Architectural, Building and Engineering Dictionaries

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have run into problems describing architectural details using proper nomenclature. In discussions about this topic that I have had with Greg Donofrio and Meghan Elliott, it is clear that this type of professional lexicon (some might say technical jargon) is difficult to remember without frequent use (the aphorism “use it or lose it” comes to mind). Since the Flemish bond incident, Meghan has decided to expand the Preservation Design Works reference library by amassing a collection of architectural and building dictionaries and reference books. These references are great resources, and contain a wealth of information. Books that use a dictionary format, such as Sturgis’ Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture and Building and Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture seem to contain the most terminology, however applying them in practice to find the appropriate name for an unknown architectural or building element raises a catch-22: since entries are alphabetical rather than categorical, readers must know the name of the element they are seeking to find its related definition.

The topic of not only architectural nomenclature, but also engineering and construction terminology seems to be an excellent candidate to solicit advice and suggestions from others who have experience working with the lexicon used in any of these fields. We thought that it could be very helpful to begin a discussion about this topic to inquire what others have found to work well for them. What are your favorite resources related to architectural, engineering, or construction terminology, and what strategies have you found work best in navigating through their contents? Please feel free to leave comments at the bottom of this blog post. If we receive enough responses, I would like to organize suggestions thematically to create a guide for the preservation community on this topic.

Our library currently includes the following architectural and building reference books, which were suggested by Greg Donofrio:

John J.-G. Blumenson, Identifying American Architecture, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1981).

Arthur E. Burke, J. Ralph Dalzell, and Gilbert Townsend, Architectural and Building Trades Dictionary, (Chicago: American Technical Society, 1972).

Stephen Calloway and Elizabeth Cromley, The Elements of Style, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).

Carol D. Cragoe, How to Read Buildings, (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2008).

Cyril M. Harris, ed., Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture, (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1977).

Henry H. Saylor, Dictionary of Architecture, (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1952).

Russel Sturgis et al., Sturgis’ Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture and Building Vol I-III, (Reprint, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1989).

EngineeringPVN Staff