Reviewed April 2014
Virginia Kerr, Digital Program Manager
Center for Research Libraries
vkerr@crl.edu 

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Between 1951 and 1974, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner published The Buildings of England, a forty-six volume set which describes notable regional structures. In 2002, Yale University Press (YUP) updated these as thePevsner Architectural Guides. By 2011, YUP published the Glossary which was initially an appendix to the guidebooks. YUP now brings theGlossary into the mobile world with the Pevsner’s Architectural Glossary App for iPhone and iPad devices.

On the surface, the app is an attractive product. The interface is well-organized with clear navigational prompts for moving through the various sections. There are different access points to retrieve content such as an alphabetical list of terms (just over 1,000), subject categories, a list of buildings, and a “Browse by Image” section. There are 134 building entries with brief descriptions, stylistic and component terms, a map snippet, and a link to YUP’s site, which some might regard as an intrusive promotional tactic for purchasing the affiliated guidebook. Personalizing features will appeal to those who love apps as the user can consult the last five items viewed, save “favorite” terms, and share entries through social media. Some display features are more likely to frustrate than help the researcher. While YUP added additional building photographs, the images are not optimized and break down somewhat when enlarged. It can also be difficult to locate a decorative detail in a photograph without a link or clear identifier to that portion of the image. Likewise, without highlighted labels or links, it is also difficult to identify details within complex drawings (e.g., diagrams of the classical orders or medieval beam roofs) than in the print counterpart. The captions themselves display over the center of the building photo when the photo is clicked. Since this obscures the image itself (the caption box cannot be resized or moved) it is also possible to view captions on separate screens from the photograph.

Much like the print Glossary, the app definitions are terse and could be enhanced with additional line illustrations. And like the print version, the app’s definitions need to be supplemented by more comprehensive resources such as The Buildings of England or the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture by Pevsner and others.pevsner2However, the app definitions themselves could be enhanced and presented more effectively if additional search and display functions were employed. Currently, a separate screen lists the definition along with those buildings illustrating that term. The user must click on each individual building name to view its photograph(s), enlarge each of those photographs to retrieve any referenced details, and click again to consult the caption with the building’s location and date of completion. It is a fairly labored process, for example, to determine which buildings in specific regions demonstrate the use of giant pilasters on facades. This could be resolved if the app were to display building thumbnails and brief captions for quick reference on the same screen as the term itself.

An expandable map with labeled pinpoints provides geographical entry points but it is difficult to browse by region. One must click on a pinpoint, one at a time, for information. Building types are used only to categorize component terms, not buildings, and categories are distinctively Anglo-oriented, emphasizing medieval terms and characterizing styles like “Baroque” in a British context. Moreover, some of the category terms may seem outdated as they are not part of the standard AAT terminology.

Although the app is reasonably priced ($4.99), it will leave most users needing more information, unless one is traveling in Britain and armed with a print Pevsner guide, in addition to the app. People unfamiliar with Britain’s architectural heritage might be misled into thinking the scope of this glossary is much broader than it really is, given that it covers just 134 structures with the related terms and categories. While the Pevsner’s Architectural Glossary App for iPhone and iPad is a sound effort, there is still need for a fully interactive, illustrated architectural glossary, based on a robust platform and not limited to an Apple iOS.