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AASL Online Resource Review -- Tectonica-online

August 28, 2015

Written by Monica Kenzie, Architecture, Art & Design Library Specialist at the Littman Architecture & Design Library, New Jersey Institute of Technology

Barbara Opar and Barret Havens, Column Editors

Tectonica-online bills itself as “the first architectural website to associate construction details directly with products.” It is a Spanish subscription-based resource, with the majority of the content available in both English and Spanish. Subscription costs are very reasonable. As advertised on the site, an individual membership costs twelve euros ($13.22) for three months, or 32 euros ($35.25) for one year, with institutional memberships available as well. According to the “About Us” page of their site, the resource investigates “solutions for achieving the best quality construction possible” through access to articles, project analyses and a continually expanding database of information organized under three main categories: products and details, projects, and topics. 

Begun in 1996 as a printed journal, Tectonica made the transition to the web in 2009. Archived versions of the older print journals are available on the site, but only in Spanish. The information contained in Tectonica lends itself well to the web format, and the visual presentation of the site is excellent, with a clean, well-organized layout making it easy to navigate between, and within, categories. 

Tectonica-online home page. The disclaimer in the text box is the publisher’s (Tectonica-online), not the author’s addition.

 

A main focus of the content of Tectonica-online is on materials, products and construction systems. ‘Product’ entries provide information on material properties, application, and uses, as well as contact information for the manufacturer/supplier where applicable. Multiple high-quality, zoom-able images are included to show product details (some down to the microscopic level), the application process and the material in its environment, giving a full picture of how the material performs in all stages. ‘Detail’ entries show schemas of construction elements from real buildings, with links to full articles on the projects to add context. Browsing categories for both ‘products’ and ‘details’ include subjects like waterproofing, facades, solar protection and many others, and are structured in nested tables making for easy navigation and discovery, with a keyword search available as well.

Tectonica-online product profile

 

Given the emphasis on commercial products, it is somewhat reassuring that it is noted clearly on the homepage that, “the products that appear on the website have been selected for their interesting and innovative character, with no commercial interest.” However, more could be done to further explain the relationship between the site’s publishers and the companies whose products are represented. Advertisements can be purchased for the site and companies can sponsor new or old projects, or purchase the rights to add documentation to previously published projects. A more detailed disclaimer could help users better understand the criteria used in choosing products to represent on the site, and the role advertisers and companies play in the process.  

Hierarchical organization of topics within the database

 

‘Projects’ features articles on architectural projects from around the world, providing a formal description and analysis of buildings with rationale on why certain materials were used. Large images of the sites along with plans and structural details accompany each article, making this a visual resource as much as an informational one. Projects can be browsed by geographic location or structural elements, among many other facets, making it easy to look through despite the lack of a keyword search function for this particular category. Articles are displayed as a series of images in a reading viewer which is intuitive and easy to use, but does not offer an option to download content.

‘Topics’ offers articles organized by general subjects like ‘interiors’ and ‘structure’, with broad coverage ranging from daylighting to fire safety. This section lacks a keyword search function as well, but as with ‘projects,’ browsing is easily facilitated by the well-ordered menus. The fully cited articles are written by practicing and teaching architects, offering insights from professionals on both practical and theoretical subjects. 

Other noteworthy features on the site include the option to share a limited number of product and construction detail entries with others who don’t have a subscription, and, for individual users, the option to save content to a personal file. There is also a robust, regularly updated blog containing short articles along with high quality images and plans which can be accessed by anyone, though it is only available in Spanish.

The combination of practical, technical information and thoughtful, professionally written articles packaged in an easily navigable site gives Tectonica-online the unique quality of being ideal for both professionals and students. Here at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, faculty have implemented this resource in their courses with great success, and we have received positive feedback from students as well, who are always looking for good images of building details and plans. Despite the language barrier for accessing some of the content and the lack of a keyword search function in certain areas of the site, the real-world information on products, materials and construction, along with the wealth of images and plans, not to mention its affordability, makes Tectonica-online a worthwhile resource for any architectural program.

 

Author email: monica.kenzie@njit.edu

 

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