UCB Libraries

How to Research a Contemporary Architect or Building

  • Choose Keywords
  • Find Books
  • Find Articles
  • Find Images
  • Web Resources


Contemporary architects and buildings can be difficult to research simply because it takes time for a large body of scholarship (books, articles, etc.) to develop around a given topic. This guide will help you get started on your research. As always, if you need additional help, feel free to contact your Art & Architecture Librarian via email or phone.


What are you looking for?

Choosing appropriate search terms is an important first step in the research process. Take a few moments to brainstorm a list of keywords that describe your topic. For contemporary architects and buildings, this list could include the architect's name, other architects associated with the project, the building's name (and any alternate names it might have), its location, significant materials, stylistic features, etc.


For example, if you were interested in the recent addition to the Denver Art Museum, your list of keywords might include the following:


Architect's Name: Daniel Libeskind

Associated Architects: Brit Probst, Davis Partnership Architects
Building Name: Denver Art Museum

Alternate Building Name: Frederic C. Hamilton Building
Location: Denver, Colorado

Significant Materials: Titanium cladding or panels

Stylistic Features or Other Important Concepts: Postmodernism


When searching for books, articles, and other material, the architect's name, the building's name, and the location will likely be the most useful search terms. However, taking time to think about other aspects (materials, concepts, etc.) can be helpful for organizing potential ideas for your paper or project.



Chinook - How to Find Books & More @ CU-Boulder

Chinook is the catalog for materials owned by the CU Libraries. You can do a title search for a specific book, or a keyword search if you are looking for books on a particular topic. You can also use MyChinook to renew books, see what you have checked out or on hold, and much more.

Chinook Catalog

When searching Chinook, you can connect your keywords using terms like AND, OR, NOT. You can also used parentheses, quotation marks, and asterisks.




AND: architecture AND olympics (must find both terms)

Phrases: “Bird's Nest” (must find phrase in that order)

OR: stadium OR arena (must find one of the terms)

Synonyms: (stadium OR arena) AND architecture

NOT: architecture NOT computing (must find first term and not second term)

Wildcards: moderni* will find modernism, modernist, modernity, etc.


Prospector - How to Find Books @ Other Libraries in Colorado

If you search Chinook and find that the CU Libraries do not have the item you are looking for (or if the item you are looking for is checked out), you can search Prospector, which is a combined library catalog of many libraries in Colorado and Wyoming.


Prospector is the FASTEST way to get a book if it is unavailable here at CU-Boulder.


WorldCat - How to Find Books @ Any Library

There might not always be an entire book about your architect or building, or there might not be many books published on the subject.


Given that fact, you will want to use WorldCat instead of Chinook to search for books. WorldCat is an online catalog for over 9,000 libraries in the US and world wide, and it allows you to do a more thorough search than Chinook because you are not limited to only the items we already own. Instead, you are effectively searching the catalogs of most major libraries world wide.


For any books you find in WorldCat, you will be able to see if CU-Boulder owns that item. If you find something in WorldCat that we do not own, you should:

  1. Search Prospector to see if the book is available. If it is, request it via Prospector. The book will typically arrive in a few days, and you'll receive an email when it is ready for pick up.
  2. If the book isn't available via Prospector, you can request it via Interlibrary Loan (ILL). Please be aware that items ordered via ILL can take up to several weeks to arrive. Obviously, if your assignment is due very soon, this will not be an option.


Tips for Using WorldCat

Because WorldCat provides access to such a large number of materials from libraries world wide, you'll want to be careful about how you search, otherwise you might end up with a large number of results that aren't useful.


When searching for books about contemporary architects and buildings using WorldCat, using the architect's name as your search term is often the best approach.


Accessing WorldCat from Off Campus
If you want to use WorldCat while you are off campus, you must use VPN. For more information about how to download and install VPN, see the library's page on Off Campus Access.



The Avery Index is the most comprehensive database for researching modern and contemporary architecture. It includes citations and abstracts from books, journal and magazine articles, essays, exhibition catalogs, dissertations, and websites. It is also an excellent source of plans, sections, elevations, and drawings.


Try a few different searches using the architect's name and/or the building's name to see what kind of results each yields. Once you've found articles that you're interested in, use the "Find it at CU" link to retrieve full text (if available).


To find plans, sections, elevations, and drawings, use the Advanced Search option. Select "physical description" from the drop-down menu, and enter the kind of material you're looking for (e.g. plans, sections, etc.).



Other Useful Databases

Art Bibliographies Modern
ABM covers journal articles, books, essays, exhibition catalogs, PhD dissertations, and exhibition reviews on all forms of modern and contemporary art, including some coverage of architectural design and history.


Art Full Text
An excellent general resource for art, art history, architectural history and related topics.  Covers a range of media in all periods, with publications going back to 1929.


Design & Applied Arts Index

Excellent resource for scholarship on design topics, including interior design, furniture, metals, ceramics, industrial design, product design, landscape architecture, and related topics in the the applied arts.


Engineering Village

With a focus on engineering literature, this database will help you find articles on structual or architectural engineering, construction, and related topics.



Full text of articles from important scholarly journals in the humanities and social sciences.


LexisNexis Academic

Contains the full text of national, international, and regional news, newswires, transcripts, magazine articles, legal and business information, public opinion polls, and other sources.  Very useful for finding exhibition and film reviews.


Accessing Resources from Off Campus
If you want to use databases like the Avery Index or Lexis Nexis Academic while you are off campus, you must use VPN. For more information about how to download and install VPN, see the library's page on Off Campus Access.



Image Resources from the Libraries


Over one million images of visual and material culture, covering all geographic areas and historical periods. VPN required for off-campus access.


Art & Art History Collection via CU Digital Library

Maintained by the Department of Art & Art History Visual Resources Collection. Provides access to a growing collection of high-quality digital images. VPN required for off-campus access.


Architecture & Planning Collection via CU Digital Library

Maintained by the College of Architecture & Planning Visual Resource Center, this collection of over 46,000 images focuses specifically on architecture, landscape architecture, and the built environment. VPN required for off-campus access.


AP Images

Search for images from the Associated Press. Useful for finding images from newspapers, magazines, wires, etc. Excellent source for contemporary photos of historical sites. VPN required for off-campus access.


Image Resources on the Web

Flickr & Flickr Commons

Useful source for images of architecture and historical sites. Note that user-contributed photos vary in quality. Flickr Commons contains images from photographic archives, museums, and libraries.


Google Image Search

Use the advanced search options to find larger, higher quality images.



And finally... the Internet!

The Internet is often the best place to find information on contemporary architecture. Look for a website maintained by the architect or architectural firm for biographies and bibliographies. Remember to place the name of the architect/building in quotations to ensure the best results.


If you have found a personal website for an architect that contains contact information, you may consider sending him/her an email of 3-4 carefully constructed questions. This may or may not provide fantastic leads for continuing research.


Great Buildings Online maintains a database of user-contributed photographs, 3D models, and other images of major architectural monuments. Though not a scholarly resource, it can be helpful for finding basic information and images. Bibliographies are often included.


Wikipedia can also be useful source of information, including a bibliography for many articles. Remember, though Wikipedia can be a useful place to start, you should seek out other resources (books, articles, etc.) for your paper or project.