What to Get an Architect for Christmas [2017]

In what has become an annual “must write” post, I present to you THE definitive list of “What to Get an Architect for Christmas.” This is the 8th version of this list and I’m not going to lie, I’m starting to feel a little like Ebenezer Scrooge about the whole thing because I have unknowingly started to come up with some internal rules that govern what sort of gifts do, and do not, make my list. For the most part, I have tried to move away from do-dahs and bric-a-brac … because why? I want these gifts to be something that will live on past this particular holiday season, and that means that I focused more on longevity, purpose, and substance over style … I suppose substance AND style are preferred.

Does that make me a Scrooge? Maybe a little, but the stuff on this list isn’t meant for a 5-year-old, it’s gender-neutral, and I think most of these items your co-workers would want to steal (which, for most people, is really the measure of a desirable gift).

So on Dasher and Dancer, and Prancer, and Vixen, and … all the rest of those reindeers. Here are 43 things, one of which will surely make that irritatingly picky architect friend of yours truly happy.

Ellepi Klizia Stapler - What to Get an Architect for Christmas

Ellepi Klizia Stapler – $25

I like staplers, particularly cool staplers and “if they take my stapler, I will set the building on fire.” Okay, I won’t really set the building on fire but I can assure you that I would know at all times the whereabouts of my Ellepi Klizia stapler. These aren’t particularly easy to get your hands on, particularly if you want a specific color, but once you have it … mmmmm. You will want to staple everything.

6 Piece Cast Iron Skillet Set - What to get an Architect for Christmas 2017

Cast Iron Skillet Set – $75

I know what you’re thinking … Why on Earth would I ever want to buy someone a 6 piece cast iron skillet set?!? Okay, maybe a two or three piece set would be just as good but the fact remains that most architects like to cook, and these cast iron skillets are legacy pieces. Treat them right and they will remain in your family, passed on from one generation to the next.

Epson VS250 SVGA Projector

Epson VS250 SVGA Projector – $299

This gift is about lifestyle and planning. There are few cooler memories than sitting in the yard on a summers evening watching a movie you’ve already seen on a wall or bedsheet that you’ve strung up. If you’re that person who doesn’t own a 110″ 4K High def TV, (like me) this is the sort of projector that can sit in the cabinet until the big game, or maybe you’re like Landon in my office and like to watch Youtube videos for 24 straight hours – either way, this Epson projector is awesome for this price point. Just as an FYI, you will need an adapter based on your source (iPhone, Android, computer, etc.) but they are all readily available and typically cost less than $10.

Black and Decker Multi-Project set

Black and Decker 129 Piece Drill Bit set $34

Several years ago, I included a cordless drill on this list (you have one of those, right?) It is by far the tool I use most often in my house and I have put thousands of hours of use on that thing. The 2nd most used “tool” in my house is the collection of drill bits and screwdriver heads. In fact, I added this gift to my list just this weekend – my daughter asked me to hang a mirror on the inside face of her closet door, which I took care of in about 5 minutes thanks to a) my cordless drill and b) having all the right parts to predrill the set hole, countersink the screw into the frame, and drive the screw into place.

Architectural T Shirts (by Bob Borson)

Architectural T-Shirts – $20

Gratuitous self-promotion on this gift since these are T-shirts that I made. I actually have these hanging in my closet and can honestly say that someone always comments on them whenever I wear them out. Shockingly, you can get them in other colors than white and black … but that’s a pretty bold move.

Architectural Jolly Rogers … for the architectural pirates out there
BIMja … it’s like a ninja, but for architects
Come and Take It … a historic slogan, perfectly suited for architects

Dinosaur Bottle Opener

Dinosaur Bottle Opener – $30

I have quite a few bottle openers in my possession (my favorite being this gender confused whale)  and despite the fact that I don’t need to open that many bottles, I still like having ones with a little personality.

Anboud Bluetooth Padlock

Anboud Bluetooth Padlock – $34

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve forgotten the combination of a padlock I’ve owned … it would have saved me soooooo much time and money. Since I’ve owned a cell phone for a long time now and never lost it, it makes sense that I should own a Bluetooth padlock that I can UNLOCK with my phone! If I ever saw something that an architecture student needed, this is it.


Over that last few years, I’ve included a book section as part of my “What to Give an Architect for Christmas” list … and they have always been the most purchased items. This shouldn’t come as any surprise considering that most all architects like love books. As a result, I have gone back through the book list from previous years and pulled out some of my favorites and included them here.

Julius Schulman Modernism Rediscovered

Julius Schulman: Modernism Rediscovered (3 Volumes) $110
by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp  (Author),‎ Owen Edwards  (Author),‎ Philip J. Ethington (Author),‎ Peter Loughrey  (Author),‎ and Julius Shulman (Photographer)

This 3 volume set is in my “must have” department.

In the words of GQ: “In this vintage design bible, TASCHEN has amassed a beautiful collection of photographs from Shulman’s long career. Hollywood glamour at its coolest.”

Tashen's New York: 2nd Edition

Taschen’s New York: 2nd Edition $26
by Angelika Taschen (Editor), Daisann McLane (Text), and Poul Ober (Photographer)

Did you know that my next door neighbor is an architectural photographer? He is – and a pretty good one at that. I was over at his house this last week and we were exploring his library (his wife is a graphic designer and together, their library is pretty amazing). As a result of this “field trip” I learned that Poul worked with Angelika Taschen (yes, of the architectural publishing juggernaut Taschen) and together with Daisann McLane, they put together a 392-page tour guide type book of all the cool places in New York … just the sort of book someone with style would want to have prior to organizing a trip to New York.

Cyclops: Albert Watson

Cyclops (Albert Watson) new from $110
by Albert Watson, Jeff Koons, Laurie Kratochvil (Author) and Albert Watson (Photographer)

I will admit that I do not own this book – but when I was speaking with my neighbor (you know, the professional photographer), he said this was probably the best photography book from the last 25 years. Good enough for me.

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art: Landscape and Architecture $45
by Michael Sheridan (Author) and‎ Michael Holm (Editor)

Fun Fact: The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is located just outside Copenhagen, Denmark and NOT in Louisiana. 360 pages of photos, diagrams, the evolution of the museum over time, and much more. It is a beautiful building and a frequent source of inspiration.

Irving Penn: Centennial

Irving Penn: Centennial $50
by Maria Morris Hambourg (Author),‎ Jeff L. Rosenheim (Author),‎ Alexandra Dennett (Contributor),‎ Philippe Garner (Contributor),‎ Adam Kirsch (Contributor),‎ Harald E. L. Prins (Contributor),‎ Vasilios Zatse (Contributor), and Irving Penn (Photographer)

For many, Irving Penn is considered to be the greatest photographer of all time … my neighbor Poul has him in his top three. Penn was one of the most famous American fashion and portrait photographers, and Centennial was a collection of his images as part of a show that rolled through the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth earlier this year. It was a fantastic show and it completely justified buying this book.

Kaws: Where the End Starts

KAWS: Where the End Starts $40
by Andrea Karnes  (Editor),‎ Marla Price (Editor),‎ KAWS (Artist),‎ Michael Auping (Contributor),‎ and Dieter Buchhart (Contributor)

KAWS: Where the End Starts was another show that rolled through town (at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth) and was a terrific show … another book purchase justified.

Todd Hido: House Hunting Todd Hido: House Hunting from $295 (collectible)
by Todd Hido (Author and Photographer)

I can’t describe this book better than the text provided by the publishing house … mostly because I don’t have this book, but want it badly.

Our first monograph on the work of Todd Hido, House Hunting, was published to huge acclaim and was named as Best First Monograph by Photo-Eye. It is classic Hido; large color photographs of suburban homes at night, radiating contrasts of warmth and cold, loneliness and comfort, dark and light. Six years on, this outstanding collection of photographs is still something to get excited about.”

Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? It’s hard to get and every time his work is published, it sells out quick. If you can find it, buy it.

ARE 5 Review Manual for the Architectural Registration Exam

Architectural Registration Exam – $155
by David Kent Ballast (Author) and Steven E. O’Hara PE (Author)

An exam book? For Christmas!?! You might think I’m a sadist for putting this on the list but if your someone special is planning on taking the ARE anytime soon (or should be taking the ARE sometime soon) they will need this book. There is no avoiding it and since it isn’t cheap, this book makes for a wonderful present.

A Visual Dictionary of Architecture Second Edition

A Visual Dictionary of Architecture – $40
by Francis D. K. Ching (Author)

I have this book … in fact, I’m pretty sure that I have every book that Francis Ching has published. They are all that good. As a bonus, even non-architects would like a book like this because it explains the vocabulary that architects use on a daily basis with wonderful sketches that clearly show the subject.

Architectural Graphic Standards 12th Edition

Architectural Graphic Standards 12th Edition – $150
by The American Institute of Architects (Author)

This is another one of those books that every architect will use. If they don’t have it, they are borrowing someone else’s … Don’t let them be THAT person – get them their own copy.

Architectural Graphic Standards for Residential Construction Second Edition

Architectural Graphic Standards for Residential Construction – $140
by American Institute of Architects (Author),‎ Nina M. Giglio (Author),‎ and Dennis J. Hall (Editor)

If the object of your attention does residential work, this is a better gift than the non-residential Graphic Standard book shown above. I just happen to have both because I defy the norm.

Neufert Architects Data Fourth Edition

Neufert Architects’ Data – $57
by Ernst Neufert (Author), and Peter Neufert (Author)

This is the German version of the Architectural Graphic Standard … Yes, it’s in English. Cesar Pelli has admitted that this was the very first book he bought when he started his architectural studies and that he still uses it … Okay, I believe the first part of that claim – this is an awesome book – but something tells me that Cesar Pelli hasn’t pulled it out in a while since he’s currently 91 years old.

Graphic Guide to Frame Construction by Rob Thallon

Graphic Guide to Frame Construction (4th Edition) – $18
Rob Thallon (Author)

I have owned this book since the first edition. When I first got it, it was easily my favorite architectural book – it was full of construction details and since I had never spent time working on a residential job site while I was in school, I came out of college with zero knowledge of residential framing and I devoured the contents of this book. The only word to fully describe it is “awesome”. I suppose you could use another word like “terrific” or “amazing” but I think you get my point.

In Detail Single Family Houses

In Detail: Single Family Housing – $35
by Gert Kähler (Contributor),‎ Rüdiger Krisch (Contributor),‎ and Christian Schittich (Editor)

Anytime I can find a book on architecture that actually includes details, I love it. So it stands to reason that a book from “In Detail” would be high on my list of books worth coveting. I will admit that I had a hard time understanding all the details because the way they are delineated is more European than American and I couldn’t tell what was what. Since I stare at these books for hours on end, I eventually figured it out and I learned that I am not the only one out there that thinks that details aren’t just details, they’re architecture and frequently make the project.

In Detail Building Simply

In Detail: Building Simply – from $108
by Christian Schittich (Author)

Same sort of book as the Single Family Housing book shown above – in fact, any book that was edited by Christian Schittich is worth adding to your collection. Ever seen a project so cleanly and minimally detailed that you just want to know HOW DID THEY DO THAT!?! These books show you how.

Lake Flato Houses Embracing the Landscape

Lake Flato Houses – $32
by Lake|Flato (Author),‎ Frederick Steiner  (Author),‎ and Guy Martin (Introduction)

It’s hard to be a Texas Architect and not be influenced by the genius that is Lake | Flato. A bad building by Lake | Flato is like a leprechaun … or a unicorn. They don’t exist. This book should come with two warnings – the first warning will alert you to the state of euphoria you will achieve – followed by the second warning of the massive feeling of architectural inadequacy you will feel shortly after reading.

Architecture The Whole Story General Editor Denna Jones

Architecture : The Whole Story – $28
by Denna Jones (Editor),‎ Richard Rogers (Foreword),‎ and Philip Gumuchdjian (Foreword)

It really is the whole story … this is a pictorial history book (which to call it that is a massive reduction) but it is one of the better ones I have ever seen. Everything you could want to know starting from the Neolithic Age up to and through the 1950’s. Very complete, loads of pictures and very concise – basically everything you could want in a curated architectural history book.

The Houses of Louis Kahn

The Houses of Louis Kahn – $66
by George H. Marcus  (Author),‎ and William Whitaker (Author)

It’s a book of houses by Louis Kahn … do I really need to say anything else?


Detail in Contemporary Residential Architecture 2  $43
Authors: David Phillips and Megumi Yamashita

Trying to find details that explain “how did they do that?!?” in the architectural world is rather difficult. As an architect that has spent his entire career in small offices, I am frequently on my own when it comes to figuring out how things are detailed. As a result, I covet these sorts of books and I will stab you if you even look at them funny … as in the “I’m taking this home with me” sort of funny.


Detail in Contemporary Concrete Design  $40
Authors: David Phillips and Megumi Yamashita


Detail in Contemporary Staircase Design  $43
Author: Paul Barton


Detail in Contemporary Timber Architecture  $50
Author: Virginia McLeod


Mid-Century Modern Architecture Travel Guide: West Coast USA $24
by Sam Lubell  (Author) and Darren Bradley (Photographer)

Sam is my friend and Darren is a photographer that I follow on Instagram. Together, they frequently team up to travel the world on architectural adventures, the result of which tends to produce books worth owning. All I can think of when I look at all my Sam Lubell authored books is “Can a brother get a signed copy?!?” Sam was the West Coast editor of The Architect’s Newspaper for eight years, covering architecture from Southern California to Seattle, and he has written for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, among so many others that it will make you sick. I had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with Sam when I was in Israel, and I’ll never be the same.

Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture  $10
by Ross King (Author)

Exactly the sort of book that every architect would read … if they haven’t already.

Le Corbusier Le Grand

Le Corbusier Le Grand – $115
by Jean-Louis Cohen (Editor) and Tim Benton (Contributor)

The most comprehensive book on Le Corbusier ever, supremely beautiful and comprehensively illustrated.

Cosmos Of Light - The Sacred Architecture of Le Corbusier

Cosmos of Light: The Sacred Architecture of Le Corbusier – $52
by Henry Plummer  (Author)

Le Corbusier’s religious buildings are exhaustively photographed and studied in one of the most beautiful architectural books ever written.

Fallingwater Rising

Fallingwater Rising [2005]  $20
by Franklin Toker  (Author)

The best book ever on Wright, his creative process, Edgar Kaufman and Fallingwater. Period.

Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center

Great Fortune:  The Epic of Rockefeller Center – $12
by Daniel Okrent  (Author)

America’s best piece of urbanism had a complex origin. This book describes it in full and should put you in awe of what was involved in making this truly American landmark. This particular book was a finalist for a Pulitzer if that helps convince you that it’s worth adding to your collection.

Greene & Greene

Greene & Greene – $31
by Edward R. Bosley  (Author)

Exceptional scholarship paired with great writing presents the Greene’s and their remarkable work in a beautifully illustrated package.

Carlo Scarpa

Carlo Scarpa – $86
by Robert McCarter  (Editor)

The newest and possibly best book on Scarpa by a gifted writer. Lavishly illustrated and beautifully documented and a must have for any fan of Carlo Scarpa … which is every architect.

Louis I. Kahn In the Realm of Architecture

Louis I. Kahn:  In the Realm of Architecture – $32
by David B. Brownlee (Author), and David G. De Long (Author)

The only book on the subject with illustrations powerful enough to evoke the mystery of Kahn’s buildings. Gorgeous to look at and read.


I decided to include 5 things that are worth stuffing into a stocking … and these 5 things have been on my list for years. Why don’t I change them to something hip and current you ask? Because most people who stuff stockings have a tradition about the things that go into stockings. When I was a kid, it was fruit (which was basically coal in my eyes). Maybe you put candy in yours. Or maybe it’s batteries, travel size toiletries, etc. Whatever it is, we all know that after all that filler goes in, there is only room for a few non-traditional items. These 5 stocking stuffers should become the new gold standard of what goes into a stocking.

Tombow Markers - What to Get an Architect for Christmas

Tombo Markers (10 piece Gray Scale $18.88) (10 Pack Landscape Colors $15.74)

These pens will take a mediocre drawing and make it fabulous (and who doesn’t want that? Maybe a CPA …) I use these markers myself and  I never cease to be amazed how just a tiny bit of color on a sketch makes it look like a pro did it … Oh, guess what? I am a pro (or at least now I can look like one).


Moleskine Cahier Journals

Moleskine Cahier Journal (Set of 3), Extra Large, Plain, Black, Soft Cover (7.5 x 10) – $20

I’m a big advocate of sketching, despite the fact that I am not particularly adept at my own sketching “style”. I get a lot of Moleskine journals as gifts but the one I’ve listed above is my favorite. These journals are small enough so that my “doodles” can fill the page. I also like that these journals have a heavy card stock cover rather than being leather-bound. I personally feel that the really nice ones can be a little intimidating to sketch in – they seem a little precious to me. Since half of my sketches are total clunkers, the cahier journals seem just a bit more forgiving.

Sharpie Ultra Fine Tip Pens


Sharpie Ultra Fine Tip pens – $6

These are the pens I use for all my sketching and they are – without a doubt – the very best.

Sharpie Fine Tip Pens

and for some pen weight … get Sharpie Fine Tip pens – $6

Trace Paper

White Trace Paper – $12

Trace paper, bum wad, onion skin, trash paper- whatever you want to call it, it’s the lifeblood of a designer. Trace paper is just what it sounds like – a semi-transparent paper that allows you to layer drawing upon drawing on top of one another, which allows you to evolve your design through iterations.

If you’ve gone through all of these items and still can’t find something that suits your needs, maybe something from the previous Christmas list posts will have something you’re looking for –

What to get an Architect for Christmas – 2016
What to get an Architect for Christmas – 2015
What to get an Architect for Christmas – 2014
What to get an Architect for Christmas – 2013
What to get an Architect for Christmas – 2012
What to get an Architect for Christmas – 2011
What to get an Architect for Christmas – 2010

That wraps up the 2017 list of ‘What to get an Architect for Christmas‘. Shopping for overly-picky, demanding, self-righteous architects isn’t necessarily fun but if you follow the items on this list, I can reasonably guarantee that you’ll have success. I’ve tried to make this as easy as possible, if you click on any of the images or descriptions in this post, most will take you to Amazon where you can buy (or shop further for less amazing options) than the items I have listed.


Bob signature FAIA

Source: Life of an Architect