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86 of 87 found the following review helpful:
An Essential Reference May 28, 2001
By Mark K. Mcdonough
I worked for a few years as an architectural historian doing historic building surveys and wore out at least 2 or 3 copies of this wonderful book. There are lots of "pocket guides" to architectural styles which will tell you that yup, that thing with a turret is a Victorian. But this book is a priceless resource for anyone with more than a casual interest in American domestic architecture. The McAlesters focus on ordinary houses (rather than rare architectural landmarks) and cover everything from dog-run log cabins to Greek Revival cottages to 1950s ranch houes. The writing is clear, the level of detail is just right, and the book has hundreds of black and white photos and illustrations.
I learned about domestic architecture to make a living, but even 20 years later still enjoy it as a hobby. If you're a professional in the field, this book is essential. But I would strongly recommend it to amateur enthusiasts as well. Once you learn to recognize housing types, every drive becomes a history lesson.
58 of 58 found the following review helpful:
A complete & entertaining education for old-house fans! Jan 03, 2003
If you are an old-house fan, this book is the equivalent of a college education. Here are some reasons this book is both entertaining and useful:
It starts with chapters on basic structure: shapes of houses, style of construction, ornamentation, etc. There are simple, remarkably clear drawings accompanying all this that will serve to give you a kind of 'vocabulary' to interpret houses when you run across something new (for example, a dozen different types of dormers - what are they all called?). (These involve almost entirely external elements, for detailed interiors you will need another book.)
Lots of delicious historical background about how history and technological advances changed housing. For example, the authors divide folk housing into "pre" and "post-railroad" because not until railroads made building materials nationally accessible did a national set of housing styles develop.
Following this, there are a series of chapters describing different styles (i.e., Victorian, Tudor, etc.), starting with the characteristic details, when and where the style is found, etc. The McAlisters do a particularly good job on regional variations; there are some remarkable maps showing the prevelance of different styles in different states.
The graphics are fantastic and plentiful. The simple stylzed drawings of building elements (rooflines, doorways, windows, etc.) clearly distinguish one detail from another, while the photographs make you want to pop into the car and drive all over to see the real houses themselves.
One note: there is a table, starting around p. 55, that will make the book much easier to use as a 'field guide' (i.e., driving around looking at houses the way birders look at birds). This chart helps you use key identifying features to determine the most likely style of the house. For example, my house has a steeply pitched roof and multliple gables, so it's probably a Tudor. From there you can go to the proper chapter. Without this chart you'll have to search the whole book.
36 of 36 found the following review helpful:
The bible of American house styles Apr 01, 1999
Of the several dozen books I own of American house styles, this is the only book that systematically breaks down every American house style from the Native American tipi to Modern architecture. For every style, it gives the two critcal elements of architecture, the form/shape of the houses and their details. As a land developer, I use this book as a pattern book for the design criteria of homes built in my neighborhoods - every homeowner gets a copy! This is truly the bible of American house styles.
19 of 19 found the following review helpful:
A beautiful and useful reference Dec 08, 2000
By Michael J. Mazza
If I could only keep one volume from my small library of books on home architecture, I would probably stick with "A Field Guide to American Houses," by Virginia and Lee McAlester. This is a true encyclopedia of the American home.
The McAlesters combine an informative introduction with a chapter-by-chapter guide to each of the major styles of home architecture in the United States. Each chapter includes both crisp, detailed line drawings and a wealth of photographs of actual houses themselves. The photographs alone--there are literally hundreds of them--make this book an invaluable reference work.
The McAlesters also provide newcomers with a useful primer to the language of home architecture. After reading this book you might find yourself using terms like "hipped dormer," "decorated verge board," "roof-line balustrade," and "ogee arch" when you visit a new neighborhood.
From Native American tipis to geodesic domes, from Chateauesque mansions to mobile homes--all this and more is in here. This book is a monumental achievement.
14 of 14 found the following review helpful:
You Can't Beat This! Aug 12, 2000
By sherri j. thorne
It was during a conversation that I was having with a co-worker at a major N.Y. cultural institution that I was first handed a copy of this book. I needed it too, because I cound not identify the architectural style of my own house!! This book changed all of that! You will find every architectural style in covered in this book along with some fabulous illustrations, with variants and details. I was absolutely delighted to see a section devoted to Native American architecture, and eclectic architectural styles. The photographs are excellent as well. This book is perfect for students of architecture and Historic Preservation. In the many years since I was first introduced to this book I have yet to see any other publication beat it, and I don't think any will.
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