Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Stratford Hall, Part IV: Placing the Windows

Updated 8/26/2023

In the previous post* I wrote about all the construction details of Stratford Hall which William Walker, the Master Builder, had to work out before the masons could begin laying the walls.

They are all visible in this photograph: the brick pattern (Flemish Bond) and its variations, the brick headers over the windows in the ground floor and the main floor, the corner brick pattern and that around the windows, the cap at the shoulder, where the walls become thinner by one brick.

The Hall needed big windows on the main (family) floor above, smaller ones on the ground (service) floor below. As William Walker placed and sized the windows he would have considered all these constraints.

I wondered:

Was he drawing on paper, a board, a plaster wall, a framing floor? 

Drawings about framing can still be seen on cathedral walls and floors. So perhaps Walker did his layouts on the floor of the Hall.

He could have used the ground floor as a framing floor as soon as the foundation was set. The floor itself, his sketches and calculations, would become covered with pavers when the Hall was finished and ready for use.

It would also have been easier to lay out his ideas, check his dimensions for both floors from the inside, rather than working on scaffolding outside or in a shed nearby.

Walker used 5 equally sized squares to lay out Stratford Hall's floor plan. Perhaps he used a similar simplicity for the elevations. I drew squares.  

The red boxes show the interior of the wing. My tentative pencil marks are barely visible.


Simple squares (using the room height as the length) lay out the window locations for the Hall. Here is the main floor wall with 2 squares. They mark the edges of the center window for the main floor and the ground floor below.



They also locate the center of the window. The window frame is 2 squares tall - as noted by the diagonal line.

The size of the main floor windows and the width of the ground floor windows is set.

Squares of the same proportions, moved to the sides of the window, locate the outer edges of the windows on the left and right. Note: Square A-A and Square B-B.  

Those windows will be the same size as the center windows. There is plenty of room for the flat arches above the windows; the edging brick patterns are not crowded.


The only unknown is the vertical height of the ground floor windows and how far above the floor they will sit. Space must be given for the rowlock arches over the windows.

The Lines which located and sized the main floor windows extend to the ground floor. I've labeled them A-B, B-A, A-B to match what I drew earlier. 

Using the window width as a radius, and the floor of the lower level as the base, (the Line below 3) the center of the circle can be found, the circle and its daisy wheel drawn. It marks the brick arch over the window. It also intersects the Lines of the window widths  locating the height of the ground floor windows. 

The windows are 3/4/5 rectangles.

Walker trained as a joiner in Scotland at the time when James Gibbs, also a Scotsman, was there, and when Gibb's book, 'On Architecture', was published. Gibbs' book included plans for 2 'menageries'.** One was laid out with similar crossed squares, the other used the inside for its geometry as the exterior wall - shown here - was irregular, as is the exterior surface at Stratford Hall. Gibbs also used the 3/4/5 rectangle for layouts.

Copies of James Gibbs' book came to the Colonies. It is possible both William Walker and the Lee family had read the book in Virginia.

* Previous posts:

** My posts on Gibbs' geometry:

*  See previous posts: 

**Personal note: I have been asked at workshops how I use practical geometry. Here is an example of how I would approach a design today. The geometry would tell me what size the windows would be and their spacing.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Stratford Hall - Part III: Designing with Brick


I had just published 2 posts on the practical geometry used to frame/construct Stratford Hall.*

The thinking, drawing, and writing about the overall structure of the Hall was done. 

I began exploring the drawings. 

The window layout was rhythmic, straight forward: all the windows on each floor were the same size. The space between them as well as the spaces between them and the corners were equal.  


As an architect I have used this pattern on new wings for old houses. I would size the windows to compliment the existing; then divide the remaining space evenly. Or perhaps I would give a little more width to the outside walls, depending on room layout requirements.**

Here, I thought, is a similar layout. 

However,  I was wrong.

As I thought about the proportions I was laying out a wood frame:  locating posts, beams, center lines of windows, heights indicated for headers, a window schedule. I was building the structure. The character of the exterior and interior would come later with the addition of sheathing, siding, and plaster finished with trim and moldings. 

The interior and the exterior of a brick frame are the structure, they are not added later. Stratford Hall was built of brick. Its character comes from the manipulation of the brick.

So, from the beginning the masons who worked for William Walker, the Master Builder, needed to know:  


Where to lay Flemish Bond using brick of just one color? Where use the whiter bricks as headers?

Where to leave window openings? How wide, how tall? 




What brick pattern to use at the window openings? How many bricks? At the corners of the wings too?

Where to use a flat arch as a header? Where a rowlock arch? 

Where to place the brick cap and make the brick wall thinner?

That question was easy to answer: where the wall diminishes just above the joist pockets which hold the main floor joists.



In this image you can see how much information William Walker had to give the masons as they began. 

How many rows at grade before the  
the corner brick pattern begins, as well as the use of lighter headers?

What is the height of the ground floor windows, and their width?  

The brick details at the sides windows and at the corner which needed careful calculations are visible here.             

The black line at the corner is an electrical cord.


When I knew the issues I could ask the question:  

How did William Walker, Master Builder, lay out the elevations?


I will propose some answers in the next post.

*  See previous posts: 

** I knew about the use of proportion and rhythm in architecture and applied it for many years before I 'discovered' Practical Geometry. I studied the illustration in pattern books without understanding the numbers engraved along the sides of those drawings nor pausing to read the texts. I did not 'discover' the practical use of geometry: I finally read the text in the books and studied the scales.