The Library of Classical Design: Compendium 1 - A Foundation for the Student & Practitioner
References for the study and practical application of the classical language
This compendium, curated by instructors Michael Mesko, ICAA Board Member and Education Chair, and Stephen Chrisman, ICAA Fellow and Principal at Ferguson & Shamamian Architects, serves as a guide to building a library of foundational texts for the student, practitioner, and anyone interested in classical and traditional architecture as a contemporary discipline. The mix of older and recent resources is an excellent starting point for deeper study.
Texts are sorted by subject area. The most current English-language edition of each work is given where possible. Additionally, whenever possible, links to public domain online editions are provided.
For additional texts, we invite you to explore the ICAA's digital rare books archive, as well as to peruse the ICAA Research Library's online catalog.
Elements of Classical Architecture: Treatises
Alberti, Leon Battista. The Ten Books of Architecture.
- Current Edition: Alberti, Leon Battista. The Ten Books of Architecture. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1986.
- Online Edition in the Public Domain: Alberti, Leon Battista. The Architecture of Leon Battista Alberti in Ten Books of Painting. Translated by Cosimo Bartoli (Italian and English). London: Thomas Edlin, 1739. Getty Research Institute. Archive.org. Volume I: https://archive.org/details/gri33125011115496; Volume II: https://archive.org/details/gri33125011115561.
Palladio, Andrea. The Four Books on Architecture.
- Current Edition: Palladio, Andrea. The Four Books on Architecture. Translated by Robert Tavernor and Richard Schofield. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997.
- Online Edition in the Public Domain:
- Leoni Translation: Palladio, Andrea. The Architecture of A. Palladio in Four Books. Translated by Giacomo Leoni. London: Printed for A. Ward, 1742. ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Rar 2443. e-rara. https://doi.org/10.3931/e-rara-4821
-Ware Translation: Palladio, Andrea. The Four Books on Architecture. Translated by Isaac Ware. London: Printed for R. Ware, 1738. ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Rar 1103 fol. e-rara. https://doi.org/10.3931/e-rara-13021
Serlio, Sebastiano. A Treatise on Architecture.
- Current Edition: Serlio, Sebastiano. Sebastiano Serlio on Architecture, Volume 1: Books I-V of “Tutte l’opere d’architettura et prospetiva.” Translated by Vaughan Hart and Peter Hicks. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.
- Online Edition in the Public Domain: Serlio, Sebastiano. Five Bookes of Architecture: Translated out of Italian into Dutch, and out of Dutch into English. London: Printed for Robert Peake, 1611. Glasgow School of Art. Archive.org. https://archive.org/details/firstbookeofarch00serl
Vignola, Giacomo Barozzi da. Canon of the Five Orders of Architecture.
- Current Edition: Vignola, Giacomo Barozzi da. Canon of the Five Orders of Architecture. Translated by Branko Mitrovic. New York: Acanthus Press, 1999.
- Online Edition in the Public Domain: Vignola, Giacomo Barozzi da. The Five Orders of Architecture According to Giacomo Barozzio of Vignola; to Which are Added the Greek Orders; for the Use of the Art Schools of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Translated by Arthur Lyman Tuckerman. New York: W.T. Comstock, 1891. Hathi Trust. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/njp.32101067664175
Vitruvius. The Ten Books of Architecture.
- Current Edition: Vitruvius. The Ten Books of Architecture. Translated by Morris Hicky Morgan. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1960.
- Online Edition in the Public Domain: Vitruvius. The Architecture of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, In Ten Books. Translated by Joseph Gwilt. London: Priestley and Weale, 1826. Stiftung Bibliothek Werner Oechslin, A04a ; app. 851. e-rara. https://doi.org/10.3931/e-rara-19442.
The Classical Orders and Elements: Drawing and Application
Chambers, William. A Treatise on the Decorative Part of Civil Architecture. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2003.
- Online Edition in the Public Domain: Chambers, William. A Treatise on the Decorative Parts of Civil Architecture. London: J. Haberkorn, 1759. ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Rar 1218. e-rara. https://doi.org/10.3931/e-rara-13406.
- Reprint of 1759 original. One of the standard English texts on classical architecture with a focus on the application of the orders and smaller architectural features such as doors, windows, balustrades, chimney-pieces and ceilings.
Cordingley, R. A. Orders of Architecture. New York: Dover Publications, 2015.
- An unabridged republication of the first English edition of Charles Normand’s Parallel of the Orders – a parallel of examples of the orders from Antiquity through the Renaissance. The modern introduction provides a useful overview of the orders and fundamental arrangements.
Gibbs, James. Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture. Gale Ecco, 2010.
- Online Edition in the Public Domain: Gibbs, James. Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture. London: W. Boyer, 1736. ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, RAR 1661: ED.2 GF. e-rara. https://doi.org/10.3931/e-rara-4105.
- An explanation of how to draw the classical orders and related motifs and details by one of Britain’s most influential architects. Originally published in 1732, the book was one of the principal resources for American architecture in the 18th century and remains a useful guide to drawing the orders.
ICAA. Classical Architecture: A Handbook to the Tradition - the ICAA Classical Primer.
- An ever-expanding handbook created by ICAA instructors which brings together much of the introductory content taught in ICAA core curriculum classes in one easy-to-reference manual. The Primer includes instructional material on the classical orders and elements, proportion, and composition. The handbook distills material available in a number of architectural treatises and supplements the large body of literature dealing with the theory and practice of classical design.
Rattner, Donald M. (1993). “Moldings: The Atomic Units of Classical Architecture”. Traditional Building 6, vol. 4 (1993): 72-3.
- A brief summary of the fundamental tectonic and aesthetic principles to be considered when deploying mouldings in an architectural composition. The article provides an essential distillation of many of the ideas presented in the book, The Theory of Moldings.
Walker, C. H. Theory of Mouldings. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007.
- Reprint of 1926 original. An overview of mouldings from an historical, practical, aesthetic, and perceptual perspective and a practical orientation to the most frequently used elements in the vocabulary of classical forms.
Ware, William. R. The American Vignola: A Guide to the Making of Classical Architecture. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1994.
- Reprint of the 1902 original. Plates and text describing a simple method of drawing the Five Roman orders in accordance with a proportional system determined by Vignola and the employment of the orders and related classical elements in composition.
Adam, Robert. Classical Architecture. New York: Abrams, 1991.
- An overview of the language and its practical application. Each subject is covered with a brief description alongside drawings that show at a glance the ways in which different features of classicism have been interpreted through time in different places.
Curtis, Nathaniel C. The Secrets of Architectural Composition. New York: Dover Publications, 2011.
- Reprint of 1923 original. An index of elemental architectural forms and arrangements in plan, section and elevation.
Cusato, Marianne. Get Your House Right: Architectural Elements to Use & Avoid. New York: Sterling, 2007.
- A catalog of design principles, good practices, common mistakes, and solutions for traditional residential design.
D’Espouy, Hector. Fragments from Greek and Roman Architecture. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1981.
- A compendium of examples of architectural detail from ancient Rome and Greece executed in the technique of India ink and water color rendering by students of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Illustrations include the Parthenon, Pantheon, Colosseum, Roman temples and many others.
Gromort, Georges. The Elements of Classical Architecture. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2001.
- A reprint of two books by a professor of architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, including plates on the orders and measured drawings and photographs of important models of classical design, from the Parthenon to the Petit Trianon.
Harbeson, John F. The Study of Architectural Design. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2008.
- Reprint of 1926 original. The only text in English that describes the system of architectural education developed in France and commonly known as the Beaux-Arts method, as adapted to suit the structure and demands of American schools of architecture. Used to train architects in America until the late 1940’s.
Semes, Steven. Architecture of the Classical Interior. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2004.
- The principles of classical architecture applied to the design of interiors, both residential and public. A practicing architect shows how the elements that constitute the classical interior-wall and ceiling treatments, doors and windows, fireplaces, and stairs-can be composed into rooms satisfying both aesthetic and practical criteria. Historic and contemporary examples illustrate both generic and specific solutions for designers working in the classical tradition today.
Stratton, Arthur. Form and Design in Classic Architecture. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2004.
- Reprint of 1925 original. An index of elemental architectural arrangements in diagrammatic plan, section, and elevation line illustrations, showing the relationship of exterior forms and the disposition of interior elements. Examples include buildings of varying geometry, treatments of vestibules, corridors, domed and vaulted spaces, pavilions, loggias, interior and exterior staircases, porticoes, and colonnades.
Composition: The Civic Realm
Congress for the New Urbanism. Charter of the New Urbanism. 2nd edition. Edited by Emily Talen. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2013.
- A guide to restore urban centers, reconfigure sprawling suburbs, conserve environmental assets, and preserve our built legacy. It examines communities at three interdependent levels: The region: metropolis, city, and town; the neighborhood, district, and corridor; the block, street, and building.
Hegemann, Werner, and Elbert Peets. The American Vitruvius: An Architects’ Handbook of Civic Art. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2010.
- Reprint of 1922 original. The most complete single-volume survey of American and European urban and planning exemplars from antiquity to the 20th century. The precedents presented underscore the idea "...that to conceive a building in connection with its surroundings and to mold both so that each determines the other is architecture in the full sense of the word; it is civic art."
Krier, Léon. The Architecture of Community. 2nd edition. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2019.
- A contemporary road map for designing or completing today’s fragmented communities; the making of sustainable, humane, and attractive villages, towns, and cities; theories on classical and vernacular urbanism and architecture; and practical design guidelines for creating livable towns.
Shepherd, J.C., and G.A. Jellicoe. Italian Gardens of the Renaissance. Fifth Edition. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1997.
- Reprint of 1925 original. Seminal work on the compositional principals and strategies of Italian gardens. Numerous precedents shown in plan, section, elevation and perspective demonstrate the interrelation of architecture and nature, and the use of the ordered landscape as a mediator between the formal and informal.
Jones, Owen. The Grammar of Ornament: A Visual Reference of Form and Color in Architecture and the Decorative Arts. New York: Princeton University Press, 2016.
- Online Edition in the Public Domain: Jones, Owen. The Grammar of Ornament. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1868. Getty Research Institute. Archive.org. https://archive.org/details/gri_c00033125008700094
- Reprint of 1856 original.
Meyer, Franz Sales. Handbook of Ornament. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1957.
- Reprint of 1888 original.
Speltz, Alexander. The Styles of Ornament. Translated by David O’Connor. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1959.
- Reprint of 1904 original.
Proportion & Geometry
Bass, Steve. Beauty Memory Unity: A Theory of Proportion in Architecture and Design. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, 2019.
- An exploration of the orders, proportion, harmony and beauty in architecture. Topics include: the concept of symbolic or qualitative number; Pythagorean and Platonic numerical philosophy; the nature of beauty and its relation to number; the derivation of the ancient musical octave; the Golden section,; and the connection of these ideas to the numerical - geometrical canons of classical architecture. Concepts are illustrated step by step as applied to the elements and archetypal composition of classical architecture using arithmetic, geometric, and harmonic ratio methods. The proportional ideas are illustrated with reconstructions of exemplary buildings based on the methods described.
Fletcher, Rachel. Infinite Measure: Learning to Design in Geometric Harmony with Art, Architecture, and Nature. Staunton, VA: George F. Thompson Publishing, 2013.
- An introduction to geometry and proportion including: practical techniques for design applications; for producing proportional schemes with a compass and rule; commentaries on geometric symbols and useful theorems; definitions and etymologies of essential mathematical terms; and original analyses of harmonious proportions found in art, architecture, landscape design, and other compositions.
History & Precedents
Curl, James Stevens. Classical Architecture: An Introduction to Its Vocabulary and Essentials, with a Select Glossary of Terms. Second Edition. Chrysalis, 2001.
- A succinct history of the use of the classical language with an essential glossary of terms.
Curl, James Stevens, and Susan Wilson. The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture. Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Porphyrios, Demetri. Classical Architecture. Second Edition. London: Andreas Papadakis Publisher, 2007.
- An exploration of architecture as the art of building, and the relationship of traditional architecture with the contemporary world. Themes include the role of imitation, tectonics, ornament and originality and the relevance of traditional building forms and techiniques.
Summerson, John. The Classical Language of Architecture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1966.
Watkin, David. A History of Western Architecture. Sixth edition. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2015.
Architectural Monographs: Masters of the Classical Tradition
Butler, A. S. The Architecture of Sir Edwin Lutyens, Vols. 1, 2 and 3. Mulgrave: Antique Collectors Club, 1989.
- Text, photographs, and scale drawings documenting the major works of a 20th century master.
McKim, Charles Follen, William Rutherford Mead, Stanford White, and Richard Guy Wilson. McKim, Mead & White: Selected Works 1879 to 1915. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2018.
- A monograph on the work of a firm that adapted the classical tradition for every conceivable contemporary building type and function. Images and scale drawings.
Platt, Charles. The Architecture of Charles A. Platt. Introductions by Royal Cortissoz and Charles D. Warren. New York: Acanthus Press, 1998.
Scamozzi, Ottavio Bertotti. The Buildings and Designs of Andrea Palladio. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2014.
- Online Edition in the Public Domain: Not available in English; copies in Italian may be found here.
- Reprint of 1776 original. Documentation of Palladio's oeuvre showcasing his designs for villas, churches, and civic buildings in highly detailed engravings of plans, sections, and elevations.
Schinkel, Karl Friedrich. Sammlung architektonischer Entwürfe. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. 1989.
- Online Edition in the Public Domain: Schinkel, Karl Friedrich. Sammlung architektonischer Entwürfe. Berlin: Wittich, 1820-1840. ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Rar 10007. https://doi.org/10.3931/e-rara-8961.
- Reprint of 1729 original. A reprint of Schinkel's architectural designs shown in scale plans, elevations, sections, and perspectives.
Architectural Monographs: Regional
Letarouilly, Paul. Edifices de Rome Moderne. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2016.
- Online Edition in the Public Domain: Multiple editions in French are available here.
- A compendium of architectural precedents from Renaissance Rome in perspective view and scale drawings of plans, elevations, sections, and details.
Stuart, James and Nicholas Revett. Antiquities of Athens. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007.
- Online Edition in the Public Domain: Stuart, James and Nicholas Revett. The Antiquities of Athens. London: John Haberkorn, 1762. Smithsonian Libraries. Archive.org. Vol. I: https://archive.org/details/antiqvitiesAthe1Stua
- The first accurate survey of ancient Greek architecture based on precise measured drawings done between 1751 and 1754. An essential resource for understanding the elements of Greek classical architecture.
Drawing & Rendering
Guptill, Arthur. Drawing and Sketching in Pencil. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2007.
- Reprint of 1922 original. Techniques for studying precedents and presentation drawings using the medium of pencil.
Magonigle, H. Van Buren. Architectural Rendering in Wash. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1921.
- Online Edition in the Public Domain: Magonigle, H. Van Buren. Architectural Rendering in Wash. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1921. Hathi Trust. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t0rr21b6r.
- A guide to the making of formal architectural renderings using ink and watercolor.
McGoodwin, Henry. Architectural Shades and Shadows. Washington, DC: American Institute of Architects Press, 1989.
- A guide to constructing and casting shades and shadows for typical architectural forms and classical elements.
Varon, David Jacob. Indication in Architectural Design: A Natural Method of Studying Architectural Design with the Help of Indication as a Means of Analysis. New York: The William T. Comstock Company, 1916.
- Online Edition in the Public Domain: Varon, David Jacob. Indication in Architectural Design: A Natural Method of Studying Architectural Design with the Help of Indication as a Means of Analysis. New York: The William T. Comstock Company, 1916. https://archive.org/details/cu31924015416278/mode/2up.
- Techniques for the analytical study of precedents through freehand drawing.
The Art of Building
Knobloch, Philip. Architectural Details from the Early Twentieth Century. Washington, DC: American Institute of Architects Press, 1991.
- Reprint of 1923 original. 52 plates of drawings of representative details of good practice in construction from actual buildings.
Ramsey, Charles George and Harold Reeve Sleeper. Traditional Details for Building Restoration, Renovation, and Rehabilitation: From the 1932-1951 Editions of Architectural Graphic Standards. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 1998.
- A compilation of traditional architectural details from the first four editions of Architectural Graphic Standards published between 1932 and 1951. Architects, designers, and others involved in new construction rebuilding and renovating structures will find here many of the details and information used by the original architects and builders.
Snyder, Frank M. Building Details. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2007.
- A reprint of a serial produced originally between 1906 and 1914 showing details of houses, civic buildings, banks, churches, clubs, and other structures designed by some of the period’s leading architects, including McKim, Mead & White,; John Russell Pope; Grosvenor Atterbury; and Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson. Redrawn to scale from architects’ working drawings. The plates offer inspiration for details that continue to confront architects today.
2020 Driehaus Summer Studio Retrospective
This reading list is presented as part of the 2020 Driehaus Summer Studio Retrospective, a four-week series of daily online content inspired by the ICAA's Summer Studio in Classical Architecture program and the many students who have been impacted through its unique course of study. You can find additional programs in this series here.
The ICAA expresses gratitude to The Richard H. Driehaus Charitable Lead Trust for its sponsorship of these programs.