How to Read Buildings, cover

A Compact and Comprehensive Guide to Architecture

How to Read Buildings is a compact volume and an ideal companion for anyone interested in understanding the architecture around them either at home or while travelling.

The introduction in How to Read Buildings provides a crash course in architectural history and a guide to reading buildings. Dr Davidson Cragoe explains how to look for clues that will lead to recognition of the style of the building and the period in which was probably built. It describes how buildings change over time as fashions change and the building is altered or repaired. It is a small volume that will fit in a coat pocket. It is printed on glossy paper and illustrated with engravings so the impression is of a quality product.

Building Types

Dr Davidson Cragoe moves on to a consideration of the characteristics of building types from religious buildings through Castles and Palaces, as well as less grand domestic building, to often grand Public and Commercial architecture.


How to Read Buildings continues with a Grammar of Style which provides an historical timeline of architecture from the Classical styles of Greek and Rome through to the various modern styles of the 20th Century such as Art Deco and Modernism.


The book then moves on through using the materials such as stone or brick as the first clues to a building’s period. By considering how the material is used a sense of the period can start to be formed. Techniques are also introduced as part of the section as how a building is constructed is a key indicator or period or style. For instance it explains why many medieval buildings have missing bricks or block in high walls. They are not due to damage over time – they are putlogs where scaffolding was attached to the wall and the gaps were not subsequently filled in when the scaffolding was removed.

Building Elements

The main body of the work examines through the building elements, both internal and external, and the characteristics of how they are used in the many architectural styles. It starts with describing Columns from the Classical Orders, Doric or Corinthian through Gothic and Baroque even to the modern use of columns.

Consideration carries on through roofs, towers, spires, arches, doors and moving inside into floors, stairways and more. Dr Davidson Cragoe describes the characteristics of each style that uses the element and explains the more general building technology along the way. It then moves on to examine the significance of decorative elements in architectural style.

It is these last two sections that will quickly allow a building to be assessed and its style identified.

Recommended Reading

This is an ideal book for the traveller, student of architecture or photographer who wishes to be able to properly understand buildings especially of Europe although there is reference to buildings of North America, Near East and elsewhere. The language and approach is accessible but the content is comprehensive so anyone with even a passing interest in the built environment will be able to benefit. It also has an extensive glossary and index. Recommended and it should be available from most major booksellers.

The Author

How to Read Buildings (ISBN: 978-0-7136-8672-) was published in 2008 by the Herbert Press; an imprint of A&C Black Publishers of London at £9.95. The author is Dr Carol Davidson Cragoe, an architectural historian currently engaged in research on the history and architectural heritage of British Churches. She has studied in New York and London


First published on Suite101


Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.