Picks and Pans Review: The Architecture of the United States

UPDATED 12/07/1981 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/07/1981 at 01:00 AM EST

by G.E. Kidder Smith

This three-volume paperback guide to notable American buildings "from A.D. 1115 to the present" represents a formidable undertaking. Born in Alabama and educated at Princeton, architect-photographer G.E. "Geks" Kidder Smith, 68, traveled 135,000 miles in 50 states over a period of 12 years, accompanied by his wife and amanuensis, Dorothea. In a feat unlikely to be soon duplicated, they checked out some 3,000 buildings in person; this guide includes 1,326 of them. Private homes and buildings not open to the public were omitted, but the text still runs to 2,321 pages, including a photograph of each structure (usually by Smith) plus maps and commentary. As an architecture critic, Smith made his reputation abroad with books like Italy Builds, Brazil Builds and The New Churches of Europe. The new U.S. series, published in association with the Museum of Modem Art, represents a triumphant homecoming. Smith's research has been called "a national treasure" by the Smithsonian Institution, which is circulating his photographs in three traveling exhibitions (currently in Bethlehem, Pa., Orchard Park, N.Y. and Longview, Wash.). His commentary, based on notes dictated to his wife on the spot, represents an uncommonly perceptive history of New World building. Chronologically, aesthetically and geographically, the range is wide, from New Mexico's Pueblo ruins to Lucy the Elephant, a 60-foot restaurant in pachyderm form built in Margate City, N.J. in 1881, to Houston's Pennzoil Plaza. (Anchor Press/Doubleday, $29.95 per volume hardcover; $14.95 paper)

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