Reading List

List Author

Tyler Sprague

University of Washington

Architecture and Structural Engineering

Architecture and structural engineering are essential disciplines in the production of an effective built environment. Throughout history, these two separate yet unified practices have collectively defined much of the spatial conditions and urban forms of cities and buildings across the globe. Structural engineering – as the force-resisting assembly of materials and forms – has played a central role in the development of architectural forms, from post-and-beam, to arch, flying buttress and beyond. Conversely, architectural inspiration – for height, light, space, discourse, or a variety of other motivations – has driven technological change, inspiring engineering-based solutions appropriate to social and cultural demands.

The challenge of assembling this reading list is including texts which both recognize the distinct character of each practice, and the common ground in which they operate. Some recall the pre-modern days of the ‘master builder,’ in which architecture and engineering were unified in a singular individual, with still important lessons for today. Others address modern times, where the disciplines often maintain their own narratives in published texts, with largely separate pedagogical traditions and professional cultures (with some exceptions). Yet, as it is clear that the common goals of these disciplines continue to drive change in the built environment, other texts speak directly to their collaboration – or more broadly, to a hybrid practice of architectural and engineering thinking.

In a specifically project-based view, these disciplines are represented by individual people, with distinct roles to play. This makes the engagement between architecture and engineering highly relational and different on each project. The most fruitful collaborations come from deeply personal connections between an architect and an engineer – at times friendly and supportive, other times combative and confrontational. As ambitious individuals, it is not surprising that this relationship can become an implicit competition for influence or authorship. With projects particularly grand in scale or complexity, texts that describe this interaction are crucial to understanding a project’s eventual success or shortcomings.

With such a multifaceted, complex topic, there can be no definitive text. Rather, such definition can only emerge from multiple efforts to describe its presence, influence, and impact. Importantly, this reading list does not include texts that are only relevant to each respective field (as interesting as they may be), nor does it include textbooks for the teaching of structures in an architectural setting (though some may be useful references). Rather, these are texts that are interested in the broader questions about the relationships between architecture and engineering, and the specific execution of well-known works. The books about or authored by engineers are always within the context of architecture. They effectively create their own narratives separate from architectural ones, but are also distinct from the strictly experimentally-derived, material science-based themes of engineering literature. With compelling themes, technologies and personalities, these texts can serve as a launching point for interested readers on to their own path of exploration.

[Image: Ukranian House, International Convention Center, by Oleksandr Burlaka.]


  • Why Buildings Stand Up: The Strength of Architecture

    W. W. Norton

    This text is a product of Salvadori’s important position as both design engineer and professor from the 1960s through to the 1990s. With chapters both describing structural behaviors (Loads, Materials, Beams…) and large projects (Eiffel Tower, Brooklyn Bridge…), Salvadori aims to link the two, and provide a structural rational for various works. The hand-sketched diagrams provide simple but effective descriptions that complement the text well. The last chapter, ‘The Message of Structure,’ provides Salvadori’s ruminations on the role of structure in architecture, and their communication of meaning through aesthetics and technology.

  • The Tower and the Bridge: The New Art of Structural Engineering

    Princeton University Press

    This is the signature text of Billington’s unique take on the role of structural engineering in the history of the built environment. By separating creative structural design (described as ‘structural art’) from architecture, certain narratives emerge and others are suppressed. Undoubtedly, this text and Billington’s teaching at Princeton has done much to advance a broader appreciation of artful structural design, as a parallel or compliment to architecture.

  • French Architects and Engineers in the Age of Enlightenment

    Cambridge University Press

    This is an essential historical text for describing the cultural separation of the modern architect and engineer. The emergent dialogue between the professions at this early point in their histories still encapsulates much of the debates that persist today. Picon’s text is useful for understanding some of the underlying conceptual distinctions between fields – including themes from art and science, interpretation versus precision, and subjectivity and objectivity.

  • Developments in Structural Form


    Mainstone provides a progression through architectural history through the lens of structural design. By first describing the underlying structural actions, Mainstone establishes a basis for his historical analysis and draws compelling conclusions, making this is a useful text for structural engineering history courses. In addition, dividing the text into parts – Introduction (including Structural Actions), Structural Elements, Complete Structures, and Design – allows readers to read sections according to their backgrounds.

  • Conceptual Structural Design: Bridging the Gap Between Architects and Engineers

    ICE Publishing

    A compact text divided into two parts - theoretical beginning section and exemplary case studies. The case studies are particularly compelling as specific examples of collaboration and shared authorship – with direct quotes by the architect and engineer design teams (including the notable architect Sara Wigglesworth and structural engineer Jane Wernick).

  • Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down

    The Folio Society

    A thoughtful, nearly philosophical consideration of the most basic structural behaviors – bending, tension, torsion – and the deeper implications they have for our understanding of material and how they are used. The introductory chapter, ‘The structures in our lives, or, how to communicate with engineers’ poetically links structure to its physical/natural/biological/intuitive bases. Interspersed with historical and literary quotes, the texts describing the persistent role that structural materials and forms have played in both simple machines and large-scale architecture.

  • Architect and Engineer: A Study in Sibling Rivalry

    Yale University Press

    Saint provides a broad, sizable survey of the linkages between the professions, as seen through national traditions, materials, and actual execution of significant built projects. Providing a chronology from 1660 to the 1990s, Saint showcases the resolution of design issues as inherently personal, contextual and interdisciplinary, despite the persistent tensions that exist between actors. Each project exists at a specific moment in time, and such conditions drive the interactions between architect and engineer – technologically and culturally.

  • The Structural Basis of Architecture


    Claiming structures as a fundamental basis for architecture, this text uses clearly organized chapters to separate and discuss discrete structural elements (e.g. The Frame, The Truss, The Dome…). However, within each chapter, the discussion is more architectural and spatial, complimented by a selection of photos and diagrams. The text also includes cursory, descriptive equations and calculations for each section, yet these are more useful for reference to the underlying engineering methods than for application to problem-solving.

  • Shell Structures for Architecture: Form-Finding and Optimization


    This book provides an in-depth look into a single, yet particularly compelling structural phenomena: shell structures and their behavior. With multiple editors and multiple authors of articles within, it presents many different voices on the particular way that the structural behavior of shells can be unified with their architectural form. Though more technical than other texts, it maintains a broader perspective with good introductory essays.

  • Collaborations in Architecture and Engineering


    In this text, the authors focus on the mechanics of teamwork amongst interdisciplinary partners, with architects and engineers as emblematic of this challenge. The text provides good organizational strategies, though its case studies are hampered by limited images and illustrations.

  • Structure as Architecture: A Source Book for Architects and Structural Engineers


    This text provides specific discussion of the role that structural design plays in architecture, through chapters on Building Exterior, Function, Interior, Detailing, and Light, as well as other more abstract topics, like Expression and Quality. Well-illustrated with images of spaces, structures, and details, Charelson’s text finds a common language for both professions. Rather than describe complete works, this book provides leading ideas for different design directions.


  • 18 Years with Architect Louis I. Kahn


    With Kahn’s status mythologized within architectural history, Komendant provides an alternative reading of Kahn’s signature projects (Richard’s Medical Labs, Kimbell Art Museum, and others) through his own telling of his structural design contributions. Stopping just short of claiming authorship, Komendant places himself in a central role in both the conception and execution of these projects. Despite a rather tumultuous relationship, Kahn and Komendant certainly shared an appreciation for the integration of structure and space.

  • Movement, Structure and the Work of Santiago Calatrava


    An early text on Calatrava’s work, this book describes his origins in both Spanish and Swiss traditions of architecture and engineering. Sculpture, sketch, and structure become one, guided by Calatrava’s themes of movement, flow, and wonder. Working in a hybrid realm inclusive of both fields, Calatrava exemplifies the opportunities and challenges of one person doing both jobs at once.

  • An Engineer Imagines

    Watson-Guptill Publications

    In this autobiography, structural engineer Peter Rice describes his work with Renzo Piano, Jean Prouve, and others as an inherently poetic exercise. Unencumbered by the technical demands of structural engineering, Rice transcends the necessary calculations and takes his work into the realm of pattern, form, shape, style, and material. With many small diagrams, illustrations, technical details, and images, Rice reminds that structural engineering in architecture is aesthetic, temporal, and public.

  • Informal


    Balmond’s unique approach to structure – shown through his work at ARUP - is described in theoretical detail, giving his structural designs some conceptual grounding. Bamond’s tension with architectural theory (and his architectural collaborators like Rem Koolhaas) underlies the writing and makes for a compelling read.

  • Engineering Architecture: The Vision of Fazlur Khan

    W. W. Norton

    Fazlur Khan, who worked at Skidmore Owings and Merrill, was an essential leader in the design of tall buildings in the post-war era. While the Chicago John Hancock Center and the Sears Tower/Willis Tower are emblematic of his undeniable structural exploration and influence, this text (written by his daughter) reveals Khan’s personal side, as inextricable from his technical invention. Khan’s early life in present day Bangladesh, education, and collaboration with partners within SOM (like Bruce Graham), reminds us that emphasizing the personal, human side of structural engineers remains important.

  • Ove Arup: Master Builder of the 20th Century

    Yale University Press

    Ove Arup is a central figure in the transition from post-war Modernism to contemporary practice. Arup’s early work as a structural engineer on the Sydney Opera House ushered in digital computation as an engineering tool necessary to address the expanding complexity of architectural ambitions. Arup’s firm (ARUP) continues to be a global leader in architectural and engineering collaborations. This biography places Arup in his historical context, and shows how he paved the way for much of the collaborative practice that takes place today.

  • Félix Candela: Engineer, Builder, Structural Artist

    Yale University Press

    As stated previously, shell structures require a unique integration of structural form and architectural space, and Candela was one of the most prolific designer of thin shell concrete structures in the post-war era. Though he commonly worked with architects, this text describes Candela’s own design aesthetic and ethos well, as including construction practicalities, structural analysis, and spatial conditions. Though the division between structural art and architecture is problematic at times, Candela certainly created iconic built works through a hybrid understanding of structural engineering and architecture.

  • Reading Structures: 39 Projects and Built Works, 1983-2011.

    Lars Müller

    Nordenson, reflecting on his remarkable career working with significant architects, describes how his structural designs contributed to the realization of complex projects. By thoughtfully asserting authorship, Nordenson is able to place himself on equal standing with the architects he works with – as a true collaborator, rather than consultant. Wonderfully illustrated, this text as reinforces the reality that even though architects and engineers maintain different perspectives and methods, the materials, forms and spaces of their practice is largely the same.

  • The Structure of Design: An Engineer's Extraordinary Life in Architecture

    Monacelli Press

    Far more autobiographical than most texts included here, Robertson recounts his own early history before describing the close working relationships he forged with many prominent architects from the 1960s through to the 2000s. These relationships, often developing into personal friendships, enabled Robertson impact large-scale architectural projects with his significant engineering innovations.

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