A Short Guide To
Architectural Guidebooks


While the self-reflective architectural culture in part bred (through the Pevsner guides, or through the Architectural Review) by Pevsner and his contemporaries led to a fair flutter of British architectural guides and throne-pretending reasonable facsimiles over the years, the self-absorbed ahistorical swagger of postwar America meant that the first real wave of American architectural guidebooks did not arrive until the 1960s, by which time an incipiently "postmodern" professional consciousness of history and context became accepted practice. More often than not endorsed by the American Institute Of Architects (usually in connection with annual convention locations), these early guides (among the first were the AIA Washington guide and "Chicago's Famous Buildings" from 1965) tend to come off as clear, competent, and a bit leadfooted--the work of an still Modernist-tinged architectural establishment in the early throes of sympathetically reconciling the breadth of American architectural history with the will to "cheerlead the present". But at their best, their pure sturdy servicability--to use Vitruvian terminology, they might be called "Doric" guidebooks--was enough to sustain many of them through several editions. Nevertheless, the select few guides (notably those for "university towns" like New Haven and Cambridge) which strove for a higher, almost "English" (or, perhaps, "Ionic") level of comprehensive sophistication make us regret that there weren't more like them before the 80s (or to this day, in fact).
          An interesting signal of how architectural guide priorities changed over a generation is that while the 1971 "Detroit Architecture: AIA Guide" had an entry, with no clue as to its context, on the then brand-new Macomb County Building, a fairly typical 60s-style skyscraper courthouse in Mount Clemens, the "Macomb County Building" listed in the 1993 BUS-series "Buildings Of Michigan" was its 1931-33 Art Deco predecessor next door, and the newer building was ignored altogether! (And paradoxically, Docomomo/Wallpaper*-culture has meant the ledger's probably swung back in the newer building's favour since then.)

AIA Detroit


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