I don't know why, in these end times for communications made with dead trees and days of general impoverishment, but the market for sumptuous, fat, beautifully illustrated books of architecture and design seems as strong as ever. This year saw a Taschen tome on the great Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza, by Philip Jodidio, which is over-bright for its subject but still welcome, and an impressive volume on the Italian master Carlo Scarpa from Phaidon and Robert McCarter. Also from Phaidon is a delightful work, with text by Deyan Sudjic, on Shiro Kuramata, a furniture designer simultaneously fanatical, esoteric, postmodern and minimalist. Zeuler Lima's book on Lina Bo Bardi (Yale), the once overlooked, now hugely resurgent genius of mid-20th-century Brazil, is exceptionally fine.
Scarpa, Siza, Kuramata and Bo Bardi are all well known in the worlds of architecture and design, less so outside, and each book is a good way (at a price) of getting to know them. Also educational, and engagingly so, is the second volume of Makers of Modern Architecture (NYRB), in which the American critic Martin Filler deftly summarises the likes of Le Corbusier, Eero Saarinen and Rem Koolhaas.
The most compelling books of the year offer contrasting perspectives of cities. In The View from the Train (Verso), we are offered perceptive, educated, un-obvious musings on place and inhabitation by the film-maker Patrick Keiller. The Italian Townscape (Artifice) is a reprint of a 1963 book by Ivor de Wolfe, the pseudonym of the publisher of the Architectural Review Hubert de Cronin Hastings. It is rich in black-and-white photographs, made haunting by the passage of time, that show not only crumbling marble, but also advertising signs, road markings, the shine of a smart car. It is animated by de Wolfe/Hastings's text – pithy, witty, passionate, sometimes florid, sometimes eccentric.Reading this on mobile? Click here to watch video
Bradley L Garrett has academic credentials (Oxford, University of Californiacorrect) in geography and archaeology, with a parallel life as an urban explorer. This means that he and his associates break into places usually off-limits – tube tunnels, abandoned mental hospitals, the tops of skyscrapers – and photograph their experiences. Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City (Verso) documents their adventures, combining erudite references (Montesquieu, Walter Benjamin) with compelling photographs of men in hoodies in strange places.
If its appeal is its celebration of the unofficial, Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities (Lars Müller) goes much further. With photographs by the great Iwan Baan, it documents a skyscraper in Caracas, left as an incomplete concrete frame and then colonised by squatters, who improvised a multistorey city, complete with churches and brothels. The book, my book of the year, is a breathtaking document of human society and human ingenuity.