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Syracuse University Libraries

Architecture: American Architectural Resources

Guides to Architectural Styles

Though many architectural styles are described fairly thoroughly in the architectural dictionaries, there are five important monographic works which cover the styles in somewhat greater detail:

Blumenson, John J.G., Identifying American Architecture: A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 1600-1945. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1981. (NA 705 .B55 1981)

Sponsored by a national historical association, this book first appeared in 1977 and was reprinted in 1978. A second revised and enlarged edition was published in 1981. Architectural styles are treated by period in several page summaries. There are numerous photographs. The importance of this book lies  in the manner in which it illustrates the important features of each style or movement.  Key elements of each style are "pinpointed" on the accompanying photographs.

McAlester, Virginia and Lee McAlester, Field Guide to American Houses: The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America's Domestic Architecture. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. (NA 7205 .M35 2013)

Detailed descriptions of typical houses and materials are cited for each period.  The newest of the field guides, the McAlester book includes principal subtypes and the predominant geographical areas in which a style flourished.  There are excellent black and white photographs of each subtype, and line drawings depicting major details.

Rifkind, Carole, Field Guide to American Architecture. New York: New American Library, 1980. (NA 705 .R53 1980b)

The Rifkind guide is heavily illustrated with line drawings, many of which have been taken from the Historic American Buildings Survey.  The book is broken up into four parts, according to types of building.  Within this framework, entries are arranged chronologically by style.  A description of typical materials and important features of the plans are included.

Walker, Les, American Shelter: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Home. Woodstock, NY:  Overlook Press, 1981. (NA 7205 .W34)

Clear line drawings depict the various styles of American domestic architecture.

Whiffen, Marcus, American Architecture Since 1780: A Guide to the Styles. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992. (NA 705 .W47 1992)

The entries in the Whiffen book are somewhat more detailed than those in the newer Blumenson book. Whiffen first compiled his work in 1968 and, at that time, he coined some of the terms, like "Sullivenesque," which are now used in other works of this nature.  In addition, Whiffen's bibliography is more comprehensive than those of either Rifkind or Blumenson.


Encyclopedias are excellent starting points, especially if you are having difficulty locating material on a particular topic or architect.  For instance, you may have been given the name of an architect and were unable to find books or periodical articles on his/her work.  Reference tools such as encyclopedias can provide you with the background information you need to continue your research.

Encyclopedia of Architecture, Design, Engineering, and Construction. Joseph A. Wilkes, ed., New York: Wiley, 1988. (NA 31 .E59 1988)

A five-volume work, this set provides an excellent overview of many aspects of architectural history, theory, and design, as well as construction techniques. 

Hunt, William Dudley. Encyclopedia of American Architecture.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980. (NA 705 .H86)

This book consists of 202 essays, arranged alphabetically.  Building types, systems, materials, periods and major figures are covered.

Kornwolf, James D. Architecture and Town Planning in Colonial North America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, c2002. (NA703 .K67 2002 v.1-3.)

The result of more than twenty years of research, James Kornwolf’s work is a comprehensive study of early American architecture.


Ching, Francis D. K. A Visual Dictionary of Architecture. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1995. (NA31 .C44 1995)

Curl, James Stevens. Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. (NA31 .C864 2006)

Davies, Nikolas. Dictionary of Architecture and Building Construction. London: Elsevier/Architectural Press, 2008. (NA31 .D38 2008)

Harris, Cyril M., Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975. (NA31 .H32 2006)

In his preface, Harris claims that most of the definitions in this work are original. In addition to historical elements, this dictionary provides definitions for those terms used daily in architectural practice and the construction industry. As such, definitions are included for the terms found on working drawings and in specifications. Mechanical and electrical specialties are also covered.

Saylor, Henry H., Dictionary of Architecture. New York: Wiley, 1952. (NA 31 .S25)

Similar in format to the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, this dictionary provides short definitions for commonly used terms. 

Sturgis, Russell, Dictionary of Architecture and Building. New York: Macmillan, 1905. (NA31 .S84)

Issued in three volumes back in 1905, this dictionary still remains the best in the field of architectural history. The extensive line drawings illustrating the definitions of terms are especially important.

Research Sets

The Fowler Architectural Collection of the Johns Hopkins University. Catalogue. 

Compiled by Laurence Hall Fowler and Elizabeth Baer; Guide to the Microfilm Collection. Woodbridge, CT.: Research Publications, 1982. Johns Hopkins University. John Work Garrett Library.

Fowler Collection consists mainly of classical and Renaissance works collected by Laurence Hall Fowler, a Baltimore architect.  Works by Vitruvius, Alberti, Palladio, and Vignola were collected in all editions and languages along with other important early treatises.  In the 1970s, a gift from William Gumberts further expanded the collection.  The complete text of these works has been placed on microfilm by Research Publications.  Many works are not represented in the Syracuse University Libraries collection in any other format or edition.  (NA 2400 .B3 J6 1982 and Microfilm 4664)

Historic America and The National Register of Historic Places

These are invaluable tools with respect to historic American buildings,.

Historic America; Buildings, Structures, and Sites

Recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey and the Historic American Engineering Record, checklist compiled by Alicia Stamm, with essays edited by C. Ford Peatross, Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1983. The first pamphlet listing documented sources was published in 1934.  The Historic American Buildings Survey was begun in 1933 as part of the Work Projects Administration under the National Park Service.  The framework for continuing the project was set up in 1934. In 1935, federal funding was extended under the Historic Sites Act of 1935.  Between 1941 and 1957, little progress was made in recording the nation's historic structures.  The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 expanded the program.  Currently 20,000 structures have been surveyed, representing over 40,000 drawings, 68,000 photographs, and some 30,000 additional records, mainly data sheets. The drawings in the Historic American Buildings Survey have been made available on microfilm through the Library of Congress Prints and photographs Division.  All 50 states and Puerto Rico are included.  Buildings recorded after 1970 will not be included on the microfilm and must be ordered directly from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. (Microfilm 4438)

Chadwyck-Healey has recently supplemented the available material by placing on microfiche the photographs and additional data sheets included in the Historic American Buildings Survey. (NA 707 .H46, microfiche)

Online Access

Historic America

The first comprehensive catalogue of the structures recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the Historic American Engineering Record.  It was issued on the 50th anniversary of the HABS. The first real catalogue of HABS was issued in 1938, with additions printed in 1941, 1951, and 1965.  These editions include building type indexes not included in Historic America. (NA 705 .H53 1983, and NA 707 .H45, fourth floor stacks for older editions)

The National Register of Historic Places, 1966-1988.

Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1989.

The National Register lists properties in the United States of historic and cultural value so deemed worthy of historic preservation.  Both public and privately owned properties are included.  The scope is wide, including the U.S.S. Nautilus, Alcatraz, the Ladew Topiary Gardens, as well as more common structures, such as early colonial houses.  In recent years, the value of the National Register has been called into question.  One reason for this is that the documentation for certain areas of the country is more complete than for others.  Chadwyck-Healey has made the background documentation for all structures on the National Register available on microfiche.  In addition to illustrations and a history of the structure, detailed bibliographies are also included for each of the entries.  The newest version of the National Register is merely a listing.  For brief descriptions of the structures, see earlier editions of this work. (E 159 .N3418 1989)

Online Access

Indexes to Periodical Literature

Database: Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals
Vendor: EBSCOhost
Description: The Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals indexes more than 2,000 periodicals published worldwide on archaeology, city planning, interior design, and historic preservation, as well as architecture. Coverage is from the 1930s (with selective coverage dating back to the 1860s) to the present. The Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals is updated daily.

Database: America: History and Life
Vendor: EBSCOhost
Description: America: History and Life is the definitive index of literature covering the history and culture of the United States and Canada, from prehistory to the present. With indexing for 1,700 journals from 1964 to present, this database is without question the most important bibliographic reference tool for students and scholars of U.S. and Canadian history. The database also includes citations and links to book and media reviews. Strong English-language journal coverage is balanced by an international perspective on topics and events, including abstracts in English of articles published in more than 40 languages.

Biographical Directories

Wodehouse, Lawrence, American Architects from the Civil War to the First World War (NA 712 .W58) and American Architects from the First World War to the Present (NA 712 .W6), Detroit:  Gale Research Company, 1976 and 1977 respectively.

Both of these volumes are annotated biographical directories, which unfortunately do not supplant Withey. Both volumes are also part of the Gale Art and Architecture Information series. The Wodehouse volumes do, however, include some entries not listed in Withey.

 Francis, Dennis Steadman,  Architects in Practice, New York City, 1840-1900. New York: The Committee for the Preservation of Architectural Records, 1980.

This is an alphabetical listing of architects and their dates. The bibliography at the back lists the various business and city directories consulted when compiling the work. (NA 55 .N5 F72)

Withey, Henry and Elsie Withey, Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased). Los Angeles:  New Age Publishing Company, 1956. (Copy in King + King)

First published in 1956, this still remains the best biographical dictionary of American architects. The Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects, though an excellent reference tool, is more selective because of its international scope. The biographies presented in the Withey book are brief, scholarly analyses of the highlights of the architects' careers and contributions.  At the end of the statement, there is a listing of further references.  In 1970, this work was reprinted by Hennessey and Ingalls of Los Angeles. (NA 736 .W5)

Tatman, Sandra L., and Roger W. Moss, Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Boston, G.K. Hall, 1985.

Drawn from the files of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, the Tatem-Moss work is a comprehensive source for information on Philadelphia architects.  A list of projects and selective bibliography is included with each entry. (NA 735 .P5 T28 1985)

Directory of Historic American Architectural Firms. Washington, D.C.: American Institute of Architects Foundation, 1979 (NA 53 .A55)

An index of original firm names appears at the back. The location and extent of the historical records and drawings from each firm is provided.

Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects. Adolf K. Placzek, ed., New York:  Free Press, 1982. (Copy in King + King)

Published in 1982, this four-volume work is now the standard biographical dictionary of architects. Its scope is international and the title "architect" is applied in such a way as to include related professionals as well as practicing architects. As such, architectural writers, i.e. John Ruskin, engineers such as the Roeblings who designed the Brooklyn Bridge, landscape architects such as Andrew Jackson Downing, and town planners known for their contributions to the architectural profession are included. The Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects is comprised of over 2400 biographies, ranging from 50 to 10,000 words in length. (Architects born after December 31, 1930 are not included.) Each biography is signed by a recognized scholar and includes a list of works, as well as a bibliography. The index in volume 4 is multifaceted: there is a simple alphabetical index as well as a chronological index of names, and an index of works. Though there are occasional problems with the dates or bibliographies, this is an invaluable source for biographical material on architects. (NA 40 .M25  vols. 1-4)


Arts in America: A Bibliography, Bernard Karpel, ed., Washington, D.C. : Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979.

 Volume 1 of this four-volume set has a section devoted to American architectural resources.  This section was compiled by Charles B. Wood III, a well-known rare book dealer, specializing in art and architectural materials.  The subdivisions include such topics as studies of specific building types, building materials and methods, and architectural criticism.  The coverage is comprehensive for sources published prior to 1979.  Periodical articles as well as monographs are included.  The annotations are well written.  Volume 4 is an index volume.  (NX 503 .A1 A77)

American Architecture Books: A List of Books, Portfolios, and Pamphlets on Architecture and Related Subjects Published in America Before 1895.  Henry Russell Hitchcock, ed., New York:  Da Capo Press, 1976.

This is the most comprehensive bibliography on American architecture published to date.  It is a list of 1461 architectural books published in the United States before 1895.  Some of the titles are annotated when necessary.  There is a subject index at the back, which breaks the titles down into the appropriate categories.  The most important facet of this bibliography is the fact that Research Publications has issued the books on this list on microfilm as a set.  (Z 5941 .H67 1975, and microfilm 3996)

Park, Helen, A List of Architecture Books Available in America Before the Revolution. (Z5941 .P35 1973)

A checklist which first appeared in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (vol. 20, October 1961), the Park list consists of 119 architectural titles in private collections in the United States before the American Revolution.  There is a source list, which notes both the previous and current locations of these titles.  This list is especially important for students of early American architectural history, as it contains the "Pattern Books Builder's Guides" consulted by the first American builder-architects.  When Research Publications microfilmed the titles in the Hitchcock bibliography, this list was added as a supplement.

Roos, Frank J., Jr., Bibliography of Early American Architecture: Writings of Architecture Constructed Before 1860 in Eastern and Central United States. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1968. (Z 5944 .U5 R6 1968)

First published in 1943, this bibliography was updated in 1968. It is still of great value to students of American architectural history today.  The introduction includes the definitions of terms like "Battle of the Styles."  After a brief bibliography listing the references on the particular architectural styles, Roos proceeds with a regional approach.  References to particular cities are included.  At the end, there is a bibliography arranged by architect, which incorporates periodical articles.

Trade Literature

Trade literature is an important source for information on American material culture.  Several microform publishers are making this material available to a wider audience.

Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur, Trade Catalogues at Winterthur:  A Guide to the Literature of Merchandising 1750 to 1980.  New York:  Garland, 1984.
Syracuse University Library has acquired those catalogs in the Winterthur collection dealing with the following topics: architectural building plans and materials; garden and lawn supplies and ornament; lighting fixtures and electrical supplies; paint and varnish; plumbing, heating and cooling equipment; and wall and floor coverings.  The actual catalogs in this collection have been placed on microfiche and provide the researcher with illustrations of early products.  As a source for the study of building technology, they are invaluable.  (HF 5861 .H45 1984, and microfiche set)

Book Resources

(The books listed in each of these bibliographies are available on microfilm)

American Architecture Books: A List of Books, Portfolios, and Pamphlets on Architecture and Related Subjects Published in America Before 1895.  Henry Russell Hitchcock, ed., New York:  Da Capo Press, 1976. (Z 5941 .H67 1975, and microfilm 3996)

The Fowler Architectural Collection of the Johns Hopkins University. Catalogue. (NA 2400 .B3 J6 1982 and Microfilm 4664)

Park, Helen. A List of Architectural Books Available in America Before the Revolution. Los Angeles: Hennessey and Ingalls, 1973. (Z5941 P35 1973; also MICROFILM 3996 Supplement)