From weighty architectural volumes to pocket-sized guides, Martin Spring looks at the best of the year's building books that you might like to give away this Christmas – or keep for yourself
It may be THE feast before publishing famine, but 2001 has produced a bumper harvest of architectural books. Pushing aside unopened all those technical manuals on specification and contract law, here is Building's selection of luscious glossies for you and your loved ones to drool over this Christmas.

Coffee-table crackers
Several large sumptuous tomes with mouthwatering photography capture the spirit of the early 21st century – but all at a price.

  • New Organic Architecture: the Breaking Wave
    (Gaia Books, 223 pages, £35)
    David Pearson investigates how eco-building around the world is beginning to develop an organic architectural style to match. With Will Alsop's seaside cafe shaped like an upturned boat, Renzo Piano's jungle village in New Caledonia that resembles a set of wickerware baskets, and a desert home masquerading as a giant fungus, he shows how buildings can use natural materials ingeniously, coexist in their landscapes and feel fun and healthy to live and work in.

  • New Vernacular Architecture
    (Laurence King, 240 pages, £40)
    Vicky Richardson explores similar territory, though with a more scholarly approach and proper architectural drawings. Richardson is extremely anxious not to be tarred as a revisionist wallowing in nostalgia, and she struggles to reconcile this stance with the book's theme.

    At one point, she even describes vernacular architecture as "architecture in denial". The title is really a misnomer, as her subject is anything but people's architecture. Instead, she examines architecture that reinterprets rather than revives traditional forms, materials and construction techniques.

    In her introduction, Richardson traces the pedigree of established writings on the subject and concludes grudgingly that this neo-traditionalism "is perhaps the most appropriate mode of expression for an era that lacks a sense of transformative historic change". The immense physical and psychological impact of the new ecological imperative to save the planet, which informs Pearson's book, is largely ignored, thankfully. The bulk of the book is more positive, bringing together 37 splendid buildings from around the world designed by such cutting-edge architects as Sergison Bates in England, Sverre Fehn in Norway and Glen Murcutt in Australia.

  • Landscape is quickly becoming the new architecture, and Jane Anidon, who practises landscape architecture in Colorado, has responded with Radical Landscapes: Reinventing Outdoor Space
    (Thames & Hudson, 192 pages, £30)
    New urban parks in north America and Europe, mainly the Netherlands, are illustrated as exemplars of the current vogue in landscaping, in which natural planting, water features, paving and bridges are brought together in bold, geometric and self-evidently artificial formations.

  • A little closer to home:
    New London Architecture
    (Merrell, 240 pages, £30)
    does exactly what it says on the cover. The indefatigable architectural critic, Kenneth Powell, has gathered a cornucopia of over 100 recent buildings and new projects in London, covering all building types and ranging from the latest corporate office extravaganzas by Foster and Partners and Renzo Piano to chic boutiques and anorexic infill houses. Unlike Richardson, Powell is unreservedly upbeat about his subject, finding London in a "confident and expansive mood", in which even commercial developers and local authority planners have swallowed their fear that the public might recoil in horror from dynamic modern architecture. He dubs the whole contemporary architectural scene in London a renaissance.

    Stocking fillers

    Scaling down the size and cost to more modest proportions, there is quite a range of pocket books to choose from this year.
  • Jonathan Glancey, The Guardian’s architectural critic, has penned his own personal and always readable polemic on London, entitled London: Bread and Circuses (Verso, 148 pages, £13). Glancey subjects the contemporary urban scene of the capital to a socialist critique and concludes that style is winning over content hands down. “It’s hard to avoid the suspicion,” he writes, “that Londoners are bought off by New Labour with dashing architecture, modish cafes and sumptuous museums,” rather than serviceable transport, hospitals and schools – hence the title.
  • Prestel has brought out a genuine “pocket guide” to architecture of the last 100 years from around the world entitled Architecture: from Art Nouveau to Deconstructivism (168 pages, £7), written by Klaus Richter. After a quick romp through 250 architects and key “isms”, the book provides illustrated summaries of 50 seminal buildings.
  • In the 50th anniversary year of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner’s phenomenal one-man national library of architectural guides, Penguin has swallowed hard and transformed the format of The Buildings of England series into a handbook that you can open and read on the street, rather than an inventory to be pored over in the library. Colour photos and plans are published next to the relevant text and maps help identify the buildings, and the price has been subsidised by English Heritage. The first volume in the newly named series of Pevsner Architectural Guides is Manchester (Penguin, 380 pages, £10).