Wednesday, January 20, 2010

first picture of new entrance

The contractor called: the old door and its pediment were down, the new entrance was going up.
Of course, I showed up!

The original sheathing was exposed. But, almost no ghosting - the tell-tale signs of where the first entrance had been. Two boards showed evidence of a hand rail. A beam had been cut away a bit. Neither was enough to determine the original dimensions or profiles (the shape of the mouldings used). The contractor, joiner, and I all really wished there was more to look at, learn from.

The new door, sidelights and columns were in place. The men lifted the fanlight and its surround and set it above the door for me to see. The winter sunlight bouncing off the snow was brilliant.

Not bad.
But hard to see: so white in the winter sunshine, jarring between the pink house and the blue door. As I expected, it looked too new: not enough layers of paint. The mouldings seemed fine: the shadows in the right places. The columns attenuated as they should, the fan shape right, but was it too flat? The 2009 door and sidelight seemed out of place: clearly modern. I was so involved I couldn't see it!

For me, this is a common reaction. I won't go back now for a while. I'll turn down the road as if by accident, and come across the house unexpectedly - and see then how it feels.

Monday, January 18, 2010

the fan light for the new 1795 entrance

We had originally assumed the fanlight would be a Fypon composite. Fypon reproductions are based on real pieces, so we knew it would look OK. The only disconnect would be that the piece they copied would be generic, not specific to our entrance.

However, the Fypon fan was really bigger than what had been there originally. It made the entrance too tall. Listening to my frustration, Jack suggested he build a smaller fan from scratch - same cost to the owners. Excellent!

When the photograph of the entrance was blown up the shape of the fanlight could be seen as an arc with flat ends. Jack said this detail made it easier to assemble neatly to the sill above the door. Good.

So, back I went to the dimensions Jack needed to actually build this. He needed an arc with a radius for the fan... As I drew it, choosing a random semi-circle from my circle template, I stopped in surprise:
The circle which fit the arc of the fanlight, using the center of the door as its center, encompassed the whole entrance.
The squares, the overlapping Golden Section rectangles were clean. The circle centered on the entrance is not quite as clear. I love the way it covers the entrance to the house, protecting it. But it's not crisp. Do I have it right?

new 1795 entrance

More on the 1795 house entrance

One of the ways I come to understand a building is to measure it and then draw it on paper. Using a tape measure, a clipboard and a pen to record the space inside and out is, for me, a way to spend time sensing the character of a place. Putting those dimensions on paper lets me revisit and more clearly know what I saw and felt.

So, I measured the front of the 1795 house, and put it on paper. Then I looked at what was there using the proportions of the Golden Section - mostly the square and the rectangle derived from its diagonal.
And there was the pattern - each side of the house was a square. The windows on each side were also symmetrically placed on each side of the center of the square. That square is the determining shape and dimension for this house. You can see the squares marked on the first drawing.

In the second drawing you can see the arcs derived from the diagonal of the square. They determine the size of the center bay. (Yes, they don't meet exactly. However, considering that they are only 6" or so off over a building 38 feet long, that's pretty close.)

I was delighted. I knew then how wide the entrance had been, and not just because I'm an experienced architect with an 'educated eye'.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dividers aka a Compass

This post is undergoing revision to make it clearer - my editor stopped by and gave advice, but I have not yet acted on her suggestions.

I ignored them, much as I ignored those pages of geometry in the pattern books.

But if you use proportions to determine how big something should be, dividers - or a compass - are how you transfer a dimension from one place to another. Dividing your window into 6 parts to find the width of your casing? Use the divider to transfer that dimension from the window to your piece of wood.

Today we would discuss it this way: "6 inches +?" "6 1/4 inches?" "How about only 6 3/8 inches?" Tricky to figure out, right? The divider is easier.

A compass serve a similar function as a ruler or a measuring tape, but it always refer back to a real thing. Intellectually, inches and feet are abstract numbers, with no relationship to any other thing at all. If you ask, "Why use a 5-1/2 inch casing for that window rather than one that's 6-1/2 inches?", an answer might have to do with cost or personal preference. The answer, "Is the 5-1/2 inch casing a better proportion for the window?" doesn't come automatically. When you get to that question using dividers you have already included the window, that's where you began.

I find I am in uncharted territory. At first I thought I was talking about 'calipers'. Then I found the tool I was thinking about is called 'dividers' or 'a compass' .

So far I haven't found very much written that confirms what I am seeing. I do know that proportions and relationships in medieval construction were often based on the circle and how it can be divided and combined. 17th and 18th century woodworking tool box lists include dividers and compasses. However, the drawing comes from Eric Sloan's Museum of Early American Tools , and he places it among the wheelwright's tools, not with the joiners'.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New 1795 entrance

Next chapter in working on the 1795 house entrance:

The client wants to use a modern door and sidelights: energy efficient, less expensive, tax credits.
That means that part of the entrance size is known: 60 inches wide, 80 inches high. The proportions and moulding of the door and the sidelights are also fixed.

The existing door is post-WWII, Mid-Century - and I read it immediately as such. I am not sure, even if I copy on old door exactly, that I can design a door that doesn't read 'Early-21st Century'.
The subtlety of a period has to do with tools, materials, joinery, as well as proportion, parts, and details. Weathering, layers of paint, dings (ie: being used for 200 years), matter too.

Still, I want to try, you know: such a fine challenge!