Covering essentially the whole city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a series of ten neighborhood tours, this book describes hundreds of buildings of all sorts—institutional, commercial, residential. Each building is illustrated with a small photograph, the date of construction and the name of the architect, when known, are given, together with a succinct comment by the author, clarifying architectural and historical points and offering evaluations. The format of the book is such that it works to its best advantage when used as an actual portable guide, but it serves as well as a guidebook with which readers not in Cambridge can take informative imaginary walks.
The tours are scaled to the dimensions of ten contiguous neighborhoods, each of which is architecturally cohesive in some measure or is socially an entity unto itself. Three tours cover buildings that are mostly part of Harvard and M.I.T., and the greater number of buildings on the tour are private residences. The tours—which should not and usually cannot be made by automobile—are also scaled to the alleged limits of the modern pedestrian: they will not exhaust even the confirmed autotourist.
In addition to the ten walking tours, a supplementary driving tour at the end of the book covers points of interest that are too spread out for a walking route. Background for the various tours is provided in a summary of Cambridge history as well as in brief tour introductions. The book contains extensive cross references and a comprehensive index.
A large part of surviving Cambridge architecture worthy of study is a legacy of the 19th century, with a smaller number of 18th century houses, public buildings, and landmarks balancing it on one side, and a growing number of pace-setting 20th century buildings on the other. In this latter group, located mostly on the campuses, will be found the work of perhaps a majority of today's internationally best-known architects. This continuity from the 18th century to the present is epitomized by the Harvard campus, whose plan suggests nothing so much as a consciously contrived “architectural museum,” with buildings of different periods on display and juxtaposed for comparison. Within the space of a few blocks are buildings that range in time from 1718 through Bulfinch through Richardson to Gropius and Le Corbusier.
This guidebook is an official project of the Cambridge Historical Commission. It may be regarded as an offspring of the Survey of Architectural History in Cambridge, a series that treats buildings in greater detail but groups them by period, style, or function.