A Short Guide To
Architectural Guidebooks




The architectural guide institutionalized.

Since 1993 the sponsorship of the Society of Architectural Historians has slowly been seeing through a long-awaited American answer to the Pevsner guides, the Buildings of the United States series. As planned, each state (or in instances of greater architectural richness, portions thereof) shall earn its own volume; but the series may be more noteworthy in how it differs from its ostensible English model. Perhaps it may be described as, "when Gebhards grow up" (and Gebhard co-authored one of the first volumes, on Iowa). Thanks no doubt to their imprimatur, the BUS volumes can be best described as "stately", infused with a kind of scholarly gravitas (a gravitas that melds with the guidebook function less awkwardly than in the Buffalo guide). In fact, they're not especially Pevsnerian at all; the typical BUS procession has little of the casual ease of the "perambulation" (keeping in mind, of course, that the Pevsner guides were made for a "mass market", albeit high-quality, publisher). Although the original hardcovers were subsequently supplemented by paperback editions, these still feel more at ease on the coffee table than in the glove compartment (and in turn, unfortunately, more so in the glove compartment than in the coat pocket). And in part because of the greater selectivity induced by the statewide/regionwide focus, the BUS volumes too can suffer from the hazardous "leaky sieve" effect that is aggravated by our broadened built-culture consciousness (I discovered this when entering Port Huron with my Michigan edition in '93). It's an impressive feat, but the BUS should definitely not be taken as any kind of "last word" on regional architectural worth, especially in light of a continuing procession of similarly-scoped (Kansas, North Carolina, et al) guides being put out without the BUS label.

Iowa   Colorado   Washington DC

In the end, the BUS series is a bit akin to Beaux-Arts Academicism in architecture; an impressive feat, generally of undeniably high quality, but one can understand what led the Modernists to rebel against its strictures. Nevertheless, we can learn a lot from it; if a little too pompous a model to serve Toronto proper, at least as an ostensibly "popular" guide, the BUS can be a splendid model for all of Ontario or even Canada. Keeping in mind, of course, that Pevsner's Buildings Of England series ultimately begat the Buildings Of Scotland, Buildings Of Wales, Buildings Of Ireland...



Pevsner and WPA

America: the first wave

AIA Guide to New York City

David Gebhard: America's Pevsner

Goldberger, Banham, and Moore (and more).

Buffalo: Vindication

Chicago: Maturity

The Buildings of the United States series

London + Vienna + Berlin = Cartesian Europe

One Vancouver, many Montréals

Toronto: Opportunity

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