Thursday, December 17, 2009

a reason why those old houses look 'right'

'The Country Builder's Assistant', 1797, is Benjamin's first book. It was written before the factories in Shaftsbury and North Bennington, Vermont, began to mass produce metal squares.

I am thinking about why those squares were so successful (thus my research on measuring) and how they changed how we build. (Did true squares cause square rule framing techniques to develop out of the centuries old scribe rule tradition?)

So as I read this early pattern book, I was thinking about what was normal - what was the expected training of the carpenters who used the book?

Here's a paragraph which accompanies the first plate:
Note: 'Architraves' are now 'casings', the trim that goes around windows and doors, Friezes and Cornices are added above.

"To proportion Architraves to Doors, Windows, &c. divide the width of your Door or Window, into seven or eight parts and give one to the width of the Architrave: Divide that into the same number of parts, as are contained in the Architrave you make use of, if a Frieze or Cornice to the Door, give the Frieze equal to the width of the Architrave; or it may be one fourth or one third wider, the Cornice four fifths or five sixths of the Architrave."

Hmm, no inches and feet, just proportion: the size of the second part determined by the size of the first. Benjamin spells out what he thinks the relationships should be. No dimensions - just 'parts', parts of a whole.

So while I think I'm researching measuring and metal square, I realize I am understanding the reason for something else:
These buildings still feel right because their pieces weren't just added on as today we might 'stick' a windows here or there. Nor was the size of the window decided because someone 'liked' it and thought it 'felt right'. They, actually all the parts, were sized and proportioned to the whole. They belong. And that sense of wholeness resonates with us still.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is fascinating. I would love to know more about how our ancestors developed the proportions or discovered the proportions that look "right" to the majority of people even today. Too bad we have gotten away from those in today's lousy spec houses. It's really the proportions that people want yet they don't know it.