Not every creative person can be an architect, but it’s safe to say that every architecture and CAD design service is creative. But even the most creative professional still needs a healthy dose of inspiration, and thankfully, they can get it from multiple sources including books, magazines, or libraries. The good thing is that many of those inspirational resources have been digitized and are accessible from home via the Internet. Let us not forget that most (but not all) of them are also available free of charge, no subscription required.
Inspirational content should be more than just a repository of images. They can come in the form of stories, reviews, books, essays, research papers, and more. The list below will include conventional online libraries, historical records, digitized monthly publications or magazines, and the more contemporary websites or blogs as well. Whether you’re looking to get inspired to start a simple home improvement project or are planning for massive bridges and skyscrapers, the following sources should help.
JSTOR – Free and paid
Let us start with one that is not free. JSTOR is a digital library that stores more than 12 million books, academic journals, and primary sources in multiple disciplines. The platform collaborates with the academic community to keep adding more content while simultaneously lowering the access price for independent researchers and professionals.
It is not specific to architectural studies, but you can simply “Browse by Subject” to find its “Architecture & Architectural History” section. You’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer number of journals, research reports, and books available. While access to most content is by subscription, it has many free articles to download and read free of charge.
Arts & Architecture – Free
This is a great inspirational source that talks about architectural studies from years gone by, mainly the post World War II period from 1945 to 1967. One of the most well-known studies on the A&A website is the Case Study House Program, which puts the spotlight on the architectural approach to single-family dwellings in Southern California.
All content is the digitized version of already published materials or magazines during the period. The website is straightforward, easy to navigate, and of course, free. If the architectural styles of the 40s, 50s, and 60s bring you pleasant excitement, A&A is likely irresistible.
Visit: Arts & Architecture
USModernist Library – Free
The US Modernist is part of a North Carolina 501C3 educational archive, with one clear purpose: to document and preserve 20th-century major architectural publications all across America. One thing that US Modernist and A&A have in common is that both try to inspire by exposing you to the past.
It’s only common that old architecture magazines are left rotting in the attic and office, or buried in the basement under pile after pile of random stuff. US Modernist brings all those long-forgotten architectural creativities to life once again. The library has around 2.5 million pages – all free to download.
Visit: USModernist Library
The Archigram Archival Project – Free
Run by a team from EXP at the University of Westminster’s Research Center for Experimental Practice, there are more than 200 projects now listed in the Archigram Archival Project. The Archigram group was active from 1961 to 1974, yet their work remains hugely influential today. On this website, you will find drawings, photographs, paintings, articles, slides, magazines, and other inspirational resources.
Some of the original texts by Archigram are also available. Bear in mind that most of the Archigram’s works are still not yet built (perhaps never will), but digitization makes sure those works are well-structured for current and future generations to refer to and will never be forgotten. Go to the “PROJECTS” section to see plenty of impressive drawings.
Visit: Archigram Archival Project
Getty Publications Virtual Library – Free and paid
The content compiled in the Getty Publications Virtual Library complements the work available in the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the J. Paul Getty Museum. The library covers a wide range of subjects including but not limited to archaeology, humanities, photography, art, and architecture.
Listed under the “Architecture” subject alone is a collection of books written by various world-renowned architects. The books are available in a PDF version that you can read online, download for personal use, or you can purchase the print version. This library started only about five years ago, so the number of resources is still relatively limited, but it makes up for the lack of volume in quality.
ISSUU – Free
As a media company, ISSUU does not focus on architectural publications, but it has more than enough content to inspire just about every professional of all levels. Unlike all the previously mentioned websites that take you back in time, the architectural content available on ISSUU is much more up to date.
Available books are displayed in a thumbnail with a clear preview of their covers. Some books cannot be downloaded, but you can easily read them online for free on the platform. If you don’t mind reading books on a computer screen, it’s like having a huge library of inspirational architectural books on your desk.
Archnet – Free
When it comes to inspirational content about Islamic architecture, Archnet has it all. First things first, the entire layout of the website is well-built, with an easily navigable structure for quick navigation. It is also colorful without being confusing. Contents are heavily focused on the architectural, urbanism, landscape, environmental, design, and visual culture aspects of Islam.
Textual material is available as well. As far as the content is concerned, Archnet is already impressive as it stands today, yet the repository keeps on growing to feed your curiosity and hunger for inspiration. Everything is accessible for free.
RIBApix – Free
From the name alone – the Royal Institute of British Architects – you can feel the excellence of the content provided. RIBA is a professional membership body that focuses on creating better architecture for all sorts of places and buildings. It promotes architectural works that are environmentally aware, ethical, collaborative, and inclusive.
The library has more than 100,000 images and a collection of around 150,000 books. You can navigate the collection online or visit the actual library at either the RIBA Architecture Study Room (at the V&A) or 66 Portland Place. Expect to see preserved and updated collections of built projects, landscapes, interior designs, decorative arts, iconic buildings, construction, and topography. It has just about everything.
British Pathé – Free
If you search for ‘architecture” on the British Pathé website, you’ll come across hundreds of historical documentation clips highlighting architectural styles from all over the world. Some videos are still recorded in black and white, with and without sound. Historical clips are from both British Pathé and Reuters.
Although categorization is a bit confusing, the search bar should help you find what you’re looking for. Some of the most popular architectural objects featured are the Empire State Building, the construction of Buckminster Fuller’s dome, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Johnson Wax Building, and the Expo 67.
Visit: British Pathé
Architectural Association School of Architecture Photo Library – Free
The website has approximately 8,000 images and 500,000 slides for you to enjoy. Some of the negatives and prints are only available in low-resolution and are watermarked for educational purposes. However, each image is attached with comprehensive information of the buildings.
There are also 45,000 digital images produced from 2005 until today. Lectures from the past five years are available as well. The collection includes a small group of impressive images by Eric de Maré, F.R. Yerbury, Robin Evans, and Reyner Banham.
The Courtauld Institute of Art’s Conway Library – Free
The Art and Architecture website has three percent of all images from the actual Conway Library. The percentage does not sound very high, but the “Architecture and Building” category alone contains more than 26,000 images including drawings, buildings, landscape architecture, parts of buildings, structures, and more.
The easiest way to find the category is to use the “Browse” option, which will list the keywords in hierarchical order. Although the physical library does not provide free admission, you can get a glimpse of a small part of the architectural collection from the website at no cost at all.
Harvard Library’s Hollis Images – Free
The Harvard Library’s VIA (Visual Information Access) is no longer in service. Fortunately, there is a new catalog to replace the old one called “Hollis Images.” Just like many great repositories, the library does not focus solely on architectural subject matter. That being said, it stores more than 34,000 contents on its architectural subject alone.
Content is sourced from many different renowned places including Harvard Art Museum and Harvard University Archives. Access to the catalog is open and free. There is no sorting option available on the home page, but you can find it after you use the ‘Advanced Search” function.
New York Public Library Digital Collections – Free
Founded in 1985, NYPL is the most extensive public library in the United States. Thanks to the digitization process, the content is now accessible not only to card-carrying members but to the world. The library has more than 55 million pieces including books, research papers, and multimedia files.
In the library’s online digital collection, there is no easy to way to navigate directly to architectural material, but you can use the search bar. Once you get more familiar with the function, you can find thousands of great quality collections that even experts can appreciate. The website offers the option to limit the search results to those registered in the public domain only.
ArchInform – Free
It is a massive architectural database containing records of building projects from all over the world. In fact, the website claims to be the largest online repository of worldwide architects. Judging from the design alone, ArchInform does not look very impressive at first glance. But as you dig deeper into the content, you’d have to be from another world not to be impressed by the collection of information available.
The database has more than 790,000 projects (built and unrealized) by a great number of architects. You can sort by name, location, or keywords. Not only will you come across plenty of images, but also a whole lot of information about them.
SAH Archipedia’s Public Access – Free
The Society of Architectural Historian (SAH) Archipedia is a collection of images of buildings in the United States with relevant information about each of them. It offers two access options: one for registered members and another for the general public. You can think of it as an encyclopedia of U.S.-based architecture containing photos and maps of more than 4,600 structures in over 1,800 cities all across the country.
In the home page of the publicly accessible page, there is an interactive U.S. map on which you can click on any state and find hundreds of documented structures in that state. Every structure is also attached with a map to show its actual location.
Visit: SAH Archipedia
The Magazine Rack – Free
A part of the “Internet Archive” platform, the Magazine Rack is exactly what it is – a collection of digitized monthly publications and magazines. Similar to most online libraries, the content is free to access by anybody. You can read online or download the PDF and text version if need be.
All sorts of topics are available, so you may need to use the “Topics & Subjects” section on the left-hand side of the page to find what you need. There are hundreds of keywords to choose from, but “architecture” and “buildings” would be good choices to start your journey to inspiration.
Visit: The Magazine Rack
Canadian Architect Digital Archives – Free
As the name suggests, Canadian Architect is the publication (magazine) written specifically for architects and other related professionals in the country. It is the only monthly design publication in Canada and it’s been active since 1955. The digital archives provide online access to magazines from 2008 to the most recent issue.
The magazine focuses on architectural subject matter, but it comes with plenty of relevant discussions about technology and social issues as well. Canadian Architect reviews and explores projects from all over the country. The website is pretty straightforward, although you cannot download the digitized magazines.
Behance – Free
Owned by Adobe, you will find a hard time finding a better inspirational architectural resource than Behance. The content is not just about architecture, but what it does offer on the subject seems like a never-ending list of ideas. Contents are displayed in thumbnails; each contains high-resolution images of the featured image in more details.
Most of the projects included are user-contributed, and anyone is welcome to participate on the platform. The quickest way to get to the architecture-specific topics is to use the “See More” function located on the right-hand side of the website. From there, you will be able to browse by “Creative Fields,” which have multiple sections dedicated to the subject matter.
Houzz – Free
There is no architect in the world that doesn’t know about Houzz. It is mostly an online store where you find links to the most popular suppliers of home improvement project materials and professionals. But the collection of photos available should be more than enough to bring a lot of great ideas to architects and house designers alike.
Most (if not all) images on the website can be easily categorized as “residential” projects. Houzz has become a network of more than 40 million homeowners and home improvement professionals today. In addition to a massive collection of photos, (with attached information about the products featured), there are also valuable stories and discussions to explore.
Dezeen – Free
Now we’re getting into more familiar inspirational websites written and presented in the more contemporary sense. In this case, Dezeen is one of the indispensables. Launched in November 2006, it has grown to be one of the most popular design and architectural spaces on the entire web.
Dezeen is more than just a simple repository of architectural images, but each photograph of a building, room, and project comes with relevant stories and information to make it even more valuable. It does appear that the content is well-curated to create such a diverse collection that everybody enjoys regardless of their architectural style and preference.
Architizer – Free
It is a website in which any architect can spend hours looking at photographs and analyzing projects. Architizer is an undeniably large platform for architects to search for inspiration, build networks, and even promote their work online.
A huge collection of images and projects (recent or past) is always the strong point of websites of this kind, but Architizer has made it even easier to sort through them based on categories such as location, style, material, and even the firm in charge of the project.
It also has separate sections for residential, commercial, government buildings, landscape, and more. More than 335,000 architects and 25,000 firms have joined the platform, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the number keeps on growing.
Designboom – Free
For a website that has been around for 20 years, Designboom certainly lives up to expectations in terms of content variety. Most of them are about architecture, but they are complemented with a lot of insightful discussions about technology, art, and even wristwatches. But it is not all about the photo album – you can also find more than 45,000 pieces of reading material including reviews, interviews, and product information.
Nearly 18,000 of those pieces are strictly about the architectural world. The website itself is pretty straightforward with a tidy organization and a clean layout. Designboom is based in New York, Milan, and Beijing.
Archdaily – Free
Here is another giant in the architectural space. A bold claim is involved: the website says that hundreds of architects from all around the world send suggestions, product recommendations, and their best projects every single day. If that’s true, then Archdaily does an excellent job filtering out only the most relevant, interesting, and inspiring pieces to present to the readers.
The “Architecture” section features a great list of subsections – for example, residential, religious, healthcare, educational, industrial, commercial, landscape, and more. Take time to check the site’s Building of The Year to see a small but great collection of stunning architectural works.
World of Architecture – Free
There are plenty of interesting architecture-themed stories on this website. World of Architecture is more like a personal blog rather than a fully-featured website run by a team of professionals. Most of the content is collected from all around the Internet and assumed to be in the public domain unless otherwise noted.
Despite its friendly approach, there is plenty of high-quality material including images, articles, homeowner tips, and inspiring projects/structures for professionals. And if you’re the kind of person who gets inspired by looking at photographs of celebrities’ homes, then you are in for a treat. Check the “Dream Homes” page to take a glance at unique architectural approaches and styles from various spots in the world.
Visit: World of Architecture
Metropolis Magazine – Free
The scope of discussion in Metropolis Magazine is wide-ranging, from the small product designs to the architectural planning of a city. The same thing applies to the individuals featured in the publication. You can read stories about talented emerging individuals as well as the more established organizations.
Besides the typical information about buildings, houses, projects, and designs, Metropolis Magazine also gives news, innovation, and opinions revolving around the industry to help you stay ahead. In short, Metropolis Magazine has a lot to cover, and it does precisely that incredibly well.
Visit: Metropolis Magazine
Stair Porn – Free
An architectural website that focuses only on one single part of a structure is few and far between. Stair Porn is a genuine rarity with its unbroken enthusiasm for sharing inspiration about stairs and nothing else. The website is simple, straight to the point, and does everything it promises to do. Here you will find picture after picture of stairs of many different styles, from traditional to unique models most people never see.
It is a website that any interior designer can visit to find inspiration for their next creation. Unfortunately, the website is not frequently updated, but you can use the mobile app to keep up with each new addition.
Visit: Stair Porn
Materialicious – Free
All content available on Materialicious is user-submitted. There is nothing wrong with that at all; in fact, tried-and-true designs are the most realistic and practical to implement. The main categories seem to be all-residential with sections such as kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, flooring, appliances, organization, furniture, and office.
Bear in mind that images are only attached with a short explanation, but the website provides a link to the source. In other sections, you’ll come across other categories such as automobiles and gadgets. The editors make sure everything stays relevant to the broader theme of architecture.
Archinect – Free
In some respects, Archinect is similar to Materialicious. Both have user-contributed content, and the websites do the filtering. They are, at the same time, very different from each other. Unlike Materialicious, Archinect does not focus heavily on images. This website is like a social platform where architects share stories, ideas, and inspiration.
Almost every design featured is progressive and modern, suitable for younger professionals who look for innovative ideas to start their ventures into the industry. The website features editorials, news, events, school blogs, and information about project updates.
Design Milk – Free
It is an online magazine that discusses nothing but the architectural industry. Design Milk has a great collection of images and stories about some of the world’s most interesting architectural projects of all styles. The “Deconstruction” column is the highlight of the magazine, as it offers information about any particular project from the architect’s points of view. There is also more user-friendly content available.
Visit: Design Milk
The work of freelance architects and designers can be as inspirational as the more established firms. With their fresh skills and perspectives, there are times when younger generations of architects can shine as bright as their more experienced counterparts. In a Cad Crowd Design Contest, you’ll be able to see how designers and architects from all over the world showcase their best ideas. Or, you can browse freelancer portfolios for endless inspiration.