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Last winter, Ricochet’s own @thelostdutchman published a great series about Pennsylvania political geography. Being something of a geography geek myself (the map-loving kind, not the critical-theory-spouting kind), I thought I’d try my hand at writing something a tad less detailed and a tad more ambitious — a brief description of American architectural geography.
Finding data which says something meaningful about architecture is not an easy task, perhaps because architecture is an art, and art isn’t quantifiable. But, still, the statistical gods have smiled upon us Americans. In 1940, the Census Bureau decided, for the first time, to ask detailed questions about American housing. As the libertarians winced, homeowners and renters filled out a questionnaire inquiring about such subjects as property values, housing size, mechanical systems (like heating, plumbing, and electricity), and, best of all, housing age. The data is aggregated by county and city (and farm and non-farm), and it’s organized, roughly, by decade — with a category for houses built before 1860, one for houses built in the 1860s and 1870s, one for houses built in the 1880s, and so on. This means that the interested obsessive (like me) can gain some understanding of any one county’s architectural chronology. Is the data accurate? Not entirely. Self-reported data is seldom accurate. But it’s accurate enough to show trends. I’ve done plenty of spot-checking, and the data usually aligns with what I’ve observed. The picture it paints is a meaningful one.