I bought A History of Building Types by Nikolaus Pevsner (Princeton University Press, 1976) 33 years ago, but it’s still one of my favorite architecture books. It’s a subject few other books address, so no book in my reasonably vast library of architecture books surpasses it.
Building types simply refers to the uses that buildings are put to – office buildings, stores, factories, prisons, hospitals, hotels, museums, theatres, government buildings, and so on. You can find books on each of these categories. Even then, most of the books are about recent trends and architecture. There is much less available on the historical evolution of building types, or on the great buildings of each type of the past. For example, I still await a good history of department store architecture, despite the fact that this form affected millions of people worldwide, set the pace for modern store displays, and two acquaintances of mine have considered compiling and writing such a book.
In this context, the Pevsner book stands alone. It has a thorough history of the development of each building type, covering those types listed above and a few others. It contains great black and white illustrations of the evolution of each type, primarily from Europe and the United States. If you want to know what prisons looked like through the ages – or hotels – this is the book for you.
There are many books on the history of architecture, and I will likely be recommending these to you in the future. They are organized by style, by era, or by geographical region. This is the only book I know of that looks at buildings based on what they are/were used for. Their use really determines the shape, form, nature, and location of these buildings. We rarely see prisons in the center of downtown or big department stores off in field by themselves. Factories, warehouses, railway stations, banks, monuments, and exhibition and fair buildings have equally fascinating evolutions.
The book also gives you the chance to read about and see amazing buildings that don’t appear in many other architecture books. Yes, everyone knows the Taj Mahal is cool and worth studying, but what about the great round prisons that swept through England, France, and the United States hundreds of years ago, or the famous “Tombs” of New York City? How about Paris’ Bon Marche department store, often considered the world’s first? Or the earliest art museums?
I should note that the book is not totally comprehensive – it does not include, for example, houses and educational and religious structures, which are well-covered elsewhere. But if you enjoy viewing and learning about the buildings that populate our eyesight, get this book.