A Short Guide To
Architectural Guidebooks


jones'& woodward's guide to london

and Cartesian Europe

I call these guides "Cartesian" because of what tends to be their method of organization; rather than simply going by existing political or geographic units, neighbourhood or "tourist sectors", they subject the locality in question to a gridded matrix, whereupon a separate chapter is dedicated to each delineated grid unit. What might seem like a fatally arbitrary method in theory can work surprisingly well in execution, though it's proven more applicable within an Anglo-European context than in North America; one of the earliest (first published in 1983) and most biting examples, and one that's particularly familiar to Torontonians as it's co-authored by one of Mississauga City Hall's architects, is "A Guide to the Architecture of London" by Edward Jones and Christopher Woodward. An intriguing feature about Jones & Woodward, and others like it, is that it's not only "Cartesian" but, within each unit, chronologically rather than geographically arranged; each chapter, each sector, becomes a stirring, turbulent, exciting, instructive procession of several centuries of encapsulated architectural progress (and non-progress). Each entry is typically accompanied by a capsule photo (sometimes more than one), and in case the format disorients the casual perambulator, the ultra-detailed, well-keyed, and very European sector maps can keep one on solid ground. (It also, in a mysterious manner, renders "necessary" omissions a little less galling.) More than most such guidebooks, "Cartesian" guides feel architectonic right down to their basic structure--and a well-fleshed-out structure it is, thanks to computerized advances in publishing and the general "post-modern" (and beyond) trajectory of architectural/urbanistic theory and creation.

It's an impressive, sophisticated model -but perhaps too much so; in a sense, it's really more workable in better-developed "architectural cultures" (such as in major European metropoli) than our own. (Yes, I wish it was otherwise...) However, the central element of its geographic structure--the gridded matrix--could be an ideal full-coverage way of tackling Toronto's current, increasingly boundary-blurred "Megacity" reality. (As well as giving the Megacity that unified, non-parochial "urban progressive" gloss it has, through its original notoriety and motivations to its current practice, so miserably lacked. Or, to take the opposite standpoint, making some pretty ambitious lemonade out of an apparent lemon. Ah, if only the city-that-works momentum of the Crombie era was sustained...)


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