P*DA x library@orchard: Rene Tan’s Favourite Books

My Favourite Books: Mr Rene Tan, recipient of President’s Design Award 2016

This is a bimonthly series of book recommendations by President*s Design Award recipients, brought to you by DesignSingapore Council, Urban Redevelopment Authority and library@orchard.

Born in Malaysia, Rene Tan earned his Bachelor of Arts in Music and Architecture from Yale, and his Master of Architecture from Princeton. His training in music, in particular, has been a potent influence in the way he approaches architecture at RT+Q, the firm he co-founded with T. K. Quek in 2003. Rene also serves as external school examiner and juror for the World Architecture Festival; he speaks at architectural symposiums, and has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, Syracuse University, and Hong Kong University. Here, he recommends three of his favourite books:

Ten Books on Architecture

Author: Vitruvius
Publisher: Dover Publications, 1960
Location: Not available from public libraries

This canonical book is a must for anyone interested in architecture – from students, to scholars, to professionals. Written in Latin between 30 – 15 BC for the Roman emperor Augustus, Ten Books is regarded as the first treatise on architecture. Its breadth and depth addresses all aspects of design, from town planning to building materials. It describes principles of design that are still relevant today. Its ideas on proportions, for instance, influenced the great minds of the Renaissance, like Leonardo da Vinci, who in turn gave us the famed ‘Vitruvian Man’. Perhaps most notable amongst the books’ lessons is the Vitruvian triad of Firmitas, Utilitas and Venustas that reminds designers that good architecture must be strong, practical and beautiful.

Towards a New Architecture

Author: Le Corbusier
Location: Reference Art (Lee Kong Chian Reference Library Level 8)
Call no.: English 720 LEC

This polemical 1923 book transcends the idea of design itself. It has been said that all architecture before and after Le Corbusier are merely prefaces and footnotes. Arguably the most important architect of the 20th century, Le Corbusier wrote many books on architecture and design. A compilation of design essays, Towards a New Architecture is a manifesto that urges architects to look beyond the confines of their profession and to embrace advances in other fields like engineering. The book argues that to advance, architecture must see past the confining dogmas of the past. It is a message that opens up the eyes and liberates the mind. In praising the advent of early 20th-century technology, it proclaims that “the house is a machine for living in”. It is an ambitious book that discusses wide-ranging topics from Greek temples to aeroplanes and automobiles. Its unorthodox message is often confounding, its language probably nebulous in translation. It is a book that both confuses and rewards.

Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture

Author: Robert Venturi
Location: Adult Lending
Call no.: 720.1 VEN

A most revolutionary book, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture discusses design beyond the rigours and dogmas of modernism. A product of Venturi’s sojourn in Rome, this 1966 book is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. It urges one to look beyond academic-oriented architecture and, instead, to embrace the unteachable realities of the built world. As the title and some chapters (e.g. “Non-straightforward Architecture”, “Ambiguity”, etc) suggest, architecture can benefit from the vagaries of customs and the accidents of time. Lavishly illustrated, the book draws on lessons from Italy and ends with Venturi’s own early works, where he explains, through prose and graphics, his own design thinking process. This book must be part of any self-respecting architect’s reading list.

The librarians from library@orchard also recommend these titles­:

Here are two books that explore innovative and interdisciplinary approaches towards architecture that readers may also find interesting.

Talking Architecture: Interviews with Architects

Author: Hanno Rauterberg
Location: 720.922 RAU
Call no.: People Design, Portfolios

This book presents a series of interviews with some of the world’s best-known contemporary architects and how they are shaping the built environment we live in. Read about the inspirations behind some of their projects, their philosophies, and their aspirations for architecture and its future.


Author: Geoff Manaugh
Location: Space Design, Architecture
Call no.: English 720 MAN

The BLDGBLOG Book explores speculation about architecture, landscape, and the built environment. Drawing from eclectic sources such news reports, history, science fiction, and city planning blueprints, author Geogg Manaugh explores four themes in this book: the urban underground, climate change, architectural acoustics, and future landscapes. Packed with interviews and anecdotes, this book reinvents the future possibilities of architecture, demonstrating that architecture is not just limited to buildings.

The recommended titles are available from library@orchard and other public libraries, unless otherwise stated.



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