First Floor of Buffalo City Hall courtesy of Buffalo City Hall
You may be looking at this page because you are not one of the lucky home buyers who found a set of plans & drawings stashed in your attic. Or acquired them from the previous owner when you bought the property.
When seeking plans and drawings, it helps to know that the the three parties most likely to have them are:
- The architect’s own office
- The original client or current owner
- The government office that approved the plans and issued the building permit. In the city of Buffalo, that is the Permits & Inspections office.
If the firm is defunct and the original client long deceased, your local government may have something. Dates vary as to when cities, towns, and villages required you to submit plans & drawings in order to get a building permit, but today, they all do. Some have required it for over a century. The newer the building, the greater the chance that the municipality has plans for it. And, frustratingly, sometimes a government office just doesn’t have certain records.
One important category of drawings that governments invariably retain are the plans for their own buildings: schools, libraries, fire houses, police stations, town halls, courthouses, etc. If you are researching a public building, reach out to the public works office in the government that built it.
Some of you have plan book houses. For over two centuries, Americans have been able to purchase pre-made plans for houses, barns, churches, and other buildings. Almost 250 of those plan book catalogs are online at Google Books.
You can learn more about plan book houses from this book by Dr. Daniel D. Reiff, retired professor of architectural history from SUNY/Fredonia. It is illustrated with examples from around Western New York. The link shows you libraries who have it in hard copy. If you order it from our Bookshop.org link, we get a small percentage.
If you did not inherit your house plans from a previous owner or find them at city hall and you don’t have a plan book house, now what? First, the bad news: your chances of finding plans are low. There are two reasons why.
- There is no guarantee that plans & drawings survive. Architects are under no obligation to donate their papers to libraries, universities, archives, or museums. And these repositories are not required to accept and house everything they are offered.
- When an architect’s plans & drawings do survive, they may not represent 100% of the office’s output. Stuff gets destroyed in fires and floods. Stuff gets lost or damaged when people move. Stuff gets discarded when people retire or pass away.
The good news is that some architectural plans and drawings do end up in repositories such as universities, libraries, archives, historical societies, and museums. The purpose of this page is to help you locate those surviving collections.