Architecture Tours: When Was This Built?

Julie Pippert
December 19, 2017

After you and your child mastered (so to speak) the Quick Guide to Architectural Literacy, you can take the things you learned about different styles and the time period when they were popular and try to apply them to buildings in your area—sort of like a history mystery!

A quick review of the architectural styles and time periods...

Early architecture in the US:

Colonial (1600-1700): Key features are symmetrical and simplified style with strong, distinctive shapes, usually squares and rectangles, often two stories in height, with rooms oriented towards a central chimney.

American Georgian (1700-1750): Symmetrical, with four rooms on each of the two stories, each room had its own fireplace.

Federal (1750-1850): Inspired by Thomas Jefferson, this style was influenced by Roman architecture so the architecture is a combination of form and function. You might often see pillars or columns on this style.

Neo-classicism (1800-1850): Closely tied to Federal, this style drew heavily from Greek architecture and grand structures such as Versailles, neo-classic buildings are often built outward in wings from the center. The Boston State House is a great example.

Later architecture in the US:

Eclecticism (1850-1900): These buildings are ornate with architecturally unnecessary flourishes. It draws on a variety of styles from around the world. It's why you might find a Medieval castle in Missouri or a Chinese temple style building in New York. The US Capitol in Washington, DC is a good example.

Academicism (1880-1900): The leading architect, HH Richardson, took classic theory and applied it in a modern design.This launched balloon framing—wood framing, which allowed quick building as westward expansion and population growth demanded. The Boston Public Library is a famous example.

Chicago School (1880-1900): This style is easy to identify: look up! Steel skeleton, large and tall are the key features of this style.

20th Century (1900 and on): This includes some wonderful styles such as Frank Lloyd Wright and California Pioneer, and some very modern styles such as Brutalism, Modernism and Skyscrapers.

Think like Dora the Explorer with her maps and clues and make it a fun game!

Find a few historically interesting buildings in your town and mark them on a map. Consider drawing the map with your child, and add in drawn details as observations during your tour. Make sure you have all the "answers" on a separate piece of paper for yourself and bring a notebook to write down all the clues.

To find out about historical buildings in your city, try Googling historical buildings+tour+YOUR CITY. You can also check with a historical or preservation society, or the local American Institute of Architects. Any of those groups should be able to help you choose interesting buildings that are close enough for a walking tour, and help you find details for your historical architectural tour.

Start your journey with three clue questions about each building, for example:

1. Does the building look old or new?

2. Is it simple or ornate?

3. Does it look like the other buildings around it?

Note your clues, compare architectural style descriptions and try to decide which style the building best resembles and when that means it was probably built. Add your notes and observations and find the answers!

For the finale, have a fun end destination in mind, such as an ice cream shop.

From the Parents

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