Researching a Building
Resources for researching historic buildings and architects vary in different localities. There are a number of research guides online that will help you get started.
· Finding Information on Buildings and Places, Environmental Design Library, University of California at Berkeley (emphasizes the Bay Area, but is a good overview for new researchers of what types of sources may answer what questions)
· New York City Buildings: Research Guide, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University
· Buffalo Architecture Research, Buffalo & Erie County Public Library
· Researching Historic Washington, D.C. Buildings, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
· How to Research a San Francisco Building, San Francisco Public Library
· Historical Research Guide, Los Angeles Conservancy
· Pittsburgh Architecture: A Guide to Research, Carnegie Mellon University Architectural Archives
· Drafting a House History, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota
· Building and House History, Minnesota Historical Society
· Researching Your Own Home, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University
· Research Resources: Architecture and Building History, Chicago History Museum
· How to Research Your Historic Virginia Property, Virginia Department of Historic Resources
· Architecture and Building: Resources by Topic, Architecture Studies Library, University of Nevada, Las Vegas (very comprehensive)
· Shaker Heights Building Card Database and Research Your Shaker Heights Home, Shaker Heights Public Library, Ohio
· Historic Architecture of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington
Local history resources
Local history collections in libraries, museums, or historical societies can help you find information in newspapers, city directories, local government records, books on the architecture of the area, and many other resources. Repositories of Primary Sources is a site with links to special collections repositories organized by state that can help you find local history collections in your area.
There is no central place where building plans are collected and stored. Ask the local history collection staff whether plans are saved by government agencies such as building permit offices. Policies for how much and how long to save building plans vary widely from one city to the next.
The local history collection may also be able to help you determine whether there was a successor firm with a different name, through city directories and newspaper articles. Unless there is a surviving partner or successor firm, an architect’s office records and plans may be discarded when the office closes. Obituaries may provide a clue to a successor firm, or help you locate the family to ask what happened to the office records.
Architectural archives collect the drawings and office records of notable architects in their geographic region. Here is a partial list of Architectural Archives.
There are several specialized indexes to articles in architectural magazines. The most comprehensive is the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals, which indexes citations to articles from the 19th century to the present. These indexes are available through libraries which subscribe to them. If there is a university with a school of architecture near you, check their library web site to find out whether the public can use the library. Once you have located a citation to an article, any library’s Inter-Library Loan department can help you determine the nearest library that owns that magazine.
If you are researching an architect who already has a historic building listed in the National Register of Historic Places, in the National Historic Landmarks Program, or similar state programs, request a copy of the nomination form for the building. It should contain research already done about that architect, with sources noted.
State historic register programs are usually administered through the State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs).