Dear Prospective Downing Architects,

Here are a few pieces of advice on how to prepare for your studies at Cambridge:

1. It is always a good idea to read around your chosen course, to get a better idea of what you may be covering in your first year at Cambridge and to familiarise yourself with the breadth of the subjects, basic ideas and terms in architecture.  There is a reading list accompanying this letter which you may find useful and most of the texts should be available to you through various libraries. 
2. Brush up on your maths and physics if they are a little rusty.  The course requirements are not difficult by any means, perhaps try to familiarise yourself with algebra, basic trigonometry and qualitative ideas of calculus (e.g. rate of change, limits and integration etc.) from your GCSE syllabus.

3. Studio forms the main component of your studies here at Cambridge.  Students carry out a series of design projects throughout the three years which form the bulk of the marked work.  Prepare yourself by learning from the masters!  Use your summer holidays or the time you have before coming here to start looking at architecture around you (both buildings and larger-scale urban projects), and appraise them.  Does it work well? If so, why? If not, why not?  How could it be made better?  Try to answer such questions from functional, technical and social points of view, as well as aesthetics. 

Read up on high-profile buildings and architects and try to understand their underlying ideas.  Whether these are considered good pieces of architecture are irrelevant, it is the critique you want to get involved in, to acquire a critical eye of your own and draw your own conclusions on their stated concepts.

I wish you well with your studies and explorations and I look forward to meeting you when you arrive in October.  

Dr Emily So
Director of Studies in Architecture
Downing College

Books recommended for reading by students coming to Cambridge to read Architecture

Environmental Design
McMullan, “Environmental Science in Building”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.
Szokolay, “Introduction to Architectural Science: the Basis of Sustainable Design”, Architectural Press, 2003.

Maclean and Scott, “The Penguin Dictionary of Building”, Penguin, 1993.
Ross et al., “Architect’s Pocket Book”, Architectural Press, 2001.

Gordon, “Structures -- or Why Things Don't Fall Down”, Penguin, 1991.
Salvadori and Heller, “Structures in Architecture”, Prentice-Hall, 1978.

History and Theory
Trachtenberg and Hayman, “Architecture from pre-history to post-modernism”, Prentice-Hall, 1986
Gombrich, “The Story of Art”, Phaidon, 1966.
Summerson, “The Classical Language of Architecture”, MIT Press, 1966.
Gaston Bacherlad, “The Poetics of Space”, Penguin Classics, 2014.
Spiro Kostof, “The History of Architecture: Settings and Ritual”, OUP USA, 1995.
Frampton, “Modern Architecture, a critical history”, Thames and Hudson, 1981.

Professional Practice
Spector, “The Ethical Architect: The Dilemma of Contemporary Practice”, Princeton Architectural Press, 2001.

Others of interest
Ford, “The Details of Modern Architecture”, MIT, 1990, 1996
Templeton, “Acoustics in the Built Environment”, Butterworth, 1993.
Twombley, ”Frank Lloyd Wright - His Life and Architecture”, Wiley, 1979.
Von Moos, “Le Corbusier - Elements of a Synthesis”, MIT, 1979.
Wolfe, “From Bauhaus to our House”, Farier Straus Giroux, 1981.

August 2017