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A Guide to Architecture

Helpful Hints

Are you having trouble identifying your topic?  Try starting with your course outline and assignment handouts for guidance. 

How you establish your topic will depend on the nature of your project and what information you have been given:

  • Were you assigned a building, time period, or geographic location?
  • Were you told to chose from a list of buildings, architectural styles, or architects?
  • Were you to focus on architecture in a particular region or country?
  • Did your professor place items on reserve (see link below)?

Ask yourself questions like these to get an idea of the basic who, what, where, when, and why questions before you begin choosing terms to search with.

Establish a Topic

Start your research by identifying your topic. Determine the name and location of your building or site.

Many buildings retain the same name for centuries, while others (e.g. stadiums, academic buildings, museums, etc.) may change names over time. The same is true for sites and place names.  For example:

  • The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is housed in the Dominion Building in Downtown Halifax.
  • The Rebecca Cohn Auditorium is housed in the Dalhousie Arts Centre at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
  • The Fortress of Louisburg is located in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, which was at one point called Ile Royale by French settlers. The site was destroyed in 1760-1761 and was reconstructed in the 20th century.
  • The Centre Le Corbusier in Zürich, Switzerland is also known as the Heidi Weber Pavillion or the Heidi Weber Museum


Helpful Tools

You can use these resources to help you identify your topic.  They include place-name lists, thesauri, and online building directories.

Determine your keywords and search terms

Once you have chosen a building or site, conduct a quick search using one of the resources outlined below to begin building a list of terms you can search for information with.  Try finding other names the building or site might be known by or different place-names that may have been used or might still be in use.

A few things to consider when you are building a list of keywords:

  • Watch out for accents and other diacritics.  Some search engines, like Google, will prompt you with other spellings or sources in different languages, but many do not, especially scholarly databases. 
  • Name changes.  Always check to see if the place-name has changed, especially if it is an older building or site.  The building may have been dedicated to one person and then renamed at a later date, or it could be known by multiple names. 
  • Architects.  Once you are able to determine the name of the architect(s) or the architecture firm, try using those names to find information on your building.  For help on finding the name of the architect, consult the Finding Information on an Architect Guide
  • Architectural terms and definitions.  Try using some dictionaries, encyclopedias, thesauri, and other refernce sources to help you identify appropriate and commonly used subject terms.  Consider what aspect of built heritage you are researching; if the style of an architect is more important than the materials used, search for terms that are associated with that style. 
  • Synonyms.  If you are researching a convention centre, try also searching with terms like concert hall, symphony hall, forum, etc.  These terms often get used synomously, so it is important consider all the potential keywords you might need to search by.  
    • Consult thesauri.  Architecture dictionaries and thesauri can be especially helpful when beginning a research project as they can provide you with terms and ideas you might not normally think of.  

The resources below can be used to help verify place names, building names, and keywords.  They should be used in conjunction with journal and periodical databases, book searches, and other tools you will use in your built heritage project.