The Society of Architectural Historians and The University of Virginia Press, publishers of SAH Archipedia, tout it as “an authoritative online encyclopedia of the built world.” Those familiar with the monographic series Buildings of the United States may experience a mild case of déjà vu while exploring SAH Archipedia, as most of the content has been drawn from the print volumes of that series, each of which covers a state, metropolitan area, or region. According to the publisher’s website, so far the database provides access to over 8,500 entries from twelve volumes of Buildings of the United States, most of which are histories and thematic essays about buildings and places. However, users will discover that, in addition to architectural works, entries for historic monuments, works of art, and landscapes are included. The publishers plan to digitize more volumes from the Buildings of the United States series and to expand coverage beyond the United States, to make the database a “comprehensive resource for information on buildings from across the globe” that will grow to include peer-reviewed, born-digital content. The oldest work this reviewer encountered in the database was a Native American ruin dating back to the 7th century. The most recent works date from the current decade.
Sophisticated searchers may feel somewhat limited at first by the simple, Google-esque single search field.
However, in addition to phrase and Boolean searching, the interface supports structured searches whereby the user may target controlled vocabulary terms by entering designated search query prefixes to hunt for entries associated with specific builders or firms, styles or periods, decades of construction, material types, building types or locations.
After a query is submitted, users are given a variety of options for exploring and refining the results. The first, and most prominent option is an interactive Google map that allows the user to navigate to built works by location. Below the map, brief descriptions and images for relevant entries are listed. In the margin to the right of the results display are tags that correspond with the aforementioned search prefix categories, which can be used to narrow the results.
After choosing an item from the list of results, the user is taken to the entry, which includes an image, an interactive Google map with a pin marking the precise location, and a brief article giving an overview of the work, some less than fifty words in length and others over 500 words. Each entry features cross-indexing via tags organized by the same themes the user has encountered throughout the search process. Each entry also provides the editor’s name and a citation for the print version of the entry (citing Buildings of the United States as the source) and the online version encountered in the database. However, the citations are not consistent with any style familiar to this reviewer.
Although thorough indexing, interactivity, and an efficient search interface make this resource a robust discovery tool, the fact that it currently lacks coverage for many regions in the United States (including California and New York) makes it a hit or miss experience–with a disappointing number of misses–if one is seeking entries on specific projects or works by particular architects. Furthermore, though a brief, encyclopedic treatment of built works is useful for students of architecture and faculty alike, many users will likely lament the fact that the entries lack any sections, plans, or other architectural images beyond exterior and interior photographs. These drawbacks may make purchasing SAH Archipedia hard for many librarians to justify, especially considering the steep pricing structure.
Barret Havens, Outreach Librarian & Architecture Subject Librarian