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What to Get an Architect for Christmas

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What to Get an Architect for Christmas

By Bob Borson, FAIA November 29, 2018

This is the 9th annual and highly anticipated What to Get an Architect for Christmas gift guide. It’s hard for me to process that when I wrote the very first gift guide back in 2010 that this would become the most requested blog post that I would write every single year. In that first year, the guide was just my own personal gift wish list, but now I spend almost an entire year curating what sort of items should make the final cut. Apparently, some years I clearly want more stuff than others, and this year’s list at 28 total items falls somewhat short of last year’s intensive mega-book list (43 total items, 31 one of which were books.)


Instant Pot [9:33 – minute mark] Bob Gift
I own a 6-quart slow cooker (i.e. Crock Pot) and it gets used at least a few times every month and I think it’s a good gift to give someone. As I was reviewing my list with my wife, she informed me that slow cookers are old school and these days, the smart buy is on the “Instant Pot”. I clearly took this as a challenge because I then spent the next hour reading articles comparing instant pot versus slow cookers. After my trademarked exhaustive research, I am happy to report definitively that the winner is ….. it’s a tie. As it turns out, they both basically do the exact same thing except the instant pot is a pressure cooker so you are able to prepare the food more quickly.



Bocce Ball Set [13:32 – minute mark] Andrew Gift
Fun outdoor time away from the office is always a good thing. This Bocce set is great for a relaxing competition among your friends over a few cocktails on a nice afternoon. This is a fairly simple game concept, but one that involves some precision and strategy which appeals to me as an architect. I want one of these for myself.  Also, you can take with you to a friend’s house, another architects office, or just about anywhere you want to throw a game.



Noon Home [15:45 – minute mark] Bob Gift
Installs like a normal switch, Noon Lighting controls feature an OLED controller called a “Director” that can control up to 10 extension switches. Utilizing your existing wiring, you can change out your light switches and take control of all the hardwired light fixtures in your house. The Director control comes with 3 professional scenes based on the bulbs you have in place but you have the ability to customize up to 6 additional scenes

Utilizing a universal dimming base, NOON lighting controls work with all residential bulb and fixture types including LED, incandescent, halogen, fluorescent, CFL bulbs, and MLV, ELV light fixtures and there is no requirement for separate switches for multi-way installations.

I actually have these in my own house and I love them … at an irrationally high level. Eventually, I will write a full post on just how amazing these light switches are and how much better your life will be in you put them in your home.

Update November 26th – If you buy these directly from NOON Lighting, they are on a huge sale right now – most products up to 50% off their normal price. Shop HERE



Huion Light Box Table Size A3 [21:30 – minute mark] Andrew Gift
This is one of my favorite items I own. I use this on a regular basis in my office. This size is also the best as I can oversee a large amount of information. While this would get more use by an architect that tends to sketch more, I still believe that it is useful to any architect. At some point, I think we all need to overlay a few items and coordinate. You can get smaller sizes of this exact lightbox, but the larger is best for an architect who likes to sketch, draw or design in a non-digital format. This is also a fairly portable item because it is so thin. If you think portability is critical that may be the reason to get a smaller size like A3 or A4.


Ember Mug [23:08 – minute mark] Bob Gift
This is a ceramic-coated stainless steel mug that has an ion-lithium battery in the base, and depending on how hot you like to keep your beverage of choice, it will allow you to keep your drink hot for up to 2-hours off the charging pad or all-day long if you keep it sitting on the pad … [why you would want to keep that same beverage hot for that long is beyond me].

While this might seems like an odd gift from someone who doesn’t drink coffee, it works equally for keeping tea and hot chocolate hot, and both of those two things are well within my wheelhouse of cold-weather beverages.



Architecture Lego Sets  [27:09 – minute mark] Andrew Gift
As a kid I loved Legos. I can often trace my interest in architecture back to this toy. As an adult, I still enjoy a good Lego set. Lego has been producing these sets for several years and there is a wide variety of options to fit a budget. But I prefer the larger sets as they offer a bit more time to assemble and provide more detail to the finished product. Many of these sets sell out and are now only available on the secondary market for increased prices. But the sets I have selected are still in production for this year. Nothing like having a project to complete on Christmas day!

Guggenheim Museum Set     United State Capitol Building     LEGO Architecture Studio



Masterclass [31:58 – minute mark] Bob Gift
It has taken me a while but I have come round in a big way on the Masterclass series, in which you the student access tutorials and lectures pre-recorded by experts in various fields. The classes cover an amazing range of topics, including, creative writing, cooking, playing poker, film-making, and on and on. I have only watched one class in its entirety but I am impressed and you can now count me as a fan. I watched a cooking series taught by Thomas Keller because I like to cook and I would like to improve my skills and knowledge base more than what I can get from reading a book. The other class that I am starting to watch now is from architect Frank Gehry teaching design and architecture (like I need that) and so far, it’s extremely well done.

While the individual classes are expensive at $90 (still worth it in my mind) you can get the all-access pass for $180 and it provides you will the keys to the proverbial kingdom and you can watch every single class and lesson that Masterclass has to offer.

Thomas Keller Teaches Cooking Cooking Techniques II: Meats, Stocks, and Sauces
Frank Gehry Teaches Design and Architecture



Inkbox Semi-Permanent Tattoos   [39:16 – minute mark] Andrew Gift
These are semi-permanent tattoos created from an organic plant material. The company has several options for your consumption. You can purchase from their curated set of designs, design your own and let them create or purchase the “ink” for your own freehand use. These are great for a bit of creative expression on your skin that you may just want for a short period of time. I have used a few and they are lots of fun.



Darioush Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon [49:30 – minute mark] Bob Gift
I typically include something from the bar category with every Christmas list and while I don’t pretend that I know a great deal about wine, I know a fair amount … enough so I am lovingly and irritatingly called a wine snob. Of all the wine that I drink, this is my most favorite one. Darioush is a label my wife and I discovered about 18 years ago, which turns out this was only about 3-years after Darioush was founded. While this is an expensive bottle of wine for casual consumption (the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon shown here is $100) it is by no means extraordinarily priced. For most people, including myself, this is a special occasion wine and it has never failed to deliver on taste. I’m also not going to dwell on review Robert Parker wrote calling the 2015 Cab “seriously plummy and spice box-inspired nose with underlying baked blackberries and kirsch notes with hints of sandalwood” because you will probably make fun of me.

Last thing and this is something that all architects (current and future, assuming that they are over 21-years-old), is that the bottle for this wine is amazing. Just holding it is an experience … just get one bottle and find out why for yourself.

You can thank me later, or better yet, do it in person and bring along a bottle of Darioush.


Pop Chart Lab Info Prints  [55:17 – minute mark] Andrew Gift
This company has a large selection of info-graphic prints dealing with pop culture and somewhat quirky topics of knowledge. They are high-quality prints and look good in a frame. Several designs cover architectural concepts as well as a larger selection of topics that I believe would appeal to many architects. It seems that most of us have a predilection for visual-based knowledge, and these are pretty awesome.



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



Aalto Vase [$113]
I have always wanted an Aalto vase and since I plan on being in Finland very soon, it has me thinking more and more about the likelihood that I will be adding one to my collection very soon. Originally designed by Alvar Aalto and his wife Aino for the Savoy Restaurant in Helsinki, the design has been manufactured in Finland since 1936 and is an international icon.

The vase is available in a variety of sizes and colors, but I am partial to the clear glass and 6.25″ (15.875 mm) height.



Free Fly Apparel Bamboo Fleece Quarter Zip [$75]
I actually own two of these pullovers and I really like them. The exterior is Bamboo and the interior is fleece so they make for an extremely comfortable and warm outer-layer. The company – Free Fly – make a lot more than just these quarter-zip pullovers and they make clothing for both men and women … but I haven’t worn any of the women’s clothing so that’s why I am focusing on this pullover. I shared a cab with a young woman at a convention I recently attended and during our ride, I learned that her husband works for this company. I had previously owned one bamboo t-shirt, and it is one of my favorites, so I decided to check this company out and I couldn’t have been happier that I did.



All Architects like books – it’s one of the safest gifts you can buy and it is really difficult to go wrong with just about anything you could select. 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. I have added a handful of new books to this years list but it might be worth your time to go back through the book lists curated from previous years if you want some additional ideas.


Studio Joy Works: Rick Joy [$35]
Rick Joy’s reputation as one of the country’s most gifted designers, whose mining of materials and site create transcendent, even poetic buildings, was established in his first book, Desert Works. This follow-up, Studio Joy Works, marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of his firm’s founding and continues the careful documentation of the growing body of his important work, including houses in Vermont and California, his first public project, a train station in Princeton, New Jersey, and residences abroad in Mexico and Turks and Caicos. The projects in this book are further contextualized with an essay by Joy and spectacular photographs.


Atlas of Brutalist Architecture [$132]
This is the only book to thoroughly document the world’s finest examples of Brutalist architecture. More than 850 buildings – existing and demolished, classic and contemporary – are organized geographically into nine continental regions. Presented in an oversized format with a specially bound case with three-dimensional finishes, 1000 beautiful duotone photographs throughout bring the graphic strength, emotional power, and compelling architectural presence of Brutalism to life.


Mid-Century Modern Architecture Travel Guide (East Coast) [$23]
Featuring architecture by some of the biggest Mid-Century names, including Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, Eero Saarinen, and Philip Johnson, each of the more than 250 buildings are located on a regional map. The book includes all the additional information needed to find and visit each building.


Cosmic Communist Construction Photographed [$53]
Photographer Frédéric Chaubin reveals 90 buildings sited in fourteen former Soviet Republics which express what he considers to be the fourth age of Soviet architecture. His poetic pictures reveal an unexpected rebirth of imagination, an unknown burgeoning that took place from 1970 until 1990. Contrary to the 1920s and 1950s, no “school” or main trend emerges here. These buildings represent a chaotic impulse brought about by a decaying system. Their diversity announced the end of the Soviet Union.

The beauty of Soviet brutalism: A photographic record of 90 weird and wonderful buildings from the last decades of the USSR


Architects’ Houses [$34]
Thirty of the world’s most talented architects, including Norman Foster, Thom Mayne, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, talk about the houses they designed for themselves over the past decade in Architects’ Houses. What inspired them, what were the constraints, how did their concepts take shape? Michael Webb explores the creative process and traces the influence of architects’ houses over the past two hundred years, from Jefferson’s Monticello to the creations of Charles and Ray Eames, Toyo Ito, and Frank Gehry.


Allied Works Architecture: Dwelling [$38]
Drawing on examples of his own instantly recognizable user-friendly modern design, Brad Cloepfil, principal of celebrated firm Allied Works Architecture, demonstrates how to create serene havens for modern living. Allied Works Architecture: Dwelling is dedicated to the renowned firm’s residential works, which are laboratories for experiments in form and building craft informing the firm’s growing portfolio of large-scale projects around the globe. Guided by principles of craft and innovation, Allied Works creates designs that resonate with their specificity of place and purpose. Using a research-based approach, Allied Works distills the elemental principles that drive each of their projects and transforms these into material, shape, and structure.


The Nordic Home [$37]
Given its unique focus on organically integrating people with nature using sustainable techniques, Scandinavian design currently occupies an important position in the architectural and interior design worlds. The Nordic Home captures this exciting trend by showcasing 45 case studies exemplifying the best of Nordic architecture and interiors.



Architectural Registration Exam  [$65]
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.



Architectural Graphic Standards for Residential Construction [$185]
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.



Architectural Graphic Standards 12th Edition [$143]
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.



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.



Tombo Markers (10 piece Gray Scale $12) (10 Pack Landscape Colors $13.50)

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).



Personalized Library Book Embosser [$24]

Architects like books … a lot. You can’t go wrong with getting your favorite architect a book as a present, giving them a way to sign it as theirs is also very cool. All of my books have my name on the inside cover page – a practice that developed out of bringing my books up to the office so frequently. While I think I have a respectable library, it’s nothing compared to my business partner, Michael Malone, who seems to have ten’s of thousands of books. He is the only person I’ve seen who has the embosser for his books – and since I’ve seen it, I’ve decided that I want one as well … it’s cool and I don’t want Michael stealing my books. At $20, this is an extremely thoughtful gift.



Moleskine Cahier Journal (Set of 3), Extra Large, Plain, Black, Soft Cover (7.5 x 10) [$17]

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  [$6]

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


and for some pen weight … get Sharpie Fine Tip pens  [$7]



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 – 2017
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 2018 list of ‘What to get an Architect for Christmas‘ gift guide. I can reasonably guarantee that you’ll have success if you use the items on this list as a guide – since these are all items that I want, you can conclude that your overly picky architect will like these items as well.

Cheers, and Happy Holidays

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