American Architectural History: A Contemporary Reader

American Architectural History: A Contemporary Reader

American Architectural History: A Contemporary Reader

American Architectural History: A Contemporary Reader


This major new text features 24 essays on North American architectural and urban history. The book concentrates on recent writings by historians of American architecture and urbanism. The essays are drawn from the past twenty years' of publishing in the field, arranged chronologically from colonial to contemporary and accessible in thematic groupings. The editor provides a comprehensive introductory essay and sets the book's themes in context.


There is a new architectural history to be written, and there is an old
architectural history to be rewritten.

John Coolidge, 1942

As if in renewed response to Coolidge’s words, a new history of American architecture has emerged during the past two and a half decades. This collection of twenty-four previously published writings, with subjects ranging from colonial to contemporary times and representing a diverse group of individuals, sites, objects, issues, events, and scholarly viewpoints, provides an introduction to this development. Directed toward students and teachers of American architecture and cultural history, it surveys the evolving state of the field and aims to facilitate the formation of informed, critical perspectives on it.

American, architecture: these two words are so widely and variously used as to require regular redefinition. During the 1940s Nikolaus Pevsner said that “the term architecture applies only to buildings designed with a view to aesthetic appeal.” In the famous opening line of his book, An Outline of European Architecture, Pevsner declared that “A bicycle shed is a building; Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of architecture.” Forty years later, Spiro Kostof began his more inclusive A History of Architecture (1985) by stating that “all past buildings, regardless of size, status, or consequence,” should now be studied.” If anything, the boundaries of architecture have only continued to expand and blur in recent years. The essays featured here speak of a variety buildings, from unique examples of “high art” to prefabricated multiples, from the mundane to the monumental, from objects fashioned by professional designers to spaces created by their own unschooled inhabitants. Beyond buildings, however, these writings consider many other things as within the realm of architecture. Included here are examinations of building furnishings and associated artifacts, the rituals contained in and the social structures reinforced by particular built spaces, the modifications made to buildings and landscapes by their users (as opposed to their initial designers), the professional and cultural discourses and the urban and rural landscapes within which buildings are situated. Many of the writers talk “around” architecture, using buildings and design as launching points for wide-ranging discussions of culture and society. For many contemporary scholars the preferred terms for this extraordinarily complex physical, experiential, and imaginative terrain are the built environment or the cultural landscape. We might still identify all of . . .

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