Architecture Planning and Preservation Vernacular Architecture
by
Cynthia Falk
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0017

Introduction

Vernacular architecture refers to both a subject of study and a way of approaching that subject. Vernacular architecture studies emphasize the connections between the built environment and the people who interact with it, reflecting on the two-way nature of those relationships. People, sometimes known by name and sometimes anonymous, plan and erect buildings, but physical spaces also influence how groups and individuals use them. With this in mind, students of vernacular architecture often ask “why” questions, and they are likely to be interested in the entire life cycle of a building, its surroundings, and its interiors rather than just the moment of creation and exterior appearance. The scholarship on vernacular architecture contrasts with more typical architectural history in that it is concerned with the everyday. Ordinary buildings, landscapes, and interiors—the type of things that don’t often attract much attention—are its primary focus. The formal study of vernacular architecture is a relatively new pursuit. While interest in old buildings goes back centuries, it was really in the 1970s that the field developed its current trajectory. In the works that follow, architect-designed buildings are the exception rather than the rule. In terms of methodology, the unifying approach—regardless of type, date, or construction—involves fieldwork, which can mean documenting buildings and spaces through photography and the creation of measured drawings, as well as documenting the human experience through oral history and ethnographic methods. Documentary sources also play an important role in the study of vernacular architecture, especially when the subject involves the more distant past. The study of vernacular architecture is multidisciplinary. The authors of the following books, articles, and websites come from a variety of academic backgrounds, including art history, history, folklore, anthropology, archaeology, cultural geography, architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning, among others. Some teach in the academy, but others work at museums and historic sites, cultural resource management firms, historic preservation offices, and other governmental entities. In North America, the Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF) is the preeminent organization for the study of vernacular architecture. The VAF traces its roots, in part, to a similar organization, the Vernacular Architecture Group (VAG), which was established in England in 1952 with a focus on the British Isles.

General Overviews

Studies in vernacular architecture tend to focus on specific places and groups, as vernacular expressions are often localized and fieldwork as a methodology lends itself to a tight geographic and/or cultural focus. As a result, general overviews are limited, and those that exist tend to focus on the definition and importance of vernacular architecture and approaches to its study. The VAF published Invitation to Vernacular Architecture (Carter and Cromley 2005), which provides the closest thing to a textbook on the subject. Upton 1998 offers a national narrative in Architecture in the United States, although more examples are drawn from the East Coast, cities in the Midwest, and California than other parts of the country, as is typical of the field. Henry Glassie, while focusing on the United States in his volume Vernacular Architecture (Glassie 2000), adds comparative international material based on his long career studying folk culture around the world. While more dated and slimmer, the edited book American’s Architectural Roots: Ethnic Groups that Built America (Upton 1986) introduces readers to various building traditions brought to the United States by immigrant groups.

  • Carter, Thomas, and Elizabeth Collins Cromley. Invitation to Vernacular Architecture: A Guide to the Study of Ordinary Buildings and Landscapes. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2005.

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    The first book in VAF’s special series, this volume addresses what vernacular architecture is and how it can be studied, using a Buffalo, New York, house from 1906 as the primary case study. The volume stands up well as for use in the classroom, although the section on photography has become dated due to the rise of digital imagery.

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  • Glassie, Henry. Vernacular Architecture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

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    This text was published as a stand-alone volume and as part of Glassie’s larger volume Material Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999). It uses Glassie’s lifetime of global experience in folk studies to demonstrate what can be learned through vernacular architecture in chapters such as “Materialization,” “Composition,” “History,” and “Patterns in Time.”

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  • Upton, Dell. Architecture in the United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    Upton includes thematic chapters on community, nature, technology, money, and art in this book, which is about the various stories that buildings can tell. While the volume includes analysis of some very well-known architect-designed buildings, its approach is not limited to aesthetic appreciation. Additionally, Upton aims to capture diversity among Americans, a trend that would only grow in the years after this volume was published.

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  • Upton, Dell, ed. America’s Architectural Roots: Ethnic Groups that Built America. Washington, DC: Preservation, 1986.

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    This volume mirrors the popular guidebook What Style Is It? A Guide to American Architecture, (John C Poppeliers, S Allen Chambers, and Nancy B Schwartz. New York: Wiley, 1983) but shifts the focus from the aesthetic features of buildings to characteristics that link buildings in the United States to traditional buildings in other parts of the world. From a 21st-century perspective, the entries may oversimplify ethnic difference and processes of cultural change, but as an introduction they remain valuable.

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Reference Works

Reference works in the field of vernacular architecture tend to be place based. The Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) publishes the series Buildings of the United States, which currently includes twenty-four monographs on various states, regions within states, and cities. The series began in the early 1990s and continues with additional volumes. While historically SAH has been criticized for its lack of attention to vernacular places, many books in this series incorporate everyday buildings in addition to more noteworthy landmarks. The Vernacular Architecture Forum provides reference works in the form of the guidebooks prepared for annual meetings. Guidebooks are typically not formally published but can often be found in regional library collections.

  • Society of Architectural Historians. Buildings of the United States series. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

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    This series of monographs, coordinated by the Society of Architectural Historians and authored by experts on various geographic regions, includes titles on cities such as New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Savannah; states such as Alaska, Delaware, and Iowa; and portions of states such as Tidewater Virginia and Piedmont Virginia or eastern and western Pennsylvania. Volumes include entries on individual buildings keyed to maps, as well as black and white photographs. A complete list of titles can be found online.

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  • Vernacular Architecture Forum. Annual Meeting Guidebooks.

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    The Vernacular Architecture Forum organizes tours in conjunction with annual meetings held in different parts of North America and the Caribbean. Guidebooks prepared for those tours, which offer text, maps, and photographs, serve as important reference sources for each site. Informally published, these “white papers” can be difficult to locate, but a limited number are readily available online.

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Anthologies

While the journals of the VAF and VAG are published specifically on the topic of vernacular architecture (see Journals), practitioners in the field publish in a wide variety of serials. Anthologies have reprinted some of the classic articles available on vernacular architecture from publications that cover a wider variety of topics. Upton and Vlach 1986 offers an early example of this genre, while Mooney 2014 is a more recent follow-up reprinting articles from the journal Winterthur Portfolio.

  • Mooney, Barbara Burlison, ed. Vernacular America: Architectural Studies from Winterthur Portfolio. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.

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    The subject of Winterthur Portfolio, published by the University of Chicago Press for Winterthur Museum, is material culture, of which vernacular architecture is a subset. This anthology includes articles on topics ranging from earthfast buildings in the colonial Chesapeake to mail order houses of the Victorian period to World War I–era hostess houses. It is recommended as a course reader.

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  • Upton, Dell, and John Michael Vlach, eds. Common Places: Readings in American Vernacular Architecture. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

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    This edited volume features articles from academic journals, excerpts from monographs, and chapters from museum publications highlighting the cutting edge scholarship in vernacular architecture in the 1980s. There is a strong focus on the East Coast, as was common in the field at that time. Much of the material was seminal at the time, although more recent work has often built on and updated interpretations.

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Bibliographies

The VAF for decades published the Vernacular Architecture Newsletter (VAN) in printed form before transitioning to an electronic format in 2014. As a printed newsletter, VAN included a bibliography as a regular feature. Those newsletter bibliographies still provide useful information, despite the fact they are hard to come by and hard to search when found. In the digital age, VAF’s bibliography has transitioned to an online format. The VAG also provides a more limited online reading list.

Journals

As vernacular architecture is a multidisciplinary field, articles about it can be found in a wide variety of journals. Serial publications that are devoted specifically to the subject are published by the VAF and VAG.

  • Buildings & Landscapes. 2007–

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    VAF adopted this title in 2007 to replace Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture. Starting as an annual, publication of two issues per year began in 2009. Articles are peer reviewed and drawn from within and outside VAF membership. The focus is on North American topics although subjects from outside North America appear occasionally. In addition to research articles, the journal also publishes viewpoints, research notes, object lessons, and reviews.

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  • Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture. 1982–2006.

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    Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture began as proceedings of the annual meetings of the VAF, which were published once every two years. Later volumes were more thematic and included subtitles such as Gender, Class, and Shelter (1995) and People, Power, Places (2000). The publication became an annual journal, with submissions no longer coming solely from annual meetings, beginning in 2004 with Volume 11. This publication can be accessed by subscription through JSTOR online.

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  • Vernacular Architecture. 1971–.

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    Published by the Vernacular Architecture Group since 1971, this refereed journal includes articles on vernacular architecture from around the world, although historically the focus has been on the British Isles. Also included are the results of dendrochronology and book reviews.

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Methodology

Traditional architectural history has often focused on style. The study of vernacular architecture has prioritized other considerations, including context, use, and materials. Students of vernacular houses have long argued for the importance of floor plans over decorative features. Glassie 1975 makes this case in the author’s seminal volume Folk Housing in Middle Virginia, while Hubka 2013 more recently reiterates the importance of floorplans in Houses without Names. By focusing on floor plans, circulation patterns and room use can be better understood.

  • Glassie, Henry. Folk Housing in Middle Virginia: A Structural Analysis of Historic Artifacts. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1975.

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    Inspired by the structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Glassie charts the unspoken rules of average house building in Goochland and Louisa Counties in Virginia in the era before 1920. Perhaps the most significant volume in the field of vernacular architecture, the book incorporates theory and fieldwork to interpret changes in mindset based on concurrent changes in building design, such as open to closed plans and natural to artificial materials.

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  • Hubka, Thomas C. Houses without Names: Architectural Nomenclature and the Classification of America’s Common Houses. Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 2013.

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    Hubka argues that most buildings, especially average houses, lack the aesthetic features to classify them by architectural style. Instead of style, Hubka proposes that houses can be best understood through an analysis of room arrangements and circulation patterns. He further explains how the exterior of a house provides clues to its interior arrangement.

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Places

Vernacular architecture is a place-based field. Fieldwork as a methodology requires extensive observation of local conditions, and as a result much vernacular architecture scholarship addresses universal issues while examining particular places. Focus has shifted over time. Initially, many students of vernacular architecture focused on rural places. As the field developed, cities and urban life became more common subjects of inquiry. In both cases, emphasis was often on the past, usually the colonial and early national periods of the British North American colonies and the United States. In the best cases, these studies of old buildings inform, or informed, issues of contemporary importance. More recently, attention has shifted to the 20th century and to the new types of everyday environments that have emerged, especially in the suburbs. Another change in the study of American vernacular architecture has been geographic. The field developed in two regions, New England and the Chesapeake, in both cases with a focus on early American architecture of the colonial period. As time has passed, interest in the everyday built environment has embraced both newer buildings and buildings in other parts of the country and the world. While there remains a heavy emphasis on the East Coast, English-language studies now address all parts of North America and the Caribbean, as well as Great Britain. Vernacular architecture scholarship on other parts of the world is more limited but continues to grow.

Farms and Rural Landscapes

In its earliest phases in the 1970s, the study of vernacular architecture in the United States was concerned primarily with rural places where architect-designed buildings were unknown and changes in agricultural production left many older buildings without a use and therefore under threat. This focus followed patterns in England where farmhouses and farm buildings were likewise subjects of study in a rapidly changing landscape. Much of that early documentation in the United States went unpublished, but by the 1980s, monographs began appear, including books on New England (Hubka 1984) and Delaware (Herman 1987). While urban and suburban places have received more attention of late, rural landscapes, especially on the East Coast, continue to be the subject of inquiry. Gregory Huber updated John Fitchen’s classic 1968 volume on Dutch barns (Fitchen and Huber 2001). Falk 2012 and McMurry 2017 address New York and Pennsylvania farm buildings, respectively. McMurry 2017 follows on the author’s earlier study, McMurry 1997, which uses farmhouses to understand farm families, thus incorporating the study of gender into the study of the built environment.

  • Falk, Cynthia G. Barns of New York: Rural Architecture of the Empire State. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012.

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    Falk provides a synthetic resource on farm buildings in the state of New York from the first Dutch and English settlements through the 20th century. Organized by uses, the book includes structures ranging from chicken houses to dairy barns to windmills.

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  • Fitchen, John, and Gregory D. Huber. The New World Dutch Barn: The Evolution, Forms, and Structure of a Disappearing Icon. 2d ed. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2001.

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    John Fitchen first published The New World Dutch Barn in 1968. This revised and expanded edition includes a new introduction with new illustrations, both photographs and plans, and it updates other information even adding to the checklist of barns, which serves as an appendix. The book is strong in its explanations of the distinctive construction of Dutch barns and how construction techniques changed over time.

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  • Herman, Bernard. Architecture and Rural Life in Central Delaware, 1700–1900. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987.

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    While Herman includes barns and other farm buildings in this volume about southern New Castle County in Delaware, his work is especially strong in its analysis of rural house types based on floor plans, finishes, and construction. The volume provides a processor to The Stolen House (Herman 1992, cited under Regional Studies: Mid-Atlantic), which provides a more detailed analysis of a single household.

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  • Hubka, Thomas. Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 1984.

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    Hubka asks the question, why did New England farmers connect their houses to their outbuildings and their barns? He challenges the popular answer of cold climate and deep snow focusing instead on progressive agricultural reform of the late 19th century.

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  • McMurry, Sally Ann. Families and Farmhouses in Nineteenth-Century America: Vernacular Design and Social Change. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1997.

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    McMurry looks to farmsteads, especially farmhouses, to understand the dynamics of progressive agriculture in the 19th century. Based heavily on published articles from the agricultural press, this book traces a period of architectural change in the rural north and places the farm family, including women and children, squarely at the center of the transformation.

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  • McMurry, Sally Ann. Pennsylvania Farming: A History in Landscapes. Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt1ztdw18Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing from data collected for the state-wide Pennsylvania Agricultural History Project, McMurry divides Pennsylvania into geographical regions based on historical farming patterns. The bulk of the book addresses the periods of 1830–1910 and 1910–1965 and uses buildings as tools to understand larger agricultural processes.

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Urban Spaces

If the study of vernacular architecture began with the study of rural buildings, it soon blossomed to include cities and urban building types. Rather than focus on the rich and powerful inhabitants of cities, those studying vernacular architecture have instead illuminated the lives of the working class, immigrants, and servants through their studies of apartments (Cromley 1990), residential hotels (Groth 1994), and alley houses (Hayward 2008). Residential alternatives to the single-family, owner-occupied house have dominated studies, as shown in one of the earliest monographs in this vein, Manhattan for Rent (Blackmar 1989). Much of the literature has taken a historical approach to building types, tracing patterns in the United States to the 18th or 19th century. Herman 2005 uses transatlantic comparisons of early town houses, for example, to investigate the history of cities and their inhabitants across class and geographic boundaries.

  • Blackmar, Elizabeth. Manhattan for Rent, 1785–1850. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989.

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    Focusing on the history of renters and their landlords in New York City in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Blackmar challenges the narrative of abundant property ownership. The buildings that Blackmar’s subjects occupied rarely have survived the ravages of time, but her use of documentary sources helps bring the spaces to life in a book that is largely about more intangible concepts of class, labor, and government.

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  • Cromley, Elizabeth. Alone Together: A History of New York’s Early Apartments. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.

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    As its subtitle suggests, Cromley’s book is about New York City apartment buildings from their beginnings in the mid-19th century through the early 20th century. The book includes visual representations and numerous floorplans that help establish how urban space could be organized for multifamily living. Cromley seeks to capture the sometimes elusive concerns of the families who occupied these spaces as well as those responsible for their creation.

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  • Hayward, Mary Ellen. Baltimore’s Alley Houses: Homes for Working People since the 1780s. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

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    Hayward organizes her study of urban low-income housing based on the racial and ethnic groups that populated it: African Americans both before and after the Civil War, Irish, Germans, and Bohemians. Her focus is on the small houses that line the alleys that divide Baltimore’s city blocks, and her goals include promoting the preservation of these buildings.

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  • Herman, Bernard L. Town House: Architecture and Material Life in the Early American City, 1780–1830. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

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    This book takes the reader up and down the eastern seaboard and across the Atlantic Ocean in its analysis of urban living at the turn of the 19th century. Chapters, which stand well individually, focus on different groups of people, from merchants to slaves, shipwrights to widows. There is a strong emphasis on not only the marginalized but also on mobility, with separate consideration of travelers and German immigrants.

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  • Groth, Paul. Living Downtown: The History of Residential Hotels in the United States. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

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    While the term hotel may conjure thoughts of travel and transient use, Groth exposes the residential use of hotels from the early 19th century through 1980. The book is divided into four sections, the latter three of which divide hotels into categories based on quality and price—opulent, mid-priced, and marginal. Many examples are drawn from San Francisco.

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20th-Century Environments

While the field of vernacular architecture emerged from a concern about how old buildings can be used to better understand the past, it has shifted to include more recent aspects of the built environment. Some scholars have taken a historical approach, emphasizing the rise of new forms, while others have focused on lessons to be learned in the present from places created in the very recent past. Housing has been a major focus, with the rise of suburban landscapes occupying much attention. Additionally, commercial environments, from main streets to motels to strip malls, have become subjects of investigation and scrutiny. As 20th-century places age, issues related to their preservation have also risen to the fore.

Housing

In the 20th century, housing patterns shifted as people moved from cities to the suburbs, where they embraced pastoral ideals and took advantage of new forms of transportation. Jackson 1985 introduces the subject, including post World War II suburbs, in Crabgrass Frontier. That volume was followed more recently by books such as Jacobs 2015 and Lane 2015, which offer greater historical perspective on the postwar building of average single-family houses in subdivisions. While much scholarship has focused on the United States, Harris 1996 examines the prewar period in Toronto, Canada, and Cupers 2014 looks at post–World War II France. Aside from suburban single-family houses, other works have addressed alternative residential types, including Lasner 2012 on condos.

  • Cupers, Kenny. The Social Project: Housing Postwar France. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816689644.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In the aftermath of World War II, a varied combination of French government leaders, professionals, and citizens looked for new ways to meet housing needs. Cupers explores their motivations, influences, and legacy as he charts their proposed solutions, which transformed the French countryside. For students of American suburbs, the books provides a useful comparison.

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  • Lasner, Matthew Gordon. High Life: Condo Living in the Suburban Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012.

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    While much literature on housing in the 20th century has focused on single-family houses, Lasner shifts the emphasis to another new housing model, the condominium. In exploring jointly owned, multifamily complexes in the 19th and especially the 20th century, Lasner draws examples from throughout the country—Florida, New York, and California.

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  • Harris, Richard. Unplanned Suburbs: Toronto’s American Tragedy, 1900–1950. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

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    Harris’s study focuses on working-class suburbs of the early 20th century around Toronto, Ontario. The houses in these outlying areas were largely built by their owners and were made possible by a lack of building regulation. Owners might take in boarders as a way to use their homes to supplement their income. The places Harris documents provide a telling contrast to more familiar post–World War II suburbs.

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  • Jackson, Kenneth T. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

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    Jackson’s landmark study charts the long history of suburban development in the United States from the late colonial period though the creation of subdivisions in the second half of the 20th century. The book examines motivating factors from streetcars to federal subsidies to racial discrimination. Jackson ultimately concludes that the trend toward suburbanization was faltering at the time he was writing in 1985 and the future would look different.

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  • Jacobs, James. Detached America: Building Houses in Postwar Suburbia. Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2015.

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    Jacobs presents a three-part model to describe the evolution of suburban houses built between 1945 and 1970: minimalist, designed for toward casual living, and zoned. Jacobs offers a national picture, and he uses published floor plans to develop his conclusions.

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  • Lane, Barbara Miller. Houses for a New World: Builders and Buyers in American Suburbs, 1945–1965. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.

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    Lane examines twelve housing developments outside Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. Her work is especially strong in her attention to the preferences of home buyers, some of which are documented in an appendix that includes interviews with owners and their children.

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Commercial Spaces

By the late 1960s, both design professionals and historians of the built environment turned their attention to 20th-century commercial architecture. Changes in transportation, particularly the rise of the automobile, affected not only residential patterns but also commercial ones. Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour published the results of a graduate seminar at Yale in their trailblazing book Learning from Las Vegas (Venturi, et al. 1977), which called on designers to take lessons from everyday roadside architecture. Inspired by their work, Chester Liebs further explored roadside architecture through his history of building types such as drive-ins and supermarkets, no longer limiting the study of roadside buildings to the iconic Vegas strip (Liebs 1985). Continuing in this tradition, other works explore new building types more specifically, including Jakle, et al. 1996 on motels and Longstreth 1997 on retail environments, while Esperdy 2008 looks into how older spaces of main street were updated. Longstreth 2015, Looking Beyond the Icons, also includes religious, educational, and cultural spaces and calls for informed preservation of vernacular 20th-century buildings.

  • Esperdy, Gabrielle. Modernizing Main Street: Architecture and Consumer Culture in the New Deal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226218021.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focusing on the 1930s, Esperdy examines how older storefronts were updated with new materials, signage, and even color to embrace the modern aesthetics of the era. Esperdy’s work is informed by national architectural trade journals and was inspired by New York City, but it embraces main streets in towns and small cities across the United States, concluding with a case study of Reading, Pennsylvania. While about commercial buildings, the book uses architecture as a lens to explore public policy and consumer culture, as well as extruded aluminum sash and international style facades.

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  • Jakle, John A., Keith A. Sculle, and Jefferson S. Rogers. The Motel in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

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    This co-authored volume, written by a historian and two geographers, traces the evolution of lodging geared toward travelers using automobiles. The study starts with traditional downtown hotels, moving on to mom-and-pop–owned motor courts and eventually corporate franchises. The book concludes with a case study of motels in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jakle and Sculle have co-authored other volumes on hotels, gas stations, service garages, and the preservation of roadside architecture.

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  • Liebs, Chester H. Main Street to Miracle Mile: American Roadside Architecture. Boston: Little, Brown for New York Graphic Society, 1985.

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    In his volume devoted to architecture designed to be appreciated from an automobile—what he calls “speed-reading”—Liebs begins with main street but quickly moves on to the roadside strip. Much of Liebs’s volume is occupied by an exploration of various building types, including gas stations, supermarkets, drive-in movie theaters, restaurants, and motels. The book is well illustrated with black-and-white photographs of roadside buildings and includes a sixteen-page color insert.

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  • Longstreth, Richard. City Center to Regional Mall: Architecture, the Automobile, and Retailing in Los Angeles, 1920–1950. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997.

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    Using Los Angeles as a case study, Longstreth explores commercial architecture during the second quarter of the 20th century. Longstreth charts the shift in retail from the downtown core to the periphery, which paralleled the expanded use of automobiles. Given the LA context, he includes some unusual twists, like the creation of Hollywood, that provide a more place-specific 20th-century narrative.

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  • Longstreth, Richard. Looking Beyond the Icons: Midcentury Architecture, Landscape, and Urbanism. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015.

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    Longstreth examines the everyday architecture of the recent past through this volume, which includes everything from shopping centers to religious buildings to housing developments. The volume addresses the legacy of urban renewal and the preservation of midcentury buildings and landscapes.

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  • Venturi, Robert, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour. Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form. Rev. ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977.

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    In their landmark 1972 publication of the same title, the authors reported the findings of a 1968 study of the Las Vegas strip and called on fellow architects to pay more attention to common commercial landscapes such as A&P parking lots. This revised edition abridges the original, keeping Part 1, the description, and Part 2, the analysis, which introduces the concepts of the “duck” and “decorated shed”—two different approaches to incorporating symbolism in architecture.

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Regional Studies

The documentation of patterns in the built environment and the recognition of differences are both important components of vernacular architecture studies. Distinct regional trends have thus been the subject of many works. Scholars explain why this place is different from that place or how ideas spread across space and time. Given the origins of the field in the United States on the East Coast, the New England and Chesapeake regions are best represented in regional studies, although slowly scholarship has embraced other regions as well.

New England

Three works mark the beginning of vernacular architecture studies of early New England: The Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay (Cummings 1979), A Little Commonwealth (Demos 2000), and New England Begins (edited by Jonathan L. Fairbanks and Robert F. Trent. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1982), which includes a seminal essay on domestic and agricultural architecture by Robert Blair St. George. All three arose within the context of public history. Framed Houses brings together decades of fieldwork undertaken by Abbott Lowell Cummings as part of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England. In A Little Commonwealth, first published in 1970, John Demos uses a new social history approach to better understand families in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The first third of the book focuses on the physical setting, drawing on research being done for Plimoth Plantation. New England Begins: The Seventeenth Century, an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, was accompanied by a monumental three-volume catalogue featuring essays by noted scholars, including St. George who writes on vernacular architecture. While all of these studies focused on the earliest buildings in the region, other works expand both the geography and scope. Hubka 1984, Heath 2001, and Garrison 2006 all turn their attention to the 19th century, using different lenses. Hubka writes about a regionally distinct building type, the connected domestic and agricultural buildings found on interior New England farms. Heath 2001 shifts attention to the industrial landscape of textile mills and their surrounding communities, not only as they existed when first developed, but also as they changed over time. And Garrison examines the buildings and practices of two generations of the Stearns family, who worked in Northfield, Massachusetts.

  • Cummings, Abbott Lowell. The Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay, 1625–1725. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1979.

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    A landmark book in vernacular architecture studies, Framed Houses synthesizes Abbott Lowell Cummings’s work through the 1970s on early Massachusetts housing of the 17th century. In addition to text, the book is a must have for the detailed drawings of wood frame construction.

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  • Demos, John. A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    First published in 1970 and grouped with the community studies genre of the new social history, Demos’s work differed in that it included a strong focus on material goods, including buildings (the first chapter is entitled “Housing”) and was tied to new interpretation at the outdoor museum Plimoth Plantation. This revised edition, published in 2000 to mark the book’s thirtieth anniversary, includes a new foreword but is otherwise unchanged.

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  • Garrison, J. Ritchie. Two Carpenters: Architecture and Building in Early New England, 1799–1859. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006.

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    Two Carpenters builds on the trend toward micro-history, exploring building practices in New England in the first half of the 19th century through a careful analysis of the lives of two generations of the Stearns family using both documentary records and surviving buildings.

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  • Heath, Kingston Wm. The Patina of Place: The Cultural Weathering of a New England Industrial Landscape. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2001.

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    Focusing on New Bedford, Massachusetts, Heath examines the creation of the landscape of textile mill towns, including the “triple decker” multifamily house. Among the book’s contributions is the term “cultural weathering,” which refers to the effect of people on a particular place.

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  • Hubka, Thomas. Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 1984.

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    Hubka expands the New England canon by focusing on the 19th century as well as interior and northern New England. As his title suggests, he focuses on connected domestic and agricultural buildings positing that this distinct regional tradition grew from agricultural reform.

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  • St. George, Robert Blair. “‘Set Thine House in Order’: The Domestication of the Yeomanry in Seventeenth-Century New England.” In New England Begins: The Seventeenth Century. Vol. 2. Edited by Jonathan L. Fairbanks and Robert F. Trent, 159–183. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1982.

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    St. George uses an analysis of the landscape, buildings, and interiors of early farmsteads to better understand their occupants’ changing worldviews. He sees in the differentiation of spaces—buildings and rooms—a movement toward artifice and order. The essay appeared in a catalogue accompanying the exhibition New England Begins at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. St. George’s essay on “Mentality and Environment” is in Volume 2; it has been reprinted in the anthology Common Places (see Upton and Vlach 1986, cited under Anthologies).

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Mid-Atlantic

The literature on colonial vernacular architecture initially focused on New England and the Chesapeake region, both of which saw fairly homogenous European settlement. The mid-Atlantic offers a place to explore the role of ethnicity in the creation of distinctive, regionally specific buildings. Pennsylvania particularly, with its large 18th-century Germanic population, provides an opportunity to examine the role of cultural difference as it relates to architecture. Pendleton 1994, Falk 2008, and McMurry and Van Dolsen 2011, are all aimed at better understanding Pennsylvania German people through their buildings. Lanier 2005, a study of the Delaware Valley, which includes New Jersey and Delaware as well as southeastern Pennsylvania, describes the area as a region of regions. Lanier and Herman 1997 likewise examines a variety of building types and locations from throughout the southern portion of the region. Much of the scholarship on mid-Atlantic vernacular architecture in recent years has its roots at the University of Delaware. With this in mind, some works, such as Herman 1992, have focused on Delaware itself, using a very local example as a way to better understand the built environment more broadly.

  • Falk, Cynthia G. Architecture and Artifacts of the Pennsylvania Germans: Constructing Identity in Early America. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008.

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    Falk questions the premise of whether ethnicity created the major cleavage among 18th-century Pennsylvanians or rather was one of several aspects of personal identity that set people apart. Using houses and other buildings as evidence, she argues that social and economic status, as well as religious convictions, created material divides among people of German and English descent.

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  • Herman, Bernard. The Stolen House. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992.

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    Herman demonstrates the meaning that can be teased from a series of events related to the settlement of the estate of Jacob Christopher, who died in 1784 in Sussex County, Delaware, and accusations by family members against Christopher’s wife’s new husband about stolen property. The book is based largely on documentary sources yet argues for the primacy of material culture in understanding the past.

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  • Lanier, Gabrielle M. The Delaware Valley in the Early Republic: Architecture, Landscape, and Regional Identity. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

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    Based on case studies in New Jersey, Delaware, rural Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia, Lanier uses the built environment to contrast the early Delaware Valley with New England and the Chesapeake region. She tracks localisms that are derived from ethnic traditions, religious background, familial connections, and land productivity to demonstrate the diversity of the people and vernacular architecture in the area.

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  • Lanier, Gabrielle M., and Bernard L. Herman. Everyday Architecture of the Mid-Atlantic: Looking at Buildings and Landscapes. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

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    Designed as a primer on how to “read” buildings, this book focuses on the portion of the mid-Atlantic between southern New Jersey and the eastern shore of Virginia. Likening architectural fieldwork to archaeology, Herman and Lanier share their combined experience looking at, analyzing, and interpreting the built environment with a goal of encouraging the preservation of old buildings.

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  • McMurry, Sally, and Nancy Van Dolsen, eds. Architecture and Landscape of the Pennsylvania Germans, 1720–1920. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

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    Derived from material collected for the 2004 meeting of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, this volume includes seven chapters by various authors on religious, commercial, domestic, and agricultural buildings, as well as the urban and rural landscape. Unlike many volumes on the Pennsylvania German landscape, which focus almost exclusively on the colonial years, this book takes its content into the early 20th century.

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  • Pendleton, Philip E. Oley Valley Heritage: The Colonial Years, 1700–1775. Birdsboro, PA: Oley Valley Heritage Association, 1994.

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    Pendleton undertakes a detailed study of one place—the Oley Valley in what is now Berks County, Pennsylvania—through chapters on land, economy, architecture, religion, and community. Although only one chapter is devoted specifically to architecture, the built environment permeates the entire volume through photographic images and descriptions.

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South

Scholarship on the southern United States falls into two categories, that about the Chesapeake region of Maryland and Virginia, which tends to focus on the colonial period, and that on places further west and south. For the Chesapeake, studies have been driven largely by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia and the St. Mary’s City Commission in Maryland. In both cases, the desire to interpret the early Chesapeake to a public audience has led to questions about why the built environment in Maryland and Virginia, where only a few 17th-century and early 18th-century buildings survive, is so different from that further north in New England, where extant early buildings are more prolific. A multidisciplinary group of scholars published “Impermanent Architecture in the Southern Colonies” in 1981 in Winterthur Portfolio and began offering an explanation by describing earthfast building techniques (construction directly on the ground or with wooden members placed in holes or trenches) and the reason for their use. The subject continued to be explored, bolstered by decades’ more fieldwork, in Carson and Lounsbury 2013. Carl Lounsbury, formerly of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, has been among the leading writers on the topic of southern architecture. In addition to the 2013 co-edited volume on the Chesapeake house, he has contributed to Architects and Builders of North Carolina (Bishir, et al. 1990), edited An Illustrated Glossary of Early Southern Architecture and Landscape (Lounsbury 1994), and authored a monograph on early Virginia courthouses (Lounsbury 2005). Camille Wells, who with Lounsbury was a founder of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, adds to the literature on southern colonial architecture with her volume Material Witness (Wells 2018), which addresses plantations in the 18th century as well as more recently as they have been interpreted for the public. Michael Ann Williams, a folklorist who places a strong emphasis on oral narrative, puts people at the center of her study of Appalachia, which also emphasizes the complete life cycle of its subject buildings. Williams 1991 emphasizes traditional approaches and ideas that inform more contemporary building practices and uses.

  • Bishir, Catherine, Charlotte Brown, Carl Lounsbury, and Ernest Wood III. Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A History of the Practice of Building. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.

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    This expansive volume of over five hundred pages explores the architecture of North Carolina through a careful analysis of builders and building practices. The authors cover the period from the 17th century through the second half of the 20th century in chapters ordered chronologically. The book is complimented by the website North Carolina Architects & Builders, which includes biographical accounts of those working in the state’s building trades.

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  • Carson, Cary, Norman F. Barka, William M. Kelso, Garry Wheeler Stone, and Dell Upton. “Impermanent Architecture in the Southern American Colonies.” Winterthur Portfolio 16.2–3 (1981): 135–196.

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    The authors analyze earthfast buildings built directly on the ground or with wooden posts in holes that predominated in the colonial Chesapeake region. They explain that it took demographic balance, social stability, new crops, new markets, and a new world view to promote the development of more permanent housing. This article is reprinted in Material Life in America: 1600–1860, edited by Robert Blair St. George, 113–158 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988).

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  • Carson, Cary, and Carl R. Lounsbury, eds. The Chesapeake House: Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

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    This edited volume brings together the work of multiple scholars and the data from fieldwork conducted over decades to provide a synthetic understanding of housing in the early Chesapeake region. The book includes sections on methodology, design and use, materials, finishes, and change over time. While houses are the focus, agricultural buildings are not forgotten, and the material realities of a labor system built on slavery are also addressed.

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  • Lounsbury, Carl R., ed. An Illustrated Glossary of Early Southern Architecture and Landscape. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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    Literally a glossary, this book offers invaluable assistance to anyone working with early documents about southern architecture of the 17th through the early 19th century. And, while it is undoubtedly place specific, much can be applied to any architecture of the contemporary English-speaking world. Entries typically include dated period references showing how a word was used.

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  • Lounsbury, Carl R. The Courthouses of Early Virginia: An Architectural History. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005.

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    Lounsbury’s book is about more than just courthouses, although they are certainly the main focus. Lounsbury is interested in what architecture communicates about civic life and justice in early Virginia. As such, he also documents prisons, taverns, and courthouse grounds. The book project commenced when the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation undertook the restoration of a courthouse interior, and it serves as a model for research on a specific category of building.

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  • Wells, Camille. Material Witness: Domestic Architecture and Plantation Landscapes in Early Virginia. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2018.

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    Wells combines the history of the architecture of Virginia’s plantations with the history of their preservation and restoration in the twentieth century as places like Colonial Williamsburg and Monticello became public historic sites. Her coverage includes not just individual buildings, but also the larger plantation landscape and the smaller details of interiors. Informed by decades of fieldwork, the book includes well know sites as well as those that have seen less attention.

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  • Williams, Michael Ann. Homeplace: The Social Use and Meaning of the Folk Dwelling in Southwestern North Carolina. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1991.

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    Williams focuses on the tangible and intangible elements of folk housing in this study of domestic architecture in Appalachia. The book is divided into five main chapters, three of which focus on house plans: single pen, double pen, and center passage. The fifth offers some of the most interesting insight as it discusses, based on oral testimony, changes in attitudes about traditional houses and the eventual abandonment of them.

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Gulf Coast

The Gulf Coast, particularly Louisiana and especially New Orleans, has warranted its own detailed studies. Since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, New Orleans has garnered special attention in the field of vernacular architecture, in large measure because of the great loss and preservation issues the storm created. Verderber 2009, for example, documents the everyday built environment, much of which was damaged or lost as a result of the hurricane and calls for preservation and rebuilding. But even before Katrina, the Mississippi Delta’s history as a cosmopolitan port, influenced by French, Spanish, and English colonial regimes, made it a region unto itself. And the remarkable presence of the Mississippi River has provided a subject for those studying the relationship between land, water, and built form. Rehder 1999 explores the legacy of sugar production on Louisiana plantations, while Kelman 2003 captures the long relationship between the Mississippi River and the city of New Orleans, in what today seems like an ominous foretelling of what was to come.

  • Kelman, Ari. A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

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    Kelman approaches the built environment through the lens of environmental history. Rather than focus on buildings, he charts how the very landscape has been manipulated over time to meet human needs.

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  • Rehder, John B. Delta Sugar: Louisiana’s Vanishing Plantation Landscape. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

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    Rehder offers six case studies of sugar plantations in Louisiana, as well as chapters laying out a broad history of sugar production in the region. A cultural geographer, Rehder contextualizes plantation buildings within a larger, and increasingly disappearing, landscape of agricultural production.

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  • Verderber, Stephen. Delirious New Orleans: Manifesto for an Extraordinary American City. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.

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    Verderber’s book is unusual among the volumes included in this bibliography in that it offers limited text and abundant photographs. Published after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, the volume documents the commercial landscape that made up the city. Images are labeled with date and time charting a landscape that has been forever changed.

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Southwest and California

The literature on the vernacular architecture of the Southwest, including California, has tended to focus on how the history of the region has been interpreted and reinterpreted over time. Wilson 1997 looks particularly at Santa Fe, New Mexico, with an eye to how the built environment has been used to create a past only partially born in reality. In turning her attention to California missions, Kryder-Reid 2016 likewise examines the public interpretation of the past with particular attention to the place of race in the heritage field. The diversity of groups that have called the southwest home, from Pueblo and Diné (Navajo) people, to Spanish and Mexican settlers, to Americans from the East Coast makes this a region ripe for the exploration of various building traditions.

  • Kryder-Reid, Elizabeth. California Mission Landscapes: Race, Memory, and the Politics of Heritage. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.

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    California’s missions have become icons. Kryder-Reid charts their evolving history, from religious spaces designed to convert Native peoples to heritage tourism sites that capitalize on a fascination with Native and Hispanic culture. The book is especially strong in its inclusion of landscape features such as gardens, which provide a more complete understanding of the built environment.

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  • Wilson, Chris. The Myth of Santa Fe: Creating a Modern Regional Tradition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997.

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    Wilson divides his monograph into two parts: one about the history of Santa Fe through the early 20th century and the second about the creation of a tourist destination based on that imagined history. Buildings and landscapes—old, new, and somewhere in between—play a prominent role in this characterization of the city over time.

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Mexico and Caribbean

Folklorists such as Henry Glassie have long conducted fieldwork in and written about locations outside the United States. For the Caribbean, Berthelot and Gaumé 1982, a trilingual catalogue, marked the beginning of a movement to examine the everyday buildings that resulted from the colonial context of the West Indies. The recent move to embrace globalization, both past and present, has resulted in significant new works. For example, Nelson 2016 explores the architecture of the British Empire in Jamaica, and Edgerton 2001 examines colonial missions in Mexico. Both books focus on the past and are closely tied to studies of similar subjects and, therefore, buildings in the continental United States. Other works take a more contemporary approach; for example, Lopez 2015 examines the complex interchange of ideas and resources through remittances that flow from the United States to Mexico. Global studies, still grounded in particular places at particular times, have broken new ground in the field of vernacular architecture and likely demonstrate a trend that will only continue to grow.

  • Berthelot, Jack, and Martine Gaumé. Kaz antiyé jan moun ka rété/Caribbean popular dwelling/L’Habitat populaire aux Antilles. Guadeloupe: Éditions Perspectives Créoles, 1982.

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    With text in French, Creole, and English, this book provides an examination of vernacular architecture, particularly housing, in the West Indies (Antilles) with a strong emphasis on islands that were once French colonies. The authors liken buildings to language, both of which in these creole societies incorporated elements of European and African origin in a distinct colonial context.

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  • Edgerton, Samuel Y. Theaters of Conversion: Religious Architecture and Indian Artisans in Colonial Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.

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    Edgerton explores the churches and convents of colonial Mexico from the 16th and 17th centuries with an eye toward the interactions between Spanish religious leaders and indigenous people. Sites in New Mexico are included in his study, which is beautifully illustrated with photographs by Jorge Pérez de Lara as well as line drawings.

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  • Lopez, Sarah. The Remittance Landscape: Spaces of Migration in Rural Mexico and Urban USA. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

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    Lopez asks her readers to rethink migration, immigration, and its relationship to place in this volume, which documents contemporary material connections between Mexico and the United States. She shows how money earned in the United States and sent to family in Mexico has changed the built environment there but also how the practice of coming to the United States to work has altered the material landscape of US cities.

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  • Nelson, Louis. Architecture and Empire in Jamaica. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.

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    Nelson undertakes a study of Jamaican colonial architecture paying careful attention to the environments created and endured by those of African descent as well as those designed and occupied by the white population. In this well-illustrated volume, Nelson offers a truly global picture, demonstrating connections among British, African, and Caribbean built environments.

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Canada

Scholarship on the vernacular architecture of Canada has followed two distinct paths. One vein has led to the exploration of distinct, often remote, places where traditions of the past are still remembered if not enacted. Pocius 1991, for example, takes a folkloristic approach to the author’s own home place of Newfoundland, focusing on the community of Calvert. Mellin 2003, influenced by Pocius, provides a thorough examination of Tilting, an island community off the coast of Newfoundland. In both cases, fishing serves as a primary occupation, and therefore the authors address vernacular landscapes related to the water. Other scholars of the Canadian built environment have turned their attention to urban areas, particularly in the 20th century. Two studies of Toronto, The Ward (Loring, et al. 2015) and Unplanned Suburbs (Harris 1996), tackle the common North American phenomenon of suburbanization and urban renewal. Yet in each case the Canadian perspective offers a new angle. In Harris 1996, the focus is shifted from well planned, middle-class suburbs to the working-class periphery settlements of the early 20th century, which were characterized by a lack of regulation and planning. In The Ward, numerous authors work to provide a robust pre-urban renewal picture of this immigrant community.

  • Harris, Richard. Unplanned Suburbs: Toronto’s American Tragedy, 1900–1950. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

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    While the creation of suburbs within the United States has been well documented, Harris shifts the focus north to Canada in this examination of early 20th-century building practices. His analysis focuses on the working-class, self-built suburbs created outside Toronto, bringing light to a type of community that has escaped much attention anywhere in North America.

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  • Loring, John, Michael McClelland, Ellen Scheinberg, and Tatum Taylor, eds. The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood. Toronto: Coach House Books, 2015.

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    This edited volume includes more than five dozen short essays on various aspects of life in what came to be considered Toronto’s most notorious slum. The familiar tale of urban renewal is supplanted by rich stories and numerous illustrations of life in this diverse community prior to its destruction in the 1950s. While many sections focus on people, several highlight the specific places that punctuated the neighborhood.

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  • Mellin, Robert. Tilting: House Launching, Slide Hauling, Potato Trenching, and Other Tales from a Newfoundland Fishing Village. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2003.

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    This book documents a careful study, begun in 1987, of the community of Tilting on Fogo Island off the coast of Newfoundland. Mellin explores both domestic forms and building types related to work, especially fishing and agriculture. His rich narrative of the continuation and adaptation of tradition in this remote part of the world is complemented by imagery of the built environment in Tilting and direct quotations from the people who informed his study through interviews.

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  • Pocius, Gerald L. A Place to Belong: Community, Order and Everyday Space in Calvert, Newfoundland. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1991.

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    Pocius’s monograph focuses on Calvert in the Canadian Maritime province of Newfoundland. The book addresses Calvert both in the past and present, focusing on spaces related to production, especially fishing, and consumption. Conducting fieldwork beginning in the 1970s, Pocius found Calvert to be a place still grounded in tradition but with new elements of modernity gaining ground, especially in the form of material culture.

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People

The study of vernacular architecture may initially seem to be about places, from specific buildings to whole cityscapes. However, in practice, those who focus on everyday places often do so to better understand the people who occupy them. In the field of vernacular architecture, buildings become a means by which to appreciate people, not just architects and moneyed owners, but also craftspeople, laborers, family members, renters, squatters, janitors, and other service providers. The types of buildings highlighted in the section on Urban Spaces, from alley houses to residential hotels, demonstrates the inclusiveness. Common places give voice to common people. Increasingly vernacular architecture studies have focused on underrepresented groups, including people of color, LGBTQ individuals, children, and religious minorities.

African Americans, Slavery, and Race

Given that the study of vernacular architecture has often focused on the colonial period in the United States, the enslavement of Africans and people of African descent has been a critical topic almost from the start. The differences between how white and black Virginians viewed the cultural landscape and built environment was the subject of Upton 1985, a seminal article on race and space. Vlach 1993 further documents the landscape of racialized slavery and the experience of enslaved people. Works like these have initiated reinterpretation for public audiences, particularly at historic sites that once facilitated and benefited from slave labor. While studies from the 1980s and 1990s often examine race through the lens of slavery in the American South, more recent works recognize the need to temporally move beyond the Civil War and/or geographically expand borders. Schein 2003, an essay in the edited volume dedicated to J. B. Jackson, raises issues of the “normative” and how racial discrimination has been embedded in the built environment. Upton 2015 returns to the topic of race to examine the building of monuments to commemorate the civil rights movement and African-American history. Other authors have taken a more international approach. Ginsburg 2011 examines domestic service in South Africa during the period of apartheid. And, Louis Nelson carefully reconstructs the experience of capture and enslavement along Africa’s Gold Coast under British rule in the 17th and 18th centuries. While much of the literature has focused on how space has been used to oppress and discriminate, there are hints that place and the experience of it can also be liberating, one of the major themes in the earlier literature on slavery. When scholars have returned to the subject of enslavement more recently, for example in two edited volumes Ellis and Ginsburg 2010 and Ellis and Ginsburg 2017, they have likewise emphasized the interrelationship between space and resistance, documented a diversity of experiences, and expanded geographic coverage.

  • Ellis, Clifton, and Rebecca Ginsburg, eds. Cabin, Quarter, Plantation: Architecture and Landscapes of North American Slavery. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.

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    This edited volume includes a mix of reprinted essays as well as new scholarship, making it an ideal course reader. Among the former is W. E. B. DuBois’s “The Home of the Slave” (1901) and Dell Upton’s “White and Black Landscapes in Eighteenth-Century Virginia” (Upton 1985). New work addresses topics such as escape, life in the quarters, change over time, and interpretation today. Attention is paid to documenting the experience and agency of enslaved people.

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  • Ellis, Clifton, and Rebecca Ginsburg, eds. Slavery in the City: Architecture and Landscapes of Urban Slavery in North America. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017.

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    While much literature on vernacular architecture related to slavery has focused on plantation landscapes, this edited volume specifically explores how slavery was enacted in urban places. Its authors explore locations such as Charleston, South Carolina, and Annapolis, Maryland, but also more diverse sites from Texas to Tennessee to cities in the north. Each essay demonstrates the centrality of the built environment in understanding the experience of enslaved people.

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  • Ginsburg, Rebecca. At Home with Apartheid: The Hidden Landscapes of Domestic Service in Johannesburg. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011.

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    Ginsburg’s work focuses on the suburban landscape of Johannesburg, South Africa, during the period from roughly 1960 to 1975. There, black female African domestic workers labored in a system of oppression based on race as well as gender. Interviews as well as architectural evidence inform this study, which sheds light on the interplay of space and racial divides.

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  • Nelson, Louis. “Architectures of West African Enslavement.” Buildings & Landscapes 21.1 (2014): 88–125.

    DOI: 10.5749/buildland.21.1.0088Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Nelson expands notions of vernacular architecture in this article by addressing not only the permanent “castles” that Europeans erected on Africa’s Gold Coast to facilitate the slave trade but also temporary constructions and uses of the landscape to disempower African slaves before the Middle Passage began.

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  • Schein, Richard H. “Normative Dimensions of Landscape.” In Everyday America: Cultural Landscape Studies after J. B. Jackson. Edited by Chris Wilson and Paul Groth, 199–218. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

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    Schein takes a broad look at the built environment to better understand how historic patterns continue to shape contemporary practices tied to racial inequality. Among his case studies are slave markets, redlined neighborhoods, segregated black suburbs, confederate statues, and public parks.

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  • Upton, Dell. “White and Black Landscapes in Eighteenth-Century Virginia.” Places 2.2 (1985): 59–72.

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    Upton contrasts the way wealthy white planters viewed the plantation landscape with the perceptions and experiences of enslaved blacks and poor whites. He argues that movement through space, including buildings, and distinct black communities provided ways to usurp the official white landscape. This article is also reprinted in Material Life in America: 1600–1860, edited by Robert Blair St. George, 357–369 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988) and in Cabin, Quarter, and Plantation (Ellis and Ginsburg 2010).

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  • Upton, Dell. What Can and Can’t Be Said: Race, Uplift, and Monument Building in the Contemporary South. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300211757.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Upton returns to the topic of race in the southern United States to examine the trend to commemorate the history of the civil rights movement and African-American achievements through monument building. While Upton addresses older Confederate memorials, his primary subjects are the structures erected more recently to recognize African-American contributions and what can be learned from them about race and memory in the American South today.

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  • Vlach, John Michael. Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

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    Vlach’s groundbreaking study focuses on plantation architecture beyond the mansion that is normally the focal point. He incudes chapters on slave quarters, overseers’ houses, kitchens and other domestic buildings, agricultural buildings, and even hospitals. The study is informed by Vlach’s own field research as well as Historic American Buildings Survey documentation.

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Latinx Communities

Readings about the Spanish colonial legacy on vernacular architecture in the United States can be found in the section of this bibliography devoted to the Southwest and California (see Regional Studies: Southwest and California) These geographic areas have long seen the imprint to Hispanic culture on the physical landscape. A different strain of scholarship explores the contributions of more recent Latinx migrants to the built environment of the United States. The focus is often urban; Rojas 2003 addresses East Los Angeles while Sandoval-Strausz 2013 draws many conclusions from Chicago examples. Lopez 2015 demonstrates the transnational effects of Mexican migration on the physical forms associated with work in the United States and remittances send back to family in Mexico.

  • Lopez, Sarah. The Remittance Landscape: Spaces of Migration in Rural Mexico and Urban USA. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

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    Lopez offers an analysis highlighting the interdependence of people and buildings in the United States and Mexico. She demonstrates how money earned by Mexican migrants in the United States has been used in rural Mexico to alter both private and public spaces. Likewise, she analyzes how Mexican workers in US cities have affected the urban landscape north of the border.

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  • Rojas, James. “The Enacted Environment: Examining the Streets and Yards of East Los Angeles.” In Everyday America: Cultural Landscape Studies after J. B. Jackson. Edited by Chris Wilson and Paul Groth, 275–292. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

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    Rojas focuses on the vernacular landscape in his study of East LA, making the case for outdoor spaces as important components of Latinx communities. Focusing on physical forms like fences and porches, consumables and portable goods, and, most important, the people who populate yards, streets, and stores, Rojas asks his readers to think beyond the box of the building to understand neighborhoods and their inhabitants.

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  • Sandoval-Strausz, Andrew K. “Viewpoint: Latino Vernaculars and the Emerging National Landscape.” Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum 20.1 (2013): 1–18.

    DOI: 10.5749/buildland.20.1.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A precursor to a larger book project, this article asserts the important role Latinos have played in shaping the urban landscape throughout the United States, especially in cities. In the case study presented in this article, Sandoval-Strausz responds to the book Heat Wave by Katie MacAlister, Jennifer Archer, and Sheridon Smythe (New York: Dorchester, 2003) about the 1995 weather event in Chicago to explain how specific elements of the built environment, coupled with distinctive cultural practices, helped Latinos survive the high temperatures.

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Gender

While the construction trades have long been dominated by men in the Western world, most buildings are not exclusively male or female spaces. The emphasis on housing in the field of vernacular architecture means that shared spaces are often the subject of analysis. In the 1990s, scholars began asking questions about gender, specifically about the role of women in the creation, maintenance, and adaption of space. Kwolek-Folland 1995 confronts students of American vernacular architecture in the field’s preeminent journal, Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, calling for more inclusive building histories. McMurry 1997 rises to the challenge by examining the role of women on farms, sometimes considered traditionally male work spaces. Since that time, authors have recognized that the study of gender is not limited to the study of women but should also examine concepts of masculinity and should call out heteronormative assumptions. Murphy 2009, for example, offers an innovative study of homosexual and queer space.

  • Kwolek-Folland, Angel. “Gender as a Category of Analysis in Vernacular Architecture Studies.” In Gender, Class and Shelter. Edited by Elizabeth Collins Cromley and Carter L. Hudgins, 3–10. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995.

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    Kwolek-Folland calls for a reevaluation of how vernacular architecture is studied, emphasizing the role that gender should play in any analysis of place. This short article addresses classics in the field of vernacular architecture such as Holy Things and Profane (Upton 1986, cited under Religion) and the essay “Set Thine House in Order” (St. George 1982, cited under Regional Studies: New England) by demonstrating how closer attention to the role of women could augment interpretation.

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  • McMurry, Sally Ann. Families and Farmhouses in Nineteenth-Century America: Vernacular Design and Social Change. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1997.

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    In analyzing farmsteads in the northern United States during the 19th century, Sally McMurry brings farmwives to the fore as productive workers, caregivers for their children, and designers of the spaces they occupied.

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  • Murphy, Kevin D. “‘Secure from All Intrusion’: Heterotopia, Queer Space, and the Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century American Resort.” Winterthur Portfolio 43.2–3 (2009): 185–228.

    DOI: 10.1086/603545Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focusing on New England, Murphy interprets the preservation of historic buildings and the furnishing of spaces with artifacts of the past as the activities of people who operated outside normative heterosexual relationships of resort culture. Murphy applies Foucault’s concept of heterotopia to further explain the creation of places such as Henry Davis Sleeper’s Beauport.

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Childhood

The buildings and other environments created for children are increasingly becoming the subject of scholarly analysis. Children have long shared the built environment with other members of their families, sometimes creating—or having created for them—spaces of the own. With the establishment of children’s institutions such as hospitals, schools, playgrounds, and even McDonald’s playlands, children’s places have taken on a life of their own in more recent times. Gutman and Coninck-Smith 2008 includes all of these components of the built environment in the edited volume, Designing Modern Childhoods (2008). Van Slyck, whose essay on summer camps is included in that volume, develops a full monograph on the topic (Van Slyck 2006), which demonstrates the importance of considering children’s environments as a distinct category.

  • Gutman, Marta, and Ning De Coninck-Smith, eds. Designing Modern Childhoods: History, Space, and the Material Culture of Children. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008.

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    Developed from a conference at the University of California at Berkeley in 2002, this edited volume includes essays divided into sections on health, education and play, inequity based on race and class, and consumption and the media. While multiple essays focus on children’s experiences in the United States, about a third of the volume addresses other parts of the world, allowing for comparison across cultures and places.

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  • Van Slyck, Abigail Ayres. A Manufactured Wilderness: Summer Camps and the Shaping of American Youth, 1890–1960. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.

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    Van Slyck uses the experience of summer camp to analyze changing ideas about childhood, work, health, cleanliness, gender, nature, and even Native Americans among white Americans in the late 19th and 20th centuries. She demonstrates though the architecture and broader landscape of various camps how children’s experience was shaped through the setting.

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Religion

Students of vernacular architecture have found the intersections between religious belief and tangible form to be irresistible. Religious spaces, of all places, provide the prefect avenue to explore how deep-seated convictions are physically manifest. And, religious buildings have the potential to embody difference as much as they do sameness, especially considering the religious plurality of North America. Studies of vernacular religious buildings have up until this time largely focused on Christian groups: Congregationalists, Anglicans, Catholics, and Mormons. Like other subfields within the study of vernacular architecture, the focus has been on the colonial East Coast with a few jaunts further afield. Upton 1986 offers a pioneering study on early Virginia’s Anglican parishes, demonstrating that church buildings can say as much about nonreligious affairs, such as social stratification, as they do about the sacred. In Edgerton 2001 the interactions between European Catholics and indigenous Mexican groups take priority and help the reader understand the form and decoration of conventos. For the Mormons, Carter 2014 shows the construction of settlements in Utah was about advancing both spiritual and secular concerns. Those who study religious buildings draw on a wide variety of sources. Benes 2012, for example, focuses on the earliest meeting houses in New England, the majority of which do not survive. Benes therefore has to turn to documentary and visual sources. Buggeln 2005 examines a slightly later period when New Englanders in Connecticut torn down their early buildings and replaced them with new edifices, many of which still dot the landscape. Here the surviving buildings, in addition to numerous written documents, help inform the study. In examining suburban churches of the 20th century, Buggeln is able to additionally add interviews to her source base for her 2015 volume. In using religious buildings to understand the culture of the people who used them, having access to the spoken or written word is an important adjunct to the buildings themselves. As scholars continue to probe the meaning of these types of spaces, incorporating more and different faith communities, as in the edited volume American Sanctuary (Nelson 2006), they will benefit from the use of such rich and varied source material.

  • Benes, Peter. Meeting Houses of Early New England. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012.

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    Benes undertakes a study of meetinghouses, which served both religious and community functions, in New England before 1830. The bulk of the book is devoted to a chorological examination of the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. Benes also offers useful insight on builders, seating patterns, and nonreligious uses of the buildings, which rarely survive today.

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  • Buggeln, Gretchen. Temples of Grace: The Material Transformation of Connecticut’s Churches, 1790–1840. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2005.

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    Studying the period after the American Revolution, Buggeln places church architecture squarely in the context of civic, as well as religious, life. As New Englanders built new spired edifices on village greens, they were simultaneously adapting to the new culture of the early American republic.

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  • Buggeln, Gretchen. The Suburban Church: Modernism and Community in Postwar America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816694952.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Buggeln highlights an often forgotten aspect of the suburban experience, the construction of a church in the modernist idiom. She examines how new religious concerns, such as Christian education, affected the form and use of church buildings and also explores how these structures have fared over time. Buggeln views the church building process as collaborative, with an architect, as well as church building committees and active congregational involvement.

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  • Carter, Thomas. Building Zion: The Material World of the Mormon Settlement. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

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    Focusing on Mormon building in Utah, especially the small towns of the Sanpete Valley, Carter charts how the community as a whole came to represent the Mormon’s vision for the world (i.e., Zion). Carter does not stray from hard topics such as polygamy, property distribution, and fashion consciousness. This book is based on decades of fieldwork, which Carter aptly contextualizes as part of the larger story of the western United States.

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  • Edgerton, Samuel Y. Theaters of Conversion: Religious Architecture and Indian Artisans in Colonial Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.

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    In this beautifully illustrated volume, with photographs by Jorge Pérez de Lara, Edgerton addresses the relationship between Spanish clergy and the indigenous people they were trying to convert in Mexico and what is now New Mexico. Using churches and convents as evidence, he explores indigenous contributions to religious art and architecture and uses theater as a way to understand the spaces and the activities they fostered.

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  • Nelson, Louis P., ed. American Sanctuary: Understanding Sacred Spaces. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.

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    This edited volume explores how sacred space is created. Despite the use of the term “sanctuary” in the title, essays explore public parks, front yards, domestic spaces, and memorials as well as temples and churches. Various authors examine Christian, Jewish, and Hindu material expressions, some from the past and others more recent. One of the chief lessons is that the meanings inscribed on sacred places are not fixed.

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  • Upton, Dell. Holy Things and Profane: Anglican Parish Churches in Colonial Virginia. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press for Architectural History Foundation, 1986.

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    In this landmark volume, Upton turns his attention to Anglican churches in colonial Virginia. The volume is organized around three themes: power, hospitality, and dancing (the latter along the lines of community performance). The book uses religious spaces to better understand the people who occupied them rather than theology. Division based on social and economic status is a major theme.

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