Top books for design-lovers

As a companion to our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide, here are our picks for the top books to add to the shelves of architects and other design-lovers this year.

Relevant history

Modern Architecture and Climate: Design Before Air Conditioning

This volume dives into modernist architects’ attempts to create climate-sensitive buildings from the 1930s to the 1960s, before the widespread adoption of mechanized air-conditioning. Its lessons are especially relevant now, as architects seek to radically lower the energy consumption of buildings in response to the climate crisis.
Read our review here

Race and Modern Architecture

This timely collection dives into the intermeshed histories of systemic racism and modern architecture, spanning from the 18th century to the present. It’s decidedly academic, and is uncomfortable—but it’s essential reading for students and practitioners seeking to understand how racial injustice plays out in contemporary cities.
Read our review here



Modern Canadian Architecture, 1967 to the present

Co-edited by Canadian Architect’s Elsa Lam, this volume takes a comprehensive view of work in the past half-century. 15 specially commissioned essays look at topics including First Nations design, mega-structures and high-tech architecture, and the country’s monumental Centennial year projects – including the epic Expo 67.

Nuts & Bolts

Tall Wood Buildings: Design, Construction and Performance

The second edition of Michael Green and Jim Taggart’s Tall Wood Buildings is a valuable primer on mass timber structures. The well-illustrated volume focuses on 18 case studies (augmented from 13 in an earlier edition), grouped by structural systems and accompanied by photos and key details.

Read our review here


Designing a World-Class Architecture Firm

Former CEO Patrick MacLeamy chronicles the business strategy behind US mega-firm HOK.  The book offers valuable insight applicable to increasing the value and relevance of design firms—both large and small.
Read our review here

Travel Bug

The Kitchen

In search of the perfect kitchen design, Toronto architect John Ota travels across North America looking at historic kitchens and trying his hand at cooking in them. His journeys include trips to the kitchens of Frank Lloyd Wright, Julia Child, and Elvis Presley, and remind us of the importance of domestic culinary spaces.
Read our review here



Photographer Amanda Large’s striking images of Toronto’s modernist churches are a testimony to the growth of faith communities (and remarkable architecture) in the mid-century city. For this book, Large documented 50 modernist churches using a 50 mm lens. Read about her project here, and purchase the book here.


Wallpaper* City Guide: Vancouver

The fourth edition of Wallpaper*’s Vancouver City Guide includes a new chapter on art and design, featuring the city’s top galleries and cutting-edge studios. Order directly from the author for an autographed copy of the guide.


Material and non-material musings

Concrete: From Ancient Origins to a Problematic Future

Written for the general reader, this book by Montreal’s Mary Soderstrom considers concrete from its history to its current production. Of especial interest to designers is Soderstrom’s deep dive into the material’s troubling carbon emissions—and the prospects for developing lower-carbon concrete and other design-based solutions.
Read an excerpt here

The Empty Room

Toronto architect Reza Aliabadi’s pocket-sized manifesto explores the idea of emptiness as the essence of architecture. It’s interspersed with quotes on space carefully selected from architects and philosophers alike. This is the kind of book that can be read quickly, but its ideas are sure to linger.
Read our review here

Kids’ Stuff

The Golden Boy in the Case of the Missing Cube

Published by the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation, this book follows the adventures of Golden Boy—the figure at the top of Manitoba’s Legislative Assembly building—when he discovers that his friend, the 5468796-design Cube, has gone missing. Bilingual in French and English, with illustrations reminiscent of the colourful exuberance of the Barbapapa family.

Support Canadian community businesses by purchasing these books directly from their authors, or ordering them through your local quality bookseller.