today where this spiritualism sits with us in the way we live and the way we design.


The Birth of the Modern by Paul Johnson

A comprehensive study of the fifteen years following the Napoleonic Wars when the world could devote its economic energy and resources to develop the modern world as we know it today – from politics and diplomacy, to literature and poetry, to the arts and architecture.


The First Beautiful Game: Stories of Obsession in Real Tennis by Roman Kzrnaric

Played on an indoor court resembling the courtyard of a medieval monestary, the ancient and original game of tennis (court tennis in the US) is a game of complex geometry and infinite possibilities of spins, angles and strokes. It is a game that defies the standard with its variety and uniqueness. Krznaric relates it to his own quest on the “art of living”, and finds parallels with green woodworking, gardening, and the Zen-like ability to clear the mind to focus on the detail.


The Wilderness World of John Muir, ed. Edwin Way Teale

A selection of Muir’s writings through various periods of his life. Provides an inspirational sense of the majesty Muir felt about the backcountry and Sierra Nevadas that permeates today in the way we look at our natural environment.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

The subtitle, “An Inquiry into Values”, defines the basis of this philosophical exploration that seeks truth and quality in life, inevitably driving the author toward insanity. Much of his argument ties back to the Greeks, and seeks to distinguish between the romantic and the rational – a variation of form vs. function in the broader context.


Wooden Boats: In Pursuit of the Perfect Craft at an American Boat Yard by Michael Ruhlman

An in-depth look at the passion and art of wooden boat building at a yard on Martha’s Vineyard, conceived and epitomized by its two purist founders. It inspires a move away from viewing the world in the traditional macro sense toward focusing on the micro details that complete and add beauty to a project.


Walden and The River by Henry David Thoreau

The River is a collection of Thoreau’s writings on his observations and ramblings about the Concord, Sudbury and Merrimac Rivers over the course of the seasons. Cleverly reset as to read as a calender narrative for each month of the year. Connects us with this natural setting between man and water. Good sketches, too.


Lincoln at Gettysburg by Gary Wills

A fresh look at the Gettysburg Address and how its unique formation was influenced by the Greek Revival and Transcendental movements of the time so that it spoke of the unique American values in the most abstract yet concise manner. These movements formed the basis for the design of Mt. Auburn Cemetary as an urban sanctuary and, eventually, the cemetary at Gettysburg.


Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation: Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf

A unique look at the obsession with agriculture, gardens and their designs amongst the founding fathers, and how this influenced the early evolution of the American constitution and government, defining in part our agrarian roots.