Unpacking My Library

Unpacking My Library

By Aaron Britt
I just got a wonderful new book in the mail today concerning famous archtiects and their personal collections of books. Unpacking My Library: Architects and their Books is due out from Yale University Press and the Urban Center Books later this month, and it will make ideal reading, or a solid stocking stuffer, for design geeks and bibliophiles alike.

An investigation into what a handful of architecture's leading lights' personal libraries, Unpacking My Library seeks to understand how what we read effects what we make. The book spends much of its time devoted to short interviews and showing photos of the bookshelves of architects such as Liz Diller and Ric Scofidio, Bernard Tschumi, Peter Eisenman, Henry Cobb, Steven Holl and Michael Graves.

Architect Peter Eisenman reclines at home surrounded by his 1,000-book library of his own design.

In addition to an interview with each designer--sadly these little chats veer into inscrutably acadamic arch-speak--we get a top ten favorite book list. It's fascinating to see which books crop up more than once--Pynchon, Borges, Faulkner and Joyce lead the fiction pack while Le Corbusier and Robert Venturi are the preferred architectural theorists. Perhaps the most surprising repetition was Denis Diderot's Encyclopdeia, favored by Toshiko Mori and Michael Graves.

Here's a detail of Liz Diller and Ric Socfidio's bookshelves in their offices, which contains a library of some 4,000 volumes.

The real winner of the favorite books sweepstakes however, is (ugh!) Continental philosophy. The long arms of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin and Gilles Deleuze are all over these pages, and apparently the minds, of the architects assembled here. Though I suppose it's no real shock considering most of these architects were getting their educations in the late 60s and early 70s, it certainly does explain the poverty of decent archtiectual prose coming from the discipline's great practitioners.

Architect Steven Holl's library contains about 3,500 books and was manufactured by Knossos on a sketch and series of proportions by Holl himself.

Tod Williams and Billie Tsien were the only designers here who omitted architectural and aesthetic theory altogether in favor of the likes of MFK Fisher, Annie Dillard, Vladimir Nabokov, Joan Didion and Virginia Woolf. Turns out if you want to be an architect you'd better pick up To the Lighthouse. Though in my view, if you want to be much of anything at all you'd better pick up To the Lighthouse.


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