No other guide to American architecture has quite stood the test of time and been so consistently popular as the straightforward Field Guide to American Houses by
Lee and Virginia McAlester (1984). Yet, the guide’s end-date of 1940 means it has been inadequate as a resource for the architectural styles of the mid-century and beyond. Since buildings from the post-war period represent the majority of our nation’s building stock, and decisions regarding them are increasingly coming before our historic district commissions, preservationists have had to look elsewhere for guidance.
The long-awaited update has arrived! The refreshed and fully expanded A Field Guide to American Houses: The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture by Virginia Savage McAlester was released in December 2013. It has swiftly become an essential reference for understanding the residential building trends in the United States between 1940 and the present.
If you’re familiar with the 1980s version, you’ll likely recognize more than half the guide’s material, with its signature line illustrations, ample photos, organization by period and style, and informative text. Yet the 2013 version has been supplemented with additional photos, illustrations, and new chapters devoted to neighborhood development and the architectural styles of the recent past. A Field Guide to American Houses: The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture is available in most bookstores and online. Consider adding the guide to your commission’s library of resources and make certain your fellow commissioners and commission staff are aware of this excellent resource.