Beyond technical design manuals: "wohnen+, von Schwellen, Übergangsräumen und Transparenzen“ (Ulrike Wietzorrek) & "Arhitektonska Komunikacija: objekti kulture u Crnoj Gori / 1945−2000" (Slavica Stamatović Vučković

Building your own “Beyond Architectural Library”


A question I often receive from students, spatial researchers and architectural practitioners, is:


“Is there a book you would recommend, addressing my architectural problem, that could help me with my design/research?”


Of course, the deep “yes” is possible as an answer only when the architectural problem is relatable to the inner personality of the designer. If I do not know the person who is posing the questions, I take time to establish a conversation, so I can propose an appropriate book recommendation.


The No. 1 reason why we all (architects and designers) avoid to be autodidactic – to be our own teachers – is the disconnection from the trust in our own wisdom.


Instead, we are thirsty for “copying” knowledge from external architectural references, while forgetting the beyond-architectural content that constitutes our own creative being.


I want to teach you 3 different methods to target architectural, literary, cinematic and artistic references that correspond to your own character, that is wider than your architectural self.


References that will build your own Beyond Architectural Library.


Method 1: Depart from what you love (passion), not from what must be done (obligation)


What you love, is something wider than your current architectural task. YOU are something deeper than your architectural persona. Generally, it works like this:


  • Your obligation + pressure and fear of rejection → results in meeting the minimum and the plans
  • Your passion + flow and deep interest → results in exceeding expectations and in enriching plans


You would say that the obligation doesn’t look so bad. But in my experience, its hidden negative effects manifest on an unconscious embodied level, and can operate as “silent killers”:


  • Suppressed feelings of anger and anxiety for disassociating from one’s own desires;
  • Mental or physical illness as a consequence of perpetual long-term exhaustion;
  • Emotional outbursts towards your younger colleagues in the transgenerational traumatic cycle of “I suffered a lot, so you must suffer the same way”.


So, whatever you are doing, whatever challenge you are facing in this moment, I urge you to take a breath for a moment and think about what do you really love to do and what are you passionate about?


This is never a cliché question: if you take it seriously, it can be a life-changing discovery. It was life-changing for me, my colleagues and my students, many times, in different critical periods.

Write down the books you love, the films that made you experience meaning and depth, the lived encounters with family members, friends, colleagues and mentors who love and celebrate your talents.

This can be your Beyond Architectural Library.


Your beyond physical mirror, and your beyond practical treasure.


How do you maintain and enrich the “Beyond Architectural Library”?


By asking yourself the following question, for each of its ingredients:


  • How does this book / film / encounter relate to my whole self?
  • Why is this book / film / encounter meaningful to be cherished and explored deeply?
  • How does this book / film / encounter relate to my architectural practice and research?


For example, let’s say you are expected to deliver a design proposal for a sport hall. Rather than going only through the pragmatic sport hall design manuals, you could focus specifically on visualizing the experience of the users, or on exploring the local narratives of the site. And these users – they may not be natives. They can be strangers, tourists whose difference widens your initial perspective of the sport hall into a concert or a conference hall, or a place for touristic explorations. The user does not necessarily need to be a sport person: she can also be a tourist, or a scientist, or a writer, or an accidental passerby – the authors or the characters derived from your favorite novel.


This example assumes you have a deep and passionate knowledge about the book that comes into your mind while reading this; it also means it is time to integrate that passion into your creative practice.


Method 2: Turn Inwards


As much as the Architectural, or Beyond Architectural Library, helps us to integrate different fragments of our intellectual, spiritual, and creative innerness, it can often feel like an overwhelming cage of procrastination.


Harold Bloom uses the term “Anxiety of Influence” to define the psychological struggle of aspiring authors to overcome the anxiety posed by the influence of their antecedents. We often feel this in over-referencing when writing. Or when we are losing ourselves in the research of architectural case studies similar to our design project – when designing.


The way out?


Stop scrolling, googling, and investigating what others did and dive into your own embodied experience.


For example, rather than re-checking all the possible examples and typologies that might be useful for your Housing Design, ask yourself which were the most beautiful home areas that you have experienced with your own senses? What novel did you read, where the atmospheric scenarios of the narrative made your heart warm, excited, or frightened?


There you will find the answers of what should or should not be designed.


Then, go out and immerse into the site. If it is far away, out of your reach, do the research online or do a survey of people who live there. But be aware not to get lost in their stories: translate them and integrate them into your own story of the design project.


Over-researching, over-referencing, over-reading is a beautiful phase but it can often be a procrastinating comfort zone. And it becomes dangerous when you like it too much, when you are enjoying it for too long.


If that is the case, you should move from that point, towards something more reflective, more constructive and more design oriented – rather than enjoyable, or comfortable.


That is where growth happens.


The result?


Once you have moved from research to design drawing, your references will not only gain a design-oriented context: they will be interpreted by your own design language and design approach. They will become meaningful as living characters in the theater of your design solution and your personal design chronology.


And then what?


You will remember the books / the films / the encounters, according to their meaning in your design project.


You will relate to the books / the films / the encounters, as something personal, intimate, and meaningful, as something that not only defines who you are, but as something that clarifies who you want to become.


You will desire the books / films / encounters that you haven’t yet opened, because their unread presence defines what you are planning to conquer, challenge and improve – in your own community.


Method 3: Create your own soft vision of what architecture is


The most compelling architects are humans with an enhanced sensitivity to things of beauty:

  • their design solutions are mindful critique and a constructive transcendence of existing values of the present and past architectural movements.
  • they are compelling precisely because of their manifestation of their whole being. Their architectural language is recognizable for how they elongate the field of the technical, into the field of the human, emotional and spiritual (take for example Steven Holl, Barozzi Veiga, John Hejduk and others).
  • they are not just architects: they are good listeners and courageous place writers.


So, don’t believe anyone who will tell you that “what you are doing is not architecture”.


If you are a researcher, there will always be people who will come to tell you that your research is not true architecture.


If you are an artist, there will always be people who will come to tell you that you should not be approaching architecture so artistically, because that is not “true” architecture.


If you are an educator, there will always be people who will come to tell you that you need to stop teaching, posting and talking, because you need to be designing a “true” architecture before anything else.


My advice to all of you who have experienced such non-constructive critics:


Ignore them and remove yourself from the presence of anyone who does not correspond to your passion and way of creating, and orient yourself towards the presence of the people who support you, celebrate you and are thirsty for your own understanding of your “true” architecture.


Moreover, non-constructive criticism mainly does not have anything to do with you: it is rather a reflection of:

  • critic’s internal insecurities
  • critic’s narcissistic need for humiliating others to elevate one’s own low self-esteem
  • critic’s desperate need for attention by violent ruthlessness, under the mask and pretense of inhuman ‘sincerity’.


I am not saying you should not be taking seriously a valuable critique of your work: I am saying that you need to be intensely attentive and selective regarding to the sources from where the critique is coming from.


Avoid being a parrot, repeating and reproducing mindlessly the »true architecture« principles of your heroes and references.


Avoid being a stubborn bull, closed within your personal vision of “true architecture”.


Rather, “Be light as a bird, not as a feather” (Calvino):


bring softness to your understanding of “true architecture”, and leave it alive, open, and moldable, so it may grow organically, with your new books, design journeys and lived experiences.


When you do this well, you live your own vision of “true architecture”.


Your vision corresponds to yourself.

Your work corresponds to your whole being.

Your art transcends what you love: it provides your community with an authentic perspective, a creative statement on what should be preserved and what should be re-invented.


You become the resistance creator.

You resist unfiltered influence.

You resist, question, and re-evaluate current beliefs in your field.


You are the Builder of your Beyond Architectural Library:

  • the books you have read
  • the books you are re-reading repeatedly
  • the books you are planning to read.


Your Beyond Architectural Library is a reflection, not just on how you see and make architecture, but of how you stand and how you move in your design community.


Summary: A Pragmatic Guide to your Beyond Architectural Library


In summary, building a personalized architectural library can become an overwhelming project, especially if you are often traveling and prefer to have your books in a pdf or Kindle format. We are facing this each few months due to our chosen lifestyle.


However, recognizing and cultivating your passion is a lifelong project, and that is the beauty of it – your Library corresponds to the changes happening in your life.


There will be books that you will take with you on the other side of the ocean.

There will be books that you love but you have to let go of, leaving them in your old home, or giving them away to people who truly need them.

There will be books that you will return to, in another format, or another language, later in your life.


Wherever you are, whatever lifestyle you are living, here are my tips for establishing authentic growth and balance of creational joy in your library:


Step 1: Choose separate BELOVED shells for the books, movies and instruments that relate to something you excel or wish to excel at (drawing, writing, filigree, design, collage, photography).


Step 2: Choose separate NON-ARCHITECTURAL shells for the literary, cinematic, artistic and scientific references that influenced your character, beyond your architectural self.


Step 3: Combine them: choose an ONGOING DESIGN (or ongoing research) shell where you will store the materials (books, drawings, sketches, writings) related to the project you are working on. How do they inform each other? How to they speak to one another?


Step 4: Choose a DESIGN MANUALS shell: when buying such book from the store, be attentive that it contains architectural drawings, not photographs: plans, sections, and details. Avoid over-descriptive manuals: it will save you a lot of time and it will offer you the freedom of visual understanding of the spatial relationships of the building.


Step 5: Create a separate shell for your HOLY OBJECTS, or combine them in different shells.


Step 6: Create a special shell for ARCHITECTURAL WRITINGS by architectural theorists, practitioners, researchers.


Step 7: If PLANTS are planned as part of your bookshelf story, make sure they have enough light, and an appropriate place where watering will not cause damage – to the books or to the plant.


Step 8: Pay special attention to GENTLE LIGHT – avoid aggressive intense lights. Search for soft table lamps that will widen the meaning of the Library as a storage or an exhibition place, into a reading corner with vibrant silence.



That's all for my guide on building your personal Beyond-Architectural Library.

I'll be updating this throughout 2023.

Thanks for reading.


Beyond technical design manuals: "wohnen+, von Schwellen, Übergangsräumen und Transparenzen“ (Ulrike Wietzorrek) & "Arhitektonska Komunikacija: objekti kulture u Crnoj Gori / 1945−2000" (Slavica Stamatović Vučković

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