Building Sensible Stories About Architecture

By: Charles Bowen

Architecture isn’t a quick study for most writers and editors. It is not surprising if journalists are a little intimidated when an assignment has them peeking into the world where art meets science, where concept meets construction.

Basic journalism classes don’t cover architecture. The field’s language is foreign to most reporters, and some industry insiders are notoriously impatient with questions from the unenlightened.

So, turn to the Net before you set up the interview with that famous visiting architect or the young designer who has been brought in to create the town’s new arts center. There’s no promise that the Web will make you an expert, of course, but an important new architecture gateway site will at least give you a solid footing.

The Great Buildings Collection has details on some 1,000 famous edifices around the world. Its hot features include 3-D models ranging in detail from the very simple to quite detailed interior/exterior displays, complete with furnishings and landscaping. But for researchers, some of the less showy services are even more valuable.

The site, for instance, also has sections on buildings and architects arranged alphabetically by name, as well as architectural places of the world, arranged alphabetically by continent. Best of all for neophytes, the site gives backgrounders on architectural building types — such as airport terminals, castles, factories, theaters, and villas — and architectural styles from Neolithic, Gothic, and Renaissance to Prairie, Neo-Vernacular, and many more. Photographic images also are online, as are architectural drawings, commentaries, bibliographies for famous designers and structures of all kinds, architectural books, and updated news articles.

Want more? There’s even a link from the site to ArchitectureWeek, a new magazine on design and building. To look in on the resources, visit the site at, where a neatly constructed introductory page provides facilities for both browsing and searching the resources. Clickable branches on the top page take you to Search, Buildings, Architects, and Places.

If you’re in a hurry and know just what you’re looking for, scroll that top page to the bottom, where three data entry boxes await your keywords: Name of Building, Name of Architect, or Name of Place. So, if you want to find what the database has related to your area, you can enter a name of a state or a city in the third box and click the “Search for Places” button. Or you can enter the name of a specific builder in the Architect field or the name of a structure in the Building field. The resulting list provides a description of each item found and a hyperlinked headline that can be clicked to view the complete article.

For more detailed searching, click the “Search” link at the top of the introductory screen, then scroll the subsequent display to the bottom. Beneath the “Full-Text Search” box is a link to “Advanced Search.” Click that to reach a full-screen search form to enter locations, dates, building types, even climate and style and check the availability of drawings, 3-D models and additional notes.

Other considerations for using the Great Buildings Collection in your writing and editing:

1. For an interesting alternative view of the resources here, click the “Greatest Hits” link in the center of the introductory page. It will tell you the 30 most-frequently accessed files on buildings and specific architects. (At this writing, Villa Savoye in Poissy, France, and 88 Wood Street in London topped the list of buildings while Antonio Gaudi of Spain and Le Corbusier of Switzerland were at the head of the list of architects.)

2. If you write about the site in your news columns, you might want to mention the Picture Index link on the introductory page. It provides links to hundreds of buildings in alphabetical order in groups of nine thumbnail photos per screen, an interesting way to browse the resources.

3. Looking to interact with others online about architectural subjects? Scroll to the bottom of the main screen and click the “Discussion” link to reach the site’s quite active message board.

To see Bowen’s last 10 columns, click here. Previous columns may be purchased in our paid archives. Search for “Bowen” in the “Author” field.

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