Architectural Advice Books: The A.J.s
In these primers, writers shifted their focus away from the pattern book’s largely mathematical and technical information to include discussion of lifestyles and aesthetics in residential architecture. The readership for these books included homeowners as well as builders. Architectural advice books ranged in size from thick, large-format volumes to small “pocket manuals.” Wood engravings and lithographs, easier to produce and hence more affordable than the copperplate engravings favored for pattern books, dominated the genre.
Architectural advice books were designed in two standard formats. In the first, a series of model home designs served as the backbone of the book’s structure. The second type relied on a more free-flowing discussion of architecture, landscape design, horticulture and, to a certain extent, furnishings.
The A.J.s: Downing and Davis
The arrival of architectural advice books coincided with a growing interest in the Romantic or Picturesque style, wherein mood and illusion were favored over the strict rules, proscribed forms, and limited ornamental orders of Classicism. Particularly noteworthy is Alexander Jackson Davis’ Rural Residences (1837), a volume considered avante garde in the 1830’s, not only because of its advanced promotion of Romantic-style architecture, but also because it was the first architectural publication produced in the United States with colored illustrations. Partaking in a new approach to country architecture pioneered by John Claudius Loudon and others in England, Davis’ ideas and designs were not immediately understood by most Americans. He needed a translator and champion. Enter Andrew Jackson Downing! Working together, Davis the designer/lithographer and Downing the writer/publisher crafted an ideal of American Romantic architecture and estate life.
Downing’s passion was rural domestic design. His tenets were as follows: the detached, single-family dwelling was the American ideal; the American home should be functional yet beautiful; and the Romantic style was generally preferable over the Classical. To that end, he held up the elegant estates built by Hudson Valley elites, including Washington Irving and the Livingston family, as models worthy of emulation. When Downing died at unexpectedly at the age thirty-nine, professional advice givers lined up to vie for his crown.