Design library: Cathedrals, chocolate, and psychoacoustics

Doggerel is always on the lookout for good books about design and the built environment. Below, a structural engineer, an advanced technology and research analyst, and an acoustic consultant, all based in Arup’s New York office, offer a few of their favorites.


Picks from Shaina Saporta:

The Paris Architect
By Charles Belfoure

Set in occupied Paris, this novel tells the story of a French architect who reluctantly helps hide Jews. Belfoure is an architect by trade, and his descriptions of French architecture are incredible. He also captures the thought process behind design and the drive that good designers have to continually top their own work.

The Pillars of the Earth
By Ken Follett

This historical novel set around the construction of a cathedral is a great read for those of us who get excited about flying buttresses, masonry, and design without computers.

The Evolution of Useful Things
By Henry Petroski

Henry Petroski has a pretty impressive catalog of books, all worth a read. My favorite is The Evolution of Useful Things — required reading when I took his class as an undergraduate. Who knew the evolution of the paperclip could be so engaging?


Recommendations from Mark Bowers:

Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World 
By Mark Miodownik

Stuff Matters examines the seemingly mundane world of the materials that surround us, lifting them up with a distracting curiosity. Exploring the incredible properties and hidden secrets of the everyday, from concrete and paper to glass and chocolate, it changed the way I perceive the built environment and the products in it.

Credit: Flickr user Les Chatfield CC by 2.0

Biomimicry in Architecture
By Michael Pawlyn

Having worked with Michael on a number of projects, it is clear to me that his writing captures the true essence of his work and his belief in not only being inspired by nature, but truly mimicking it. This book helps you to look deeper than just imitating form for structural efficiency by delving into the world of true biomimetics.

An Engineer Imagines
By Peter Rice

Like the essays of Ove Arup, Peter’s book strikes a balance between technical writing, philosophy, and poetry, making for a gripping, sometimes emotional read. Aspiring engineers can’t help but be inspired by Peter’s work, making them want to go on to be great designers, showing the same technical precision and contemporary flair that he demonstrated throughout his career.


Books on sound from Anne Guthrie:

The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World
By R. Murray Schafer

This book is the seminal work on soundscaping and the influence of natural and manufactured sounds on our experience in the built environment. Schafer has amassed an incredible amount of data on historical soundscapes (urban and rural), discussing how these environments have changed over the years, for better and worse. He describes how careful listening and design of soundscapes can transform the urban environment.

Ecological Psychoacoustics
Edited by John G. Neuhoff

This collection of writings from a number of authors covers many different aspects of psychoacoustics, with a focus on the shortcomings of laboratory research to truly describe the way humans interact with sound in a complex and multifaceted environment. It addresses how we assign meaning and event structures to sounds and discusses how difficult it is to truly quantify these aspects. It also describes challenges in understanding interactions between sensory modalities (visual and auditory, for example). It reminds designers that because different aspects of the built environment don’t work in isolation, they should focus on shaping a total environment rather than individual elements.

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