Content SAH Archipedia is an online encyclopedia of the world of American building, with histories, maps, and photographs of 10,300-plus structures, artworks, landscapes, monuments, infrastructure elements, and other places, all of which cumulatively “tell the story of architecture in the United States.” Content comes from the book series, “Buildings of the United States” (BUS) offering histories and essays from the following published BUS volumes: Massachusetts (Metropolitan Boston), Rhode Island, Pennsylvania (Eastern and Western),District of Columbia, Virginia (Tidewater and Piedmont), West Virginia, Michigan, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, andAlaska.
The file will grow as other BUS volumes are published and digitized; the publisher’s immediate goal is to have all 50 states represented in the file (to be realized by the end of 2015), with a longer-term goal of extending the resource to include information from around the world. Individual building entries and thematic essays have been written by architectural historians. This online, subscription version is more heavily illustrated than the print series, and each history comes with precise location and subject metadata based on controlled vocabularies. [Please note: the subscription version is being reviewed here; there exists also SAH Archipedia: Classic Buildings, a “free, open-access site containing entries for around 100 buildings from each state represented in SAH Archipedia.” The free site is available at sah-archipedia.org/].
Usability The file opens on an arresting screen (predominant colors are black, yellow, and white) whose top third is taken up with the title: Society of Architectural Historians SAH Archipedia, the Rotunda logo, and links to information about the resource, FAQs, as well as log in controls. Below this title bar users are invited to “Explore authoritative information on over 10,300 buildings by location, architect, period and style, building type, materials, and more,” using a single search box. A rotating, unlinked carousel displays unnamed buildings (naming and linking to information about them would be a useful and easy fix), and below that is an illustration of a featured building. The homepage also offers an array of contact information, sponsors, advertisements, and links to subscribe, a free trial, BUS in print, (SAH) committees, and teacher resources.
I started with a simple search for Frank Lloyd Wright and got 74 results—or so I was told. What appeared above the results was a Google map of the United States with a single “pin” and five number “hubs” scattered across it. When I clicked the pin, I got a balloon identifying the William L. and Cecile Wyman Murdock House, with a clickable link to read more. Clicking that revealed a controversy: “Although this home is often referred to by local residents as the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, newspaper accounts of the time identify the architect as (George) Maher….” While there was a reference to Lloyd Wright that the system picked up, I had yet to see a house he designed. Clicking one of the number “hubs,” all that happened was that the map centered on the hub without revealing any more information. Further down the screen were entries for individual buildings. The first entry, Alden B. Dow Home and Studio, states that, “Although Dow (1904–1983) apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright in the summer of 1933, the lyrical composition of his studio and home is very much his own.” To the right of the individual building entries were links for people and firms, periods and styles, decades, building types, materials, and states. I found Frank Lloyd Wright listed under people and firms and then was able to click on the “17” next to his name to locate the 17 buildings he designed that are in the current file.
Next I did some searching for the kinds of buildings I expected to find here. Since the New York BUS volume has not yet been digitized, while the Pennsylvania volume has, Fallingwater is in the file, but Olana is not. The “Search Help” link informs users that the “site supports Google-style search syntax and grammar.” It goes on to describe simple, phrase, structured (“constructed with the appropriate prefix and separated by a colon”), and Boolean searches, in addition to search and facet navigation (“All clickable facet values in right-hand sidebars are searches as well”—i.e., clicking on “Moderne” under “Periods and Styles” is the same as searching for “style:Moderne”). Based on the relatively small amount of material that’s in the file, simple searches combined with clicking the facets at screen right are the best way to access more targeted information.
I never did figure out how the Google map feature works on the results screen but not for want of trying to find the appropriate Help section. I was quite surprised that there are no photographs for every building entry; the FAQ notes “The Society of Architectural Historians is actively seeking photographs, as well as archival plans and drawings, for every building included on the site. If you would like to share one or more photographs that SAH Archipedia still lacks, please email email@example.com.”
Pricing Rotunda pricing is based on Carnegie classification, with prices for SAH Archipedia ranging from $440 for individuals to $4,395 for the largest research libraries. There is also a small annual hosting/update fee.Verdict As the resource states in the FAQs, “SAH Archipedia is a relatively new and growing online resource.” By all means do a free trial, but many will want to wait for more content and development before subscribing at this price.
Cheryl LaGuardia is a Research Librarian for the Widener Library at Harvard University and author of Becoming a Library Teacher (Neal-Schuman, 2000). Readers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org