We are delighted to share the news that the Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians 2013 Book Award goes to The Chesapeake House: Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg, edited by Cary Carson and Carl R. Lounsbury.
Perhaps once in a generation there appears a published architectural history that achieves landmark status at the onset. The Chesapeake House deserves that status and more. For more than thirty years a core group of architectural historians at Colonial Williamsburg, and associated colleagues, have produced detailed architectural fieldwork drawings, photographs, and archival documentation on hundreds of early buildings in Virginia and Maryland. That corpus alone is remarkable and worthy of a singular publication. But that’s only the supporting part of a complex and collaborative scholarship and history. The other recorded, researched, and analyzed components of this book could also stand alone: new understandings of seventeenth-century houses, regional peculiarities of building design, interior room arrangement and evolution, the use of moldings as an indication of social interaction, the hierarchical nature of hardware, the role of outbuildings, the evolution of construction technology, decorative wall treatments, and the nature of eighteenth-century slave quarters. This book manages to combine all of these factors, and more, in an overall interpretive social history of architecture that includes designers, builders, owners, visitors, and servants. The scope ranges from the gentry house to the slave quarter and synthesizes the details of fieldwork with archival research. What distinguishes this impressive effort are the questions asked of the material, and its interpretation. As an architectural history the actual publication is without peer in its beautifully rendered drawings, computer-generated cut-away and exploded views, and striking professional photographs. This is a collaborative professional work that offers the fruitful answers to a generation’s questions on the methodology of studying early American architecture. The simplistic statement that this book “demonstrates the value of objects treated as important primary evidence for the study of the past,” is a grossly understated description. This work can truly be called a paradigm shift for how we should see and understand a significant regional development of American architecture.
The book is published by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and distributed by UNC Press.