Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Stratford Hall, Part I: Paul Buchanan's Ideas

This post is an introduction to my understanding of the geometry of  Stratford Hall, the plantation and home of the Lees of Virginia for 4 generations  beginning in 1736.

Here is the house as it looked this spring when I was there for 3 days. 

In the gift shop I found the book  Paul Buchanan Stratford Hall.* Of course I bought it.

The book focuses on Buchanan's  research at Stratford Hall from 1984-1993, after it introduces us to his historic preservation work at Colonial Williamsburg as well as other Great Houses in Virginia, including Gunston Hall.

This image on page 14 is from one of Buchanan's favorite pattern books, The London Tradesman, by R. Campbell, published in London in 1747.

I spotted the compass leaning against the beam, and the man to the far left, probably the builder, with his rod. That led me to the book which is available online. 

It is a fascinating review of the trades in mid-18th c. London. Geometry is listed, among others, as a necessary skill. 

Chapter XXXI, Of Architect and those employ'd in that Branch, lists the skills men need to succeed in that profession.  Campbell writes that an architect's "head (must be) Mathematically and Geometrically turn'd."  and "Besides this Plan he generally forms a Model in Wood." pages155-6

For a stone mason, "Geometry is absolutely necessary". page158

For a carpenter: "He must understand as much Geometry as related to Measuration (the act of measuring) of Solids and Superficies (surface areas)". page 160

For a joiner: "His Business requires that he should be acquainted with Geometry and Measuration". page 161  

Of course I wanted to understand how Buchanan applied this, what he knew about the geometric skills listed by Campbell. I study how our ancestors used geometry as a practical tool for construction, as well as for design.

Using the HABS drawings for the house, done in 1969, Buchanan overlaid squares and a circle.

His squares 'work': they fit. However they do not tell us much about how to build the house. They do not provide clear and simple information - the layout of the plan, the size of the spaces and their relationship to each other - for the Master Builder who, at Stratford Hall, was William Walker.


I used the width of the wings as the dimension of a square to lay out the foundation plan using 5 squares. The middle square is centered between the 2 wings. The foundation would have been easy to layout with compasses, and a rod, both of which are in Campbell's illustration.



Twine, also essential, is not in the illustration. Maybe it was too skinny - just a line. (A deliberate pun: twine marks the 'Line' - as in 'chalk line'- which the builder needs in order to build.)

Here is the width of the east wing used as the radius for a circle, drawn in red. The 6 points of the circle locate the square, drawn here in black

I drew this for the readers of this post who might not know how a daisy wheel can be used. In the process I saw that the foundations for the fireplaces are also located, see the black dashed line.

For an introduction to the use of a daisy wheel see: https://www.jgrarchitect.com/2023/01/geometry-in-construction-practical.html

* Paul Buchanan Stratford Hall and Other Architectural Studies, copyright 1998,  Robert E. Lee Memorial Association, Inc. Stratford Hall Foundation, Stratford, VA.



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