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Architecture Research @ Yale: How to Research Architecture

Architecture Writing Guides


Few buildings have had single books written about them, so expert researchers know to conduct searches for the architect's or firm's name and across the professional and popular literature for information about a particular building. 

Buildings are often categorized as subjects in library catalogs, which helps locate materials quickly. Remember to select Subject Browse when entering your search terms in Orbis. Try these tips:

  • Search under the full name of the building in direct order:
    Ex: "Guggenheim museum". If the building has a different official name (e.g. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum), you will be re-directed to that listing, and, if there is more than one building with a similar name (e.g. Museo Guggenheim Bilbao) you will be presented with possibilities from which to choose. 
  • You can also look for the building by its location:
    Ex: Bilbao (Spain)
  • Or enter a related term for the building, such as what it contains:
    Ex: Rare book libraries (to find the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library on Yale's campus.
  • If the building has had more than one name, try all the possibilities:
    Ex: Pan Am building is now known as the MetLife building.
  • If the building is known by its address, try both the numerals and the spelled-out version of the address:
    Ex: 154 East 89th Street vs. One Fifty-Four East Eighty Ninth Street
  • If the building is not likely to be the subject of an entire book, try using broader categories such as "churches" or "apartment buildings", in combination with the other tips, to locate books that might have a chapter or section on the building of your research.

To find citations for articles in journals, start by looking up the building in the Avery Index to Architecture Periodicals

Starting Your Research

Types of Resources

Books: Look for books when researching an architect, movement, or broad subject. Sometimes called "monographs", books can include bibliographies, footnotes, and indexes and often includes numerous images.

Arts Databases (Journal Articles): Look for articles in databases when you are researching a more contemporary/timely topic and more narrowly defined topics. Articles tend to be more closely focused on an argument, theory, or specific topic. Articles can be found in popular magazines (e.g,. AIA's Architecture) and can be peer-reviewed by experts, meaning extra vetting of information. Indexing in databases like the Avery Index allows simultaneous searching by subject across hundreds or thousands of magazines and journals.

Newspaper Articles: Published quickly and frequently, often documenting a particular place, easy to read

Biographical Information: Quickly look up an architect's nationality, birth and death dates, titles of major works, writings, etc.

Primary Sources: Present first-hand accounts and direct evidence, as in correspondence, diaries, or photographs

Dissertations and Theses: Find out which topics current and past scholars have researched extensively, look at their bibliographies for additional sources

Image and Video: Documentary visual evidence

What's the Best Resource?

Arts Librarian

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Tess Colwell
Arts Librarian for Research Services, Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library

Primary v. Secondary Sources

Secondary sources interpret and analyze primary sources. Because they are often written long afterward by parties not directly involved (but who may have special expertise), they can provide historical context or critical perspectives. Secondary sources routinely include pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources.

Depending on the subject, newspaper and journal articles can fall into both categories. For example, Paul Goldberger's architectural review of the new Citi Field and Yankee Stadium in New York is a primary source, because he is commenting directly on a current event, whereas an article surveying the history of New York City stadiums would be considered a secondary source.

Primary sources present first-hand accounts or direct evidence. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented, and can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. In the case of architects and architecture firms, this includes drawings, office records, and personal papers. At Yale, architectural archival materials are held in Manuscripts and Archives at the Sterling Memorial Library. Also consult the guide Primary Sources on Architecture @ Yale.