Title Reviewed:
American Building: Materials and Techniques from the First Colonial Settlements to the Present

Author Reviewed:
Carl W. Condit

David R. Hermansen


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 64, Issue 3, pp 260-260

Article Type:
Book Review

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American Building: Materials and Techniques from the First Colonial Settlements to the Present. By Carl W. Condit. The Chicago History of American Civilization. Edited by Daniel J. Boorstin. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1968. Pp. xiv, 329. Illustrations, suggested reading, index. $10.00.)

Carl Condit's most recent publication is an outgrowth of his previous writings: The Rise of the Skyscraper (1952), American Building Art—The Nineteenth Century (1960), American Building Art—The Twentieth Century (1961), and The Chicago School of Architecture (1964). The publication is one in a series of topical volumes in The Chicago History of American Civilization, edited by Daniel J. Boorstin. The purpose of the work is to trace the development of the American building arts from the most primitive temporary structures of the seventeenth century to the most complex and sophisticated buildings of the twentieth century. Thus great emphasis is placed upon the materials: timber, iron, steel, and concrete and their evolutionary construction techniques. The book is intended as a "popular history of American building." The title is misleading if not a misnomer. A more accurate title would be American Construction since about 40 per cent of the text and 53 of the 112 illustrations are of dams and bridges of a variety of types. The illustrations are taken from two of Condit's earlier publications; their quality is excellent. However, they are totally inadequate in quantity to illustrate visually Condit's verbal analysis of truss types, particularly his detailed discussion for compression and tension forces and their juxtaposition in a truss or force diagram.

A visual glossary would have been almost necessary for even a professional student of architecture or structural engineering to understand how various chords, ribs, webs, piers, and reactions can be analyzed. Thus the layman will experience considerable difficulty in reading the text. A greater number of simple line drawings similar to Figure 3 and integrated in the text would have solved this problem. Footnotes are almost nonexistent (only one), and the source material is listed under general headings. Thus the author's scholarship is most difficult to document. The book is attractive and well edited and will provide a solid basis for the general reader who has a deep interest in American construction and its historical sources.

Ball State University

David R. Hermansen

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.