Architectural historians learn the hidden stories of buildings.
Buildings are not just structures made of concrete, brick or wood, but living histories. Their walls, windows and design flourishes tell the story of a place and its people through the ages. Architectural historians see buildings in this exciting way every day, investigating and evaluating them for their cultural, societal and historical importance.
Here’s a brief overview of what this unique career entails:
Architectural historians can work for a variety of organizations, including city governments, design firms, real estate companies, museums and historical societies. While they spend some time in an office, typical architectural historian roles include frequent trips to survey buildings, often those in the local area though they may also travel outside their city, state or even country to evaluate sites deemed historically important.
The buildings that architectural historians survey may include houses, churches, temples, marketplaces, storefronts, parks and plazas. These sites may currently be in operation or may have been abandoned or closed many years ago. Architectural historians evaluate a building’s construction method, materials and design features to understand its historical significance. They may also review records related to the building to understand how people interacted with the sites as well as their cultural importance. After conducting these evaluations, architectural historians may recommend they receive protected status or be put forward for candidacy as a national historical landmark. This process involves writing reports that describe the building’s historical importance and presenting findings to the government bodies that give out this designation.
How to become an architectural historian
Many architectural historians earn a master’s degree in history, architecture, archeology, historical preservation or art history after receiving their undergraduate degree to strengthen their knowledge and expertise and focus their studies. They also often complete internships or work in an entry-level capacity for museums, historical societies and local government agencies to further hone their skills. They may also join professional organizations, such as the Society of Architectural Historians, conduct independent research, attend conferences or join research trips abroad to help stay up to date on developments in the field and expand their professional networks.
If you love history, design and art, working as an architectural historian could be the ideal career for you.