Saturday, April 20, 2013

Reading House, c. 1795, Part 2: Plan

Here is the house -  about 5 years ago . 
When the owners finish working on it, I'll photograph it again.

Its form - 2 stories, one room deep, 2 rooms wide with a center entrance - was by 1790, a design in use for over 100 years.

Over that time placement of the chimneys and the fireplaces had changed, first to the center and then to the rear of of each side - allowing a central hall where the chimney had been -  as is seen here.

The original floor plan is seen in the Locke Tavern, c. 1740 -to the right.  It has its 2 fireplaces and central chimney in the center behind the stair. The plan consists of 2 equal squares - on the right side in red  - and a square rear wing to the lower left.

Note the location of the corner windows -'d' - determined by the diagonal and the arc of the length of the side of the square.

The plan of the Reading house, 50 years later, is also made up of 2 squares -in red. The placement of the outside windows on the front facade - see 'a' - is similar to the Locke Tavern placement on the side walls – ‘d’.  The second windows in both houses seem to be set by how the house will look from the outside, not how a room will feel inside. Or the rectangle may have determined framing dimensions. The appearance might have been secondary, as it was traditional and what was expected.  .  

The placement of the chimneys and the center hall has complicated the relationships. The front hall requires enough width for a stair and passage to the back wing, about 8 feet. The fireplaces make the rooms shallower than the box of the house suggests from the outside. The square and its proportions needs to be adjusted, tweaked. The contractor and I know from working on the house that the hall is bound on each side by 8”x8” beams. This is not seem in the rhythms of the exterior, but does create the square rooms on both floors.

The first floor formal room  - the top room - is square, its fireplace centered on the back wall. However,the second front window is not quite within the symmetry of the first by about 3 inches.  The side window does sit on the center line of the square of the room -see 'c' in green - on both sides.
The room below - outlined in green - is 3 inches longer in one direction than the other. It has a cooking fireplace with a brick oven on the right side. The front windows are almost symmetrical to each other, but not quite: off again by a few inches. They also don't quite sit on the lines dividing the room into the parts of the rectangle -see 'b' in green. The small squares within the larger one which seem to define the window placement on the exterior -  see previous post - seem not to be part of the interior layout.

Nevertheless, the rooms are lovely. They feel fine. Why?
I think the symmetry overrides our ability to see the imbalance. And the imbalance is too small.
I have measured many rooms in old houses that feel symmetrical but are not. While a row of  paintings hug with uneven spacing would be immediately noticed, somehow we have trouble distinguishing 3 inches of difference at the scale of a room. Surprisingly, 4 inches of difference is obvious, easy to catch.

  To read about the design of the front entrance, see my '1795 House' posts from late 2009 through early 2010.

12/31/15: updated

Reading, MA, House c. 1795, Part 1: Window Placement

In 2009,  I was asked to replicate the entrance in this photograph. The  house in Reading, Massachusetts, c. 1795, had lost the original front door, fanlight, columns and architrave in the 1950's.

I found then that the regulating lines of the house told me what the dimensions of the entrance should be and determined the curve of the fanlight.

Recently I realized I had not looked at the placement of the windows in this house. I wondered if the proportions here would match those of the Locke Tavern.
The basic pattern is similar: a square on each side of the front door, the entry dimension determined by the diagonal ( the Root 2 Rectangle). The windows for both houses are balanced around the center of the squares. Did the master carpenters, the house wrights, use the same regulating lines?

Not quite. The Locke Tavern elevation shows the diagonal and the arc marking the center line for the windows. The Reading house elevation shows that the intersection of those lines - 'a' in red on the left side  - doesn't seem to mark anything.

However, the square divided in half -'b' in green on the left side - determines the top of the windows.
The right side shows the large square divided into 4, the length of the side of the smaller squares laid out as an arc,
The intersection of the two falls is the vertical center line for the width of the windows - 'c' in green on the right side. Then notice how the horizontal center line - 'd' in green on the right side - determines the center line for the height of the windows, both on the first and second floors.

The settlers in Reading came from Berkshire, England. They named their new town after Berkshire's county seat.The settlers in Andover, 10 miles north and the location of the Locke Tavern, came from Hampshire, England, the county next door to Berkshire. Did they have different framing traditions? Could the house wrights have come from other parts of England and been trained in other layout methods? Or did the method for designing the 1740 elevation in Andover evolve over 55 years to produce the elevation in Reading in 1795?

I inch along with this...finding the lines for one building, then finding the next building uses the geometry differently. I think I've solved a riddle, but discover another. I have deliberately focused on  designing (layout), not framing - although I am quite sure they are intertwined.
I do trust my eye. I feel the proportions. When I find the lines that validate that feeling I laugh! Joy!  I post so that others can see the ideas and continue the exploration.

To read more about that design see my '1795 House' posts from late 2009 through early 2010.

12/31/15: I have corrected my post.
The ratio used here is often referred to as the Root-Two Rectangle as it derives from the diagonal of a square.
I doubt the carpenters laying out this work used that name - it's cumbersome. Unfortunately  we do  not know what they called that ratio or any of the others.