Architecture Design Programming: 7 Essential Books

Updated on: 5/8/2022


There are two things required for every architectural project: a site, and a program. Architectural programming is part of the pre-design phase for buildings, which involves research and decision-making to help the architect and client establish criteria for the basis of a building's design.

This is time-intensive process, but programming in architecture is extremely important to create a framework for the entire project. Sometimes, the client may hire an architect for the programming phase and service the rest of the design work to another architect entirely. Creating an architectural program is ultimately about creating a ‘playbook’ for an architectural design.

Why is Programming in Architecture so Important?

Every move considered at this stage has a potential to manifest within the final product. The architectural program will be the “playbook” for the design, and the designer must attempt to coalesce the technical aspects, as well as the experiential qualities of space to create a base point of reference for the entire project.

As the designer works closely with the client, important variables must be considered to ensure that the clients needs are met. Some of these variables may include, but are not limited:

  • Who will the building ultimately serve?

  • What program elements will the building contain?

  • Where will these program elements be located?

  • How will the building integrate within the site?

  • What is the total size of the building?

Beyond the technical scope of programming, the designer must also consider experiential qualities, such as:

  • What type of light will illuminate the space?

  • How will the space deal with sound?

  • What kind of materials will be used within the space?

  • Which programmatic elements will be adjacent to one another?

That being said, creating an architectural program can be a daunting task for a designer. It’s important for the designer to arm themselves with resources that can help not only bring inspiration, but build a list of references that are used throughout the profession.

Here are 7 architectural programming books that I highly recommend you add to your library.

7 Recommended Books: Architectural Programming

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1.) Introduction to Architectural Programming, by Edward T. White

White’s “Introduction the Architectural Programming” is a perfect starting place for you to learn about the fundamentals of architectural programming. Originally published in 1972, this book can be considered one of the founding publications on architectural programming.

Read more about the book, here.


2.) Problem Seeking, by William Peña

Peña can be considered as one of the “founding fathers” of architectural programming, and his work with CRS has shaped the profession in so many ways… Seek, and you shall define!

These are two distinct processes, requiring different attitudes, even different capabillities. Problem solving is a valid approach to design when, indeed, the design solution responds to the client's design problem. Only after a thorough search for pertinent information can the client's design problem be stated.

Read more about the book, here.

If programming is problem seeking, then design is problem solving.
— William Peña, (pg. 15)

3.) Architectural Programming and Predesign Manager, by Robert G. Hershberger

“Various programming methods have been developed and used over the years as clients, architects, and programmers have tried to arrive at appropriate definitions for particular architectural problems. These methods range from informal discussions between client and architect to carefully articulated research studies covering similar facilities and users leading to a comprehensive and detailed program. Most programming approaches fall between the two extremes.” — Robert G. Hershberger, (pg. 6)

Read more about the book, here.


4.) Methods of Architectural Programming, by Henry Sanoff

Struggling with navigating the architectural programming process? This book covers a pathway that can help you understand the methodology of design at the beginning of a project. It is the responsibility of the architect to become to facilitator - the leader of accommodating people’s desires by thoughtfully crafting the built environment.

Sanoff covers methods for retrieving information for architectural programming, which will ultimately help set up the entire narrative for the project.

Read more about the book, here.


5.) Inquiry by Design: Environment/Behavior/Neuroscience in Architecture, Interiors, Landscape, and Planning, by John Zeisel

Want to take a deep dive into programmatic design theory? Get ready to open your mind, as you explore human behavior, psychology, and neuroscience through the lens of an architect.

This book is broken into two parts:

Part 1 describes the collaboration between designers and researchers and the importance of applying theory to the design process.

Part 2 investigates methods of research that help one understand how buildings and spaces work, by questioning how human behavior is impacted by the physical environment.

Read more about the book, here.


6.) Architectural Programming: Creative Techniques for Design Professionals, by Robert R. Kumlin

Looking for a practical guide to the programming phase of architectural design? This book bridges the gap between theory and reality by offering programming checklists, workbooks, and real-world perspectives that break down design myths in architectural practices.

Read more about the book, here.



7.) Programming for Design: From Theory to Practice, by Edith Cherry

This is one of the all-time best books on architectural programming. As one of the more recent publications on this list, you will find a comprehensive collection of topics on all things programming: theory, philosophy, client values, research-based information analysis, programmatic strategies, building and energy code integration, and much more… This is a one-size-fits-all guide to all things architectural programming, and it is well worth the price.

This is a must-read for every architect, regardless of the scale of their work. The programming phase of architectural design is extremely important, and this will serve as your guiding light through the programming process. If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to architectural programming, this is it!

Read more about the book, here.


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