Tuesday, August 09, 2005

In praise of reference books

I recently received a copy of the AIA Guide to New York City. For anyone who finds themselves looking up at buildings around town, and asking, "What's the deal with that one?" -- and I do -- this is about the best you can do in hard copy. Weighing in at more than 1,000 pages, this tome -- and it really isn't a stretch to call it that -- covers hundreds of notable buildings around the five boroughs. Now, it has its limitations, of course: There are some structures that are interesting but aren't in there, and there is rarely more than a paragraph or two about each one. But it's a good place to start, and then perhaps expand your curiosity back onto the internet.

The other funny thing about the book is its occasional insistence on speaking about planned buildings as if they will be up without a hitch and according to plan. Anyone who's been reading the headlines about ground zero, at the least, would know that this is a big assumption to make. The latest addition is dated 2000, which is fine for the vast majority of entries -- and the intact World Trade Center pages are no problem, either -- but the assumption that, say, the original plans for the Moynihan Station were going to be built just fine in the first years of the 21st century was obviously wrong. If you didn't know the backstory on that particular work, for instance, you might be confused why the authors are describing a building that doesn't exist -- or maybe in a few years -- a renovation that is largely different from the one completed.

Still, this one quirk doesn't ruin an otherwise amazingly satisfying guide.

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