Guide to the library collection

Our library is dedicated to the literature of architecture in its broadest sense, including its professional history, its formal and theoretical elements, and its relationship to the main intellectual currents. This comprehensive approach seeks to document the history of architectural discourse, to promote scholarship and research in architectural history and theory, and to support work of other media within the collection.

One of its early special subject areas was that of early architectural treatises. Documenting the beginning of the modern tradition of enlightened debate about architecture, these Renaissance treatises comprise a collection of international importance. Supporting this material is a large body of Italian regional histories and city guides dating from the beginning of printing into the 19th century. Particular interest has been paid to the architectural literature of the countries whose culture has contributed to the formation of Canadian culture: England and France. There is an important collection of British country house guides of the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as literature of the English Gothic Revival. The French contribution to the urban culture of Québec and its fortified cities is reflected in a collection of manuals, treatises, and manuscripts on fortification. There are strong imprints from Germany and The Netherlands, and significant strengths in Eastern European holdings, especially books and periodicals on architecture published in the former Soviet Union. A strong collection on 20th century Modernism and avant-garde architecture literature has been formed and is supported by an outstanding collection of architectural periodicals; one of the library’s principal assets as an active research centre.

General Collections

Canadian Architecture and Urbanism

Comprising over 12,000 titles - more than half from the past four decades - the collection coverage is intended to be comprehensive and focused on Canadian architecture with emphasis on historic buildings and landmarks, Canadian architects, and architectural firms. The scope includes general histories of localities, businesses, and institutions. The collection is strong in souvenir publications of towns and villages, mainly in Québec and Ontario, as well as view and guide books. There is excellent coverage on the history of Montréal and its architecture, with emphasis on city planning and urban renewal. Formats are interesting and varied: monographs, exhibition catalogues, theses, trade catalogues, almanacs, directories, atlases, audio-visual materials, etc. Additionally, two special collections are worth mentioning: the Ernest Cormier Library and a collection of Canadian fire insurance maps, dating from the 1880s to the 1970s, and representing close to 400 cities, towns, and villages throughout the country.

United States Architecture and Urbanism

There is a comprehensive coverage of architecture throughout the United States from colonial times to the present. The early period is rich in builders’ manuals and pattern books – a good example being the John Norman’s Town and Country Builder’s Assistant (Boston, 1786). The collection includes about one third of the titles in Henry-Russell Hitchcock’s American Architectural Books (New York, 1976). The core of the collection is supplemented by city guides, view books, and other contemporary witnesses to the built environment. Other strengths include late 19th and 20th century building types and materials - the latter complemented by special collections of trade catalogues and international expositions. Excellent coverage of American architects and architectural firms, including Frank Lloyd Wright (see C. Donald Cook Frank Lloyd Wright Collection). The collection has a particular emphasis on North American Modernism and its aftermath, with recognition of the interdisciplinary nature of many avant-garde theories and good coverage of city planning and urban renewal, in particular housing. Also, it has extensive holdings on the history of photography in America.

European Holdings

A large portion of the Library’s monographs were published in Europe, many dating from before 1840 (including ten incunabula). The collection covers all aspects of architecture, urban planning and landscape design, as well as all styles and periods. It includes virtually all of the early printed architectural treatises, often both the first and subsequent editions. Renaissance holdings range from pocket manuals to large illustrated books. Literature of the history and development of building types is complemented by treatises on the use of building materials. Monographs by and about architects are supported by documents relating to the history of architectural education, with strong holdings of exhibition catalogues and theses. Topographical literature is well represented, with emphasis on early guidebooks and view books as sources for the study of urban planning, landscape gardening, and techniques of architectural representation. European imprints on subjects such as draughtsmanship, engineering, ornament, and perspective complement other monographic collections support broad-based research.

All countries and languages are included, with France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and the Netherlands particularly well represented for all periods. Russian-language holdings are a special strength with titles ranging in date from the 18th century to the present - about 80% belonging to the post World War II period. The material is particularly strong in Soviet architecture, architectural history, urban and regional planning, architectural education, and housing. There are also solid holdings for Eastern Europe and Armenia.

Holdings from Other Regions

Holdings for countries outside of North America and Europe consist mainly of recent monographs. Earlier imprints are more selective and largely confined to colonial architecture in India, Central and South America, and the work of Western practices in the Middle East and elsewhere. Strengths include contemporary architecture from Japan, China, and Korea, as well as temple architecture of early Modern India and urban development in Latin America. The collection includes a unique reference to retrospective and current literature on vastu shastra or ‘’treatises on dwelling’’ from South Asia.

Reference Collection

It comprises over 6,000 titles including standard and specialised works of reference. Early works include multi-volume encyclopaedias such as Diderot’s Encyclopédie, the 5th and 11th editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Brockhaus Real-Encyclopädie of 1822, and Larousse’s Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle. Standard research tools, such as general and specialised encyclopaedias, indexes, and national biographical dictionaries are available in the Reading Room, as well as standard and specialised electronic reference resources. Approximately half the reference titles relate specifically to architecture, including over 1,500 bibliographies and over 200 dictionaries of terminology - many of which are early works and architectural guides for most major cities. Other strengths include reference works on art, gardens, and the history of the book. Access to important collections of drawings (e.g. RIBA Architectural Library drawings collection; architectural drawings in the Victoria & Albert Museum; architectural and ornamental drawings in Sir John Soane’s Museum, etc.) and photographic materials and documentation (e.g. The Conway Library; History of Photography collection of periodicals, etc.) is available through microform surrogates.

A vertical file collection, begun in 1985, includes ephemeral material such as exhibition announcements and invitations and photocopies of newspaper clippings relating to architecture - mainly from the Montréal newspapers and The New York Times. It comprises over 2,550 files on individual architects and many architecture-related subjects covered in the popular press.

Architects’ and Scholars’ Libraries

Architects Library

Approximately 2,500 monographic titles and 100 linear feet of periodicals, comprising the major portion of the professional and private libraries of Montréal architect and engineer Ernest Cormier (1885-1980), are complemented by the personal and professional archive of Ernest Cormier in the CCA Collection.

Scholars Library

The archive of Spiro Kostof covers the period 1962-1991, and is comprised of files generated from his activities as an architectural historian and Professor of Architectural History at the University of California, Berkeley. They include lecture notes and student papers from courses taught at Berkeley and Yale, talks given at various national and international venues, and correspondence and research materials related to various publications, as well as unpublished amateur recordings of lectures for courses at Berkeley in 1987 and 1988. While the Library does not generally purchase the libraries or archives of scholars, offers such as Kostof are accepted based on their research value in relation to our holdings.

Special Collections

Renaissance Treatises

The collection holds editions of Alberti, Palladio, Scamozzi, Serlio, Vignola, and Vitruvius and aims to be comprehensive in tracing the history of these texts from the 15th century onwards. They are supported by the Library’s strong holdings in primary and secondary literature on Renaissance architectural theory and practice.

Trissino Collection of Books on Italy

The collection includes over 2,000 titles - starting in the 15th century - on Italian art and architecture. It was originally formed by Count Leonardo Trissino (1780-1841) and further expanded by his descendants. The collection consists mostly of regional histories and cultural guides to individual towns and cities, with especially good coverage of northern Italy (Friuli, Veneto, Lombardia, Piemonte, Liguria, Emilia Romagna). It also includes biographical monographs and first editions of major Italian treatises on art by Alberti, Borghini, Lomazzo, and others.

Festival Books

A selection of 75 printed books illustrating the temporary buildings and ephemeral decorations erected for special events such as royal births, weddings, and funerals. Special emphasis is on early examples of the genre, beginning with Henry II’s triumphal entries into Paris and Lyon in 1549.

Fortification and Early Military Architecture

Approximately 125 titles dating from Albrecht Dürer’s treatise of 1527 to the early 19th century -with particular emphasis on the major Renaissance and Baroque treatises - show the development of military architecture and its interrelationship with other disciplines, especially civil architecture, engineering, geometry, and town planning. It includes four unpublished manuscripts.

Harris Collection of British Country House Guides

Approximately 340 early printed books on British country houses, offering primary evidence of the architecture, gardens, and interior decoration of residential castles, palaces, and villas. The earliest item is a suite of 13 late 17th century views of Audley End in Essex; the latest, one of thirty copies of a 1939 guide to Poundisford Park, Somerset. The collection has strong holdings on Blenheim Palace, Fonthill, Stowe and Wilton, and representative guides to less famous houses; including two manuscripts and numerous unique association copies.

International Expositions and Fairs

Over 1,500 items generated in connection with fifty different international expositions - from the 1834 Paris exhibition to the present day. Strongest holdings are for London, 1851; Philadelphia, 1876; Chicago, 1893; Paris, 1900; St. Louis, 1904; San Francisco, 1915 (over 700 items); Paris, 1925; New York, 1939; and Montréal, 1967. Over 100 other fairs of various types are also represented. The collection includes printed materials and souvenir artefacts.

Trade Catalogues

Over 5,000 trade catalogues documenting building technology and construction methods from the late 18th century to the present. The core of the collection was formed through acquisition of the relevant portions of the Franklin Institute trade catalogue collection. Coverage is broad and includes such categories as concrete and lumber, metalwork and woodwork, flooring, heating and insulation, plumbing and electricity, windows and roofing.

Theatre Collection

Over 1,000 titles relating to the theatre (some 30 dated before 1800), of which about half is related to the architecture of theatres (e.g. theatre construction, theatre as building type). Within this larger group is the Edward Craig Theatre Collection, collected by Edward (Carrick) Craig and his father, the eminent stage designer Edward Gordon Craig. Comprised of about 75 monographs and ephemera documenting stage design and theatre history in Italy, France, Germany, and England, from the 17th through 20th century, it includes 700 ephemeral documents – engravings, photographs, broadsides, cuttings – which focus on London theatres. Original prints and drawings are housed in the Prints and Drawings collection.

Another collection within the larger group is that of the Historic Theatres’ Trust, which promotes the preservation of historic Canadian theatres and encourages improved methods of preserving, restoring, operating, and researching historic theatres. The collection comprises the Trust’s library and archives including reports, feasibility studies, monographs, periodicals, newsletters, theatre programs, photographs, clippings, postcards, and theatrical memorabilia. A component of this collection is the Emmanuel Briffa Collection, named in honour of one of Canada’s most prolific theatre decorators, and comprising slides, photographs, postcards, theatre programs, clippings, and printed ephemera.

The Library’s theatre collection is also complemented by items in the non-book collections, including toys, competition briefs, audio-visual materials, and vertical files.

Special Subjects

C. Donald Cook Frank Lloyd Wright Collection

Major collection of research material related to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. It contains approximately 1,200 books, 1,200 periodical issues, and 1,000 ephemeral items that include posters, audio-visual material, clippings, postcards, stationery, and memorabilia. Almost all significant titles by and about Frank Lloyd Wright are included and date from the early decades of the century to the mid 1990s. In addition, it includes all editions and printings of the major titles and all foreign-language editions. The collection holds most major architecture, design, and other serial publications, with coverage of Frank Lloyd Wright, issued between the turn of the century and the present decade. Ephemeral items are both historical and current (posters and memorabilia). The compendium is supplemented by other Frank Lloyd Wright holdings in the Library, Prints and Drawings, and Photographs collections.

Norman D. Stevens Collection of Library Architecture

A collection of materials - dating from the late 19th century to mid 20th century - documenting the library as a building type. It is composed of approximately 25,000 postcards depicting libraries around the world, with over 450 items of ceramic ware printed with images of library architecture, as well as similar items in metal ware, glassware, and treen ware. Also includes 38 commemorative medals depicting libraries; over 300 books and pamphlets on library history; and other miscellaneous items such as wood miniatures and souvenir pins.

Vastu Shastra Publications

A unique reference collection of retrospective and current vastu shastra literature on Indian temple architecture, iconography and city-planning, in original or critical editions in Sanskrit and other languages, and modern translations in Hindi, English, and other Indian and European languages.

Research Reports from the Bureau de la Recherche Architecturale et Urbaine (BRAU) in Paris

Over 300 unpublished research papers and reports on architecture, urbanism, and city planning in France commissioned from the French schools of architecture by the Bureau de la Recherche Architecturale et Urbaine from 1972 to 2002.

Architectural Competitions

Close to 500 briefs of international competitions for architecture, landscape architecture, and city planning. Systematically developed between 1987 and 2000, the collection includes some documents relating to results as well as exhibition catalogues and other publications resulting from competitions.


An important component of the Library’s research resources are over 5,000 titles - ca. 500 current subscriptions - that include major professional and scholar journals from countries throughout the world. The ensemble Includes Jahrbuchs, reports, bulletins, and other documents issued by associations, universities, corporations, and governments. Rich in journals of the avant-garde. Strong in national and regional journals and those published by schools of architecture, as well as those focused on architectural theory and architectural research. Selected titles in the fields of art, archaeology, history, and iconography enrich the interdisciplinary research potential of the collection. Titles related to photography, archives, prints and drawings, conservation/preservation, museology, and library issues provide support for the CCA collections and activities.

American holdings comprise all scholarly titles devoted to architecture, landscape design, and urban planning, including those which derive from membership in major scholarly associations. Also includes titles produced by students of architecture and landscape design in American universities. Good coverage of retrospective and current annual reports, professional journals, national and regional journals, and architectural research journals.

European serial holdings include all countries and languages and all periods. They contain an extensive collection of 19th century engineering and construction journals with information on inventions, bridges, construction, and industry. Important 19th century German, French and British titles can be found here. Many rare titles document the major movements of the 20th century architecture, from both Eastern and Western Europe and including Soviet publications.

Finally, the library ensures excellent coverage of current titles from other regions, including South America (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay); Central America (Mexico, Cuba); Asia (India, China, Japan); Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malyasia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam); and Africa (South Africa).


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