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Architecture: Plan Your Search

How to search for and find architectural literature and images

What is architectural research?


Architecture is both a practical and creative field, where you express ideas through the creation of drawings and models. To be a successful student you'll also need to be able communicate the meaning of your work to others, and to understand the artistic, social and political context in which it resides. To do this you will need to read and become familiar with the language of your profession.

The sample search below focuses on finding quality academic literature, as well as touching on some image resources available in the Library. Our Finding Building Plans and Sections guide (linked on the menu at the right of screen) adds to this one by showing you how to use Google and the Library to find architectural drawings.

Sample assignment topic


Model of the Seagram Building


Compare The Seagram Building and the Headquarters of the United Nations.

For each building, write a brief summary of the design, context, function and social inhabitation of the work. Supplement your analysis with three images and one orthographic drawing of each project. 

Finally, present 2-3 remarks that compare and contrast the two project analyses.

image: van der Rohe, L. 1954. Seagram Building, New York, New York. ArtStor.

Identify your key concepts


Before you begin searching, it's a good idea to identify the main ideas (or keywords) in your assignment question.

Our sample question looks at two different buildings and asks us to compare them. In this case, it's better to treat each building as a separate search. We'll use the Seagram Building as our example.

The question also gives us many ways in which the two buildings can be compared (design, context, function etc) though one concept (the building itself) would ideally be present in all searches.

In this example search we'll try and locate:

The building (keyword 1) | The design or context (keyword 2) |

Keyword 1 Keyword 2
Seagram Building Design

Brainstorm keywords and synonyms


Before searching it's also good to map out some similar or related terms to search with. Wikipedia is great for brainstorming, but you can also try: 

There are no similar terms for the Seagram Building (though some buildings do have more than one name), so instead we'll use the name of the buiding's architect as a related term. We've also listed some of the terms that might be used as alternate terms for things like design and context, including terms more specific to this particular building like "functionalist".

Seagram Building Design
Mies van der Rohe morphology


  • Remove a keyword or add more related terms if you don't get enough good hits.
  • Add a keyword if you have too many hits and they aren't focused enough on the topic.

Build your search


When searching, it's best to start simple. For our topic that would probably be just Seagram Building

If you find lots of material try adding a keyword, eg: Seagram Building design

If you don't find much, try using Boolean Operators. Boolean Operators can be used to search for many similar or related terms at once. The idea behind this is to find more material, and also to save you time in having to run many different searches.  

Boolean searches for our topic

  • Use OR to add similar and related terms into your search.
  • If you have keywords that are two words or longer enclose them in double quotes: " " 
  • Use parentheses ( ) to group related terms together:

(design OR morphology OR construction) 

  • Then, combine OR searches together using the operator AND:

"Seagram building" AND (design OR morphology OR construction) 

To see how these searches can be used to find material in the Library, see the Search for Information page.
If you don't get good results, remove a keyword from the search, or add some more related terms.