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Architectural Styles: A Layperson's Guide
posted by Joe Lawniczak


If you’re like most people, being able to identify a building’s architectural style is about the same as being able to recognize whether your favorite song is in 2/4 time or 4/4 time. It matters little to most of us. All we know is we like certain songs and not others. Similarly, most of us may like the way a certain historic building looks, but very few of us care how the slight nuances in the size, shape or location of its elements can define it as one style or another.

But even if we don’t have a desire to learn all about the various types of historic buildings, it is still important that architectural surveys are done to help us identify the structures in our districts. Knowing a building’s style is like a blueprint. It provides clues to what a building would have looked like originally, especially if it has undergone changes in the past. Knowing a building’s style can help to determine roughly when it was built, and conversely, knowing when it was built can sometimes help us determine what style it is/was and what window styles and storefront designs are appropriate.

If we strive to respect our local heritage, then our historic buildings are vital in helping us understand the people, times, fashions, lifestyles, technologies, and industries that existed before us, and how they shaped our communities, regions, and state.


HIghlighting Your Community's History with Walking Tours


Once you've identified the major architectural styles present in your community, one way to engage and inform others about this shared history is with a walking tour. Walking tours can be online, like Princeton's and Omro's, printed brochures, like Ripon's,, multi-media like in Stillwater and Grand Rapids or offered as guided or interactive tours. Haunted history and cell phone architectural photography walking tours are popular ways to engage new audiences with local architectural features that often go unnoticed. 


Architectural Scavenger Hunts Highlight the Unnoticed


Even if your district is not defined by striking architecture, chances are that there are many individual features that are eye-catching and distinctive. These features often go largley unnoticed (mostly because they require looking up), but helping people see downtown in a new way can pay off. Architectural scavenger hunts are one way to help people notice the finer details of a community - examples include this one in Albion, and this interactive version in Fredericton. What's more, scavenger hunts can be focused at kids, adults, or everyone in between. Capturing these unique images can also be useful from a marketing perspective, as coasters, 'doors of' posters or postcards can be popular purchases for locals and visitors alike. 


January 2018




Roundtable Discussion Groups

January 24th, Barron

February 15th, Burlington

More information


Historic Preservation Tax Credit Workshop
January 26th, Madison
More information


Main Street Orientation
February 12th, Marshfield
More information


Restaurant & Hospitality Business Best Practices

February 5th, Sturgeon Bay

February 19th, Fond du Lac

February 20th, Mayville
More information


Facade & Property Improvements to Boost Business
February 27th, New Glarus

March 1,Tomah
More information

Incremental Development Workshop
April 12, Fort Atkinson
More information



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