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The Builder’s Companion: A 1931 Handbook for Architects

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Here’s a fun one from the vaults: “The Builder’s Companion,” a two-part series published in the White Pine Architectural Monographs in 1931, but first written all the way back in the 1700s. If you’re curious how the rules of architecture have changed and stayed the same in all those centuries, you’ll want to check out both volumes and all the beautifully detailed illustrations they contain.

All are annotated with dimensions so the millwork, balustrades and other elements could be reproduced, and many are augmented by descriptions in flowing script. The illustrations are works of beauty in their own right, showing off the mathematical perfection of the shapes that made up each design.

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In addition to reprinting the originals, these monographs comment on how different things already were in 1931, like a segment entitled “Insulation is necessary in handbooks today.” Here’s a snippet of the foreword by Russell F. Whitehead:

“A visual impetus was given to architecture in the eighteenth century by the number of British architectural handbooks which appeared. The accepted manner in England was soon echoed in America and the master builders and designers here manifestly looked to the English pattern books, published and republished since 1700 for their designs of moldings, cornices, entablatures; for portals and even for facades. A careful examination of these early works would seem to indicate that they were not such complete guides as to leave no need for creative ability on the part of the individual who used them. They were, with rare exceptions, merely books of “the orders” and were not manuals of English architecture.”

“A part of the working library of one of America’s justly famed carpenter-builders of the eighteenth century has recently been discovered. The oldest of these volumes is dated 1724. Many of the treatises present a similarity of plan. They first offer elementary problems in geometry after which are included plates of the five orders and in addition details of construction and such architectural elements as windows, doors and mantels. By the omission of suggestions for plan arrangement, and, in most books, the complete facade design, it was probably implied that the responsibility for the design of an ensemble rested with the individual to whose capacity these handbooks were a ‘remembrancer.’”

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Read more: Vol XVII Issue I / The Builder’s Companion Part 1 | Vol XVII Issue II / The Builder’s Companion Part 2


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