Illustrating "Buildings of Delaware"

I spent much of 2002 through 2004 writing the encyclopedic "Buildings of Delaware" for the landmark Buildings of the United States Series (available at Amazon.com).  I drove to every corner of the state, no matter how obscure, to study cultural heritage and its relationship to the built environment.  I looked at everything, from an ancient Dutch dyke of 1660 to a cutting-edge cable-stay bridge recently completed, from colonial smokehouses in the countryside of Kent County to a rare, intact, International Style 1940s elementary school in the city of Wilmington (later demolished).

When finished, the book had 449 building entries and mentioned more than 1,000 structures.  I was pleased that journalist Harry Themal called it "the best guide to those who want to tour Delaware since the 1938 'Federal Writers' Guide.'"  It has proven very popular.

As the page below suggests, it was a giant challenge to illustrate this lengthy book of 350 pages.  Not only were there numerous photographs, there were maps, fully 47 of them.  Making these precisely accurate was an exhausting project in itself.  Later volumes in this series gave up on the difficult mandate I followed, "every building appears on a map."

I was especially pleased with my historical maps, such as the one below, showing colonial roadways and towns.  This was based on exhaustive study of every early Delaware map I could find, compiling them into one reliable picture of colonial conditions.  A later map showed how the coming of the railroads changed the transportation patterns entirely and even killed some old towns.

I mention in the book the tremendous difficulties involved, there being so much less published information about Delaware architecture than I had imagined.  I might have added that photography of Delaware buildings was surprisingly spotty, making it a challenge to illustrate the book.  Photos in the collection of the state proved grainy and unaesthetic; pictures of twentieth-century buildings were very scant.  So I ended up taking scores of the 258 photographs myself, as seen below, to supplement the seven other collections I used.  This being 2002-04, nothing came from the Internet.

I enjoyed doing the photography and had many adventures.  Shooting the I. M. Pei Building, below, I happened to meet the building agent and had that memorable conversation about this important Brutalist landmark:  "Oh it is awful.  All concrete, all concrete, all concrete everywhere."  By accident I ended up leading a modest local protest against the painting of that concrete and the replacement of Pei's windows.  We appeared on a television panel but ultimately had limited success. 

"Buildings of Delaware" has become a standard source for researchers, I am glad to say.  It also records a bygone moment in the history of the state, a boom time before the Great Recession.  Seven of its buildings had been demolished before the book was published and many more have followed, so that in some cases "Buildings of Delaware" marks a final view of a vanished world.