Architectural Scavenger Hunt

Since the “Stay at Home” order was issued for Maryland roughly two weeks ago (2020), many residents have taken up walking. In fact, I’ve never seen as many people outside walking in my neighborhood as I have over the last ten days- and it’s not just individuals taking in the fresh air and exercise, it’s entire families and their pets! I can’t get enough of all of the canines, but unfortunately, they can’t be petted. If you are walking, treasure hunts are the latest craze, including teddy bear hunts, where people are placing teddy bears in windows, trees, porches and places where you wouldn’t expect to see them. In my neighborhood, we have scavenger hunts with teddy bears, pictures of hearts, flowers, trees, shamrocks and other items posted in windows. While the teddy bear hunt will amuse both young and old, try another type of hunt when while walking – (and hey, we might be walking for quite some time to come). Go on an architectural walk where the goal is to not only identify the style of house or building, but see if you can identify and name some of the more unique features found on our dwellings. Many of us are familiar with the Peterson’s Guidebooks to birds and other creatures, but what about houses? There is an excellent resource by Virginia Savage McAlester, A Field Guide to American Houses. This book was a text we used in our Historic Preservation curriculum. A Field Guide to American Houses covers both styles and features of our dwellings. One of the books best features is its “Pictorial Key” in the first part of the book. The key depicts house, roof shapes and other features along with what might be the corresponding style of house that matches that feature.

Mushroom House
mushroom house

Illustration 1: Mushroom House, Bethesda, Maryland

Another useful guidebook is, What Style is it?, by Poppeliers, Chambers and Schwartz, which provides a short history and examples of each of the major building styles found in America.

Now, forgive me for saying, but it might be difficult to do an architectural treasure hunt for styles of houses in new neighborhoods where sadly, there is generally one “style,” but architectural treasure hunts can be done for architectural elements in any neighborhood or downtown area. What’s more ubiquitous than a Palladian window in any neighborhood? Types of roof shapes can be identified too, from mansard, to gambrell and hipped, but also flat and flat with deep eaves for the more modern styles. Keep in mind that roof shape strongly corresponds to style. On the other hand, if you live in an older neighborhood, there will be an abundance of styles and architectural elements to hunt for. For example, in Stoneleigh, Homeland, Guilford, Roland Park, Ten Hills or anywhere in the city, one can easily come across Georgian, Tudor, Spanish, Italianate, Cape Cod, but not Victorian! As many architectural historians will point out, Victorian is an era, roughly 1837-1901, not a house style, but one can find many great examples of Queen Anne, Shingle, Stick, and other styles from the late 19th Century. Can you find a Sears house? In some neighborhoods, that maybe very easy. Are there any modern houses in your neighborhood such as mid century modern, prairie or Art Deco inspired? What would you consider the most unique house in your neighborhood? For instance, have you seen the mushroom house in Bethesda? Is there a house made of unique materials like cinder block (Silver Spring), concrete (Pikesville),  or hay bales and thatch (Sparks)?

Below is an architectural treasure hunt list with styles and elements that can be checked off. Who knows, you might find an actual architectural treasure, like a Frank Lloyd Wright house (Pikesville), or replica Usonian (Stevenson). Best of luck!

WIlley House 2
Usonian Malcom Willey House

Illustration 2: Usonian Architecture: Malcom Willey House, Bloomington, MN

Architectural Treasure Hunt List:


□Vernacular (farm house)

□ Tudor

□ Craftsman

□ Colonial Revival

□ Georgian

□ Italianate

□ Spanish Revival

□ Queen Anne

□ Stick

□ Greek Revival

□ Split Level

□ Mid Century Modern

□ Four Square

□ Prairie

□ Art Deco

□ International Style

□ Ranch

□ Shingle

□New England

□Dutch Colonial



□ Corbel

□ Tuscan Column

□ Doric Column

□ Ionic Column

□ Corinthian Column

□ Composite Column

□ Metope

□ Triglyph

□ Pent

□ Hipped Roof

□ Gambrel Roof

□ Flat Roof

□ Gabel Roof

□ Pilaster

□ Pediment

□ Chimney Pot

□ Quoin

□ Keystone

□ Spanish or Mission Tile

□ Porte Cochere

□ Sleeping Porch

□ Vestibule

□ Turret


□ Garland

□ Flemish Bond

□ English Bond


□Arched Dormer

□Dentil Molding


□Oriel Window

Similar Posts