When I tell people what I study, the question I almost always get is “Architecture? In Canada?” This question is the reason for this section that we are calling “Canadian Architecture 101,” which will be an ongoing column on our blog. What we hope to do in this column is to explain a little bit about studying Canadian architectural history, a little bit at a time. The goal here is not to provide an all-encompassing survey of the field, but to share some of the interesting details, as well as the joys and the frustrations of studying this fascinating part of our heritage.
So, to begin, what exactly is it that architectural historians do? The main thing is to figure out why a building looks the way it does. There are many factors to consider when looking at a building and so to begin, it is best to look for answers to some basic questions. What style is it? When was it built? Who designed it? Who was it for? What purpose did it serve?
Other questions that need to be addressed take things a little further, starting with: where did the idea for this building come from? Why was this style used? How does this fit into contemporary trends regarding styles? Does the plan of the building fit contemporary trends in similar buildings? If the architect is known, how does this work fit into his overall oeuvre? What buildings might the architect or patron may be looking at for inspiration?
And that’s just the start. For a lot of Canadian buildings many of these questions are hard to answer. As you can see there is a lot to consider when looking at a building. Over the weeks, we’ll be sure to continue exploring some of these questions and issues, so be sure to check back in for the next edition of Canadian Architecture 101.
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