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Urban Planning Resources: Finding Information on Buildings and Places

Where to start

This section focuses on how to research buildings and places with an emphasis on Bay Area and California.


Built, designed, owned or commissioned it (client)? Owns, regulates, or manages it now? Architectural Guidebooks;  Periodical ArticlesNewspaper ArticlesArchivesCity Directories
Lived in or used it or worked in it? In the present? Neighborhood Histories (PDF); Company HistoriesCity Directories
Lived in the neighborhood when it was built? 
Lives there now?
City DirectoriesInterviews & Oral Histories
Were the important people associated with this place? 
And now?
Architecture Biographical DictionariesLandscape Architecture Biographical Dictionaries
What Information Resources to Use
Type of building or place is it? 
Are the precedents for it?
Architectural GuidebooksBuilding StylesBuilding & Landscape Types
Was the original function or use of the place? City DirectoriesNeighbohood Histories (PDF)
Additional or changed functions has it had? Sanborn & Other Fire Insurance Maps
Style is it; how does its style fit in the history of design? Architectural GuidebooksArchitectural HistoriesStyle GuidesAmerican Architecture
Activities went on in the neighborhood when it was built? 
Current activities take place there?
NewspapersNeighborhood Histories; General Plans
Was the political, regulatory, and economic environment in which it was built? NewspapersZoning & Building CodesPublic Records;  General Plans
Are its features, materials or plants, and what do these choices signify? ObservationArchitecture DictionariesLandscape Architecture DictionariesGarden PlantsArchives
Is the (often invisible) structure under or behind the design? GuidebooksArchival Drawings; PlansPhotos
Important events happened here? GuidebooksNewspapers
Condition is it in? ObservationPublic Records
Was there before it was built? Maps;  Neighborhood Histories (PDF); Photos
Where Information Resources to Use
Is it now? Maps
Was it originally (as city grew & change)? Historic MapsSanborn MapsSan Francisco Genealogy
Did the construction materials originate? Products & Trade CatalogsArchitectural HistoriesArchivesNewspapers
Does it fit technologically (typical or advanced for the time)? Histories of Building TechnologyBuilding Materials and ConstructionLandscape Materials
Why Information Resources to Use
Was it built or designed? Newspapers & Periodical ArticlesArchivesGeneral Plans
Was it built or designed in this specific location? Census DataSanborn MapsArchitectural HistoriesGeneral Plans
Was it built or designed to look the way it does; what was the designer's intention? InterviewsWorks on ArchitectsWorks on the Landscape ArchitectArchitectural Style GuidesArchives
Is and was it important or significant? Architectural GuidebooksGeneral Plans
When Information Resources to Use
Was it constructed? Sanborn MapsArchitectural GuidebooksArchivesPublic Records
Was it altered? Newspaper & Periodical ArticlesPublic recordsArchitectural Guidebooks
Were buildings around it constructed; which were there when the place was new? PhotosArchitectural GuidebooksEarly Films of San Francisco
How Information Resources to Use
Did people respond to it originally? Newspaper & Periodical ArticlesDiariesOral HistoriesFilms, Videos
Do people respond to it now? Interviews;
Did it affect the neighborhood or people in the community? Sanborn MapsInterviews; Public RecordsNewspaper Articles
Did/do neighborhood people influence its design or use? Newspaper & Periodical ArticlesObservation; Public Records
Does it compare to similar places elsewhere? Architectural GuidebooksArchives
Does it relate to its landscape or setting? Newspaper & Periodical ArticlesObservationArchives
Was the topography altered to accommodate this place; how was it accomplished? Topographic MapsPhotos
Much did it cost to build? Was it expensive? ArchivesPublic RecordsNewspapers
Does it fit in the designer's body of work (typical? a departure? have signature details?) Works on the Landscape ArchitectWorks on the Architect
Does it look now compared to original appearance? ArchivesPhotos;  Architectural Histories


More Guides

For more resources see  San Francisco Bay Area Architects and Architecture ResourcesVernacular Architecture and Landscape Architecture ResourcesHistory and Literature of Landscape Architecture, and other guides available from the Environmental Design Library. Be sure to check the online Library catalogs, OskiCat or Melvyl, for many additional resources, or contact the reference desk in the Environmental Design Library.