Sunday, December 30, 2012
The Dutch House at Bucksteep Manor by Laurie Smith
His workshop with Jack Sobon brought together "geometrical design methods and the use of 18th century hand tool techniques for the major timbers". (quote from the foreword of his book, p.iv)
Laurie Smith begins with analysis of the geometry used to design and frame 6 colonial Dutch houses in the Hudson River valley of New York. That understanding, based on measured drawings, became the basis for the frame built at the workshop.
Following the workshop Laurie Smith spoke at TFG's Eastern Conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. The frame of the Dutch house had been erected in the hotel auditorium, but Laurie did not refer directly to it, the course, or the research he had done to prepare. Instead he spoke about his work in England and Wales. It was fascinating.
I attended the conference specifically for his talk as I had read his articles in Timber Framing, the TFG journal. Later we began to correspond by e-mail. Our latest conversations have been about the Old First Church and the Luykas Van Alen House, both of which I have written about in this blog.
The drawings in the book of the regulating lines, the circle geometry of the 6 houses are clear and beautiful. For me they are a tutorial.
The measured drawings are also a gift. I am very familiar with colonial houses in eastern New England where I spent most of my life. I do not know as well the Dutch framing used in these 6 houses. It is similar to what I see in the part of the Hudson River watershed where I live today. Drawings such as these are not easy to come by, so I am reading them carefully. My thanks to Jack Sobon for the documentation.
For more information, and some pictures, about Laurie Smith and his work see:
Monday, September 3, 2012
Geometry of the Old First Church, Bennington, VT, part 1 of 2
The Old First Church in the Old Center of Bennington, Vermont, was built in 1805. The congregation, needing a new building, hired the master builder/architect Lavius Fillmore of Connecticut. He had already constructed several churches in Connecticut. He built 2 more in Vermont.
The church as been in use since it was built. It has an active congregation.
I am one of the docents (tour guides) for the church. We open the church during the week for visitors. We answer tourists' questions about church customs in 1805, theology, local and New England history, and sometimes even its architecture. We encourage people to walk around the church and the cemetery.
One part of the building I have been studying is the window sash pattern. The upper windows are arched: double hung windows with half circle tops. There are also Palladian windows. Where did the shapes of the curves in the arches come from?
Fillmore had a design in mind. How did he show the carpenter/joiner making the sash how those pointy pieces of glass and the muntins, the wood that holds them in place, were to be fashioned?
The use of circle geometry to determine the regulating architectural lines of buildings was common knowledge in 1800. So I began my exploration with circles.
Here is what I have found:
The top diagram shows the 5 panes of the Palladian windows with their arch. The lower diagram is the simpler 4 pane wide window.
The circle which determines the shape of the half circle arch, also determines the shape of the 'pointy' panes within the arch. The circles come and go in both directions. It is the center half circle which contains the expansion, 'centering' it.
Once I saw that, it was so obvious! I felt as if I had not played with my compass enough when I was little!
I thought I'd try the pattern in the arch over the main front door....
This pattern is more complex. The circle is surrounded by its 6 circles, starting with points on the left and right sides of the circle. The crossing points of the outer circles are centers for the curved segments in the center half circle. The pattern is then repeated starting at the top and the bottom points of the circle, or a 30* shift from the first pattern. The 2 patterns are combined to make the scalloped edge.
Well, what about that 3 leafed 'flower' - 'crown' - in the center?
I don't know. I do think the answer will be obvious when I find it.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
An addition to a modular home
The house was set on a hill with a garage under the kitchen wing. It was sturdy, as I expected: frames which have to travel to their destination are usually built to withstand jars and jolts. However, the garage had no space left for the cars, and the house did not adapt well to company, or have good access to the backyard.
Could I help design a wing?
This was one of those times when the owners knew quite a lot about what they wanted in a wing: how big it needed to be, what spaces were required, where it should go, but not how to make it look "right". They had some sketches - which they didn't like.
The first picture shows the existing house as the framing of the wing commences. The second shows the completed wing.
In eastern New England houses were (and are today) often expanded in a rhythm: main house block, a smaller wing or two, a barn. Here the family room wing with garage and mud room below are detailed as a barn - at least from the street - lots of blank wall, only one window, simple lines. The slope of the roof - the same slope as the main house roof - brings the eye down to the land, in this case the driveway. The roof running above the garage doors cuts the height of the 2 story space, making the 2nd floor family room appear as a dormer. As the house sits quietly on the land, so does the wing, not above it. The wing is in scale with the original modest house.
The expansion rhythm is often quoted as " Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn" an old jump rope rhyme as well as the title to an excellent book.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
"Before the Big House"
The "Big House" is the Park-McCullough mansion, built in 1864. It is set on a hill: 50 ft tall, with 3 stories and an observatory, a bellevedere that looks over the countryside. The House, when built, was about 20 ft taller than anything else in North Bennington, except the church steeple. It had hot and cold running water, a furnace, and gas lighting.
Really, however, the talk was about North Bennington in 1856, 4 years after the 1852 flood that destroyed the center of the village. A title about that didn't make much sense as hardly anyone remembers that flood today or knows the 1856 map of the village. I wanted to show the resilience of the townspeople as shown by the reconstruction of the mills and houses within 4 years of the flood. And I wanted to present the village - 60 houses, 8 mills - just before the Industrial Revolution takes off.
The Society doesn't usually have summer lectures, so we were experimenting. Would anyone come?
I had power point presentation of 70 slides, a hand out and some books to share. I planned to get everyone to measure their own 'cubit'. If we got 10 people, we would have a discussion, 20 (because the museum has a/c and it was hot!) would be a seminar. With 30 I would give a lecture.We put out 40 chairs since no one sits in the front row.
50 people came, sat in the front row, stayed to the end, asked questions and looked at the books, took the handout - a copy of the 1856 map - home. None were left behind.
People tell me it was a good talk. In the next year I hope for some comments about what people see now when they are in North Bennington. For me, that would mean success.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
How I work with clients #3 of 5 Existing Conditions
This list gives you, the owner, and me a overview of your house. It helps us set priorities and gives us a record
You want a new wing that will open out to your back yard. You also want another bedroom and bath,
Your septic system's placement will determine where you can add on.You will not want large trucks driving over it during construction.
If the field should be expanded, now is the time to consider that.
If you have the opportunity to connect to a town system, now may be the time. That work and expense should be included in the job.
Despite this list when we renovate existing houses we find things. I remember the excavation of unknown septic systems at two different jobs. Both were disconnected - we checked to be sure! - but one needed to pumped.
Monday, July 9, 2012
Building to the weather, Bennington, VT, #2
The date is important. Here you see how the roof extends, creating eaves that shade the windows of this house from the hot July sun.
In the summer, the sun here in New England is high in the sky. A 16" eave will shade about 5' of the wall below it. Here you can see that the roof over the first floor extend the farthest, casting a longer shadow than the main roof whose shadow covers little more than half the second floor windows. The roof over the sun porch on the right side is also shallow.
Later in the summer, the sun will be lower in the sky. The eaves will not cast as deep a shadow. But the tree will. Its shade will include the front of the house.
In the winter months, when the sun is at a much lower angle, the eaves will not block the welcome sunshine and heat. I will take another picture then and add it to this post.
The porch was probably all screens when it was built - set on the northeast side of the house, held back from the front corner to allow it to be shaded by the house from the sun in the afternoon. These porches have often been glassed in by later owners as they are beautifully sited to be delightful places on sunny late fall and then late winter mornings.
a note on the style: The house is Colonial Revival with a nod toward Cotswold cottages with the deep roof overhangs reminiscent of thatch, the small windows over the entrance, and especially the clipped roof on the gable end, sometimes referred to as a 'jerkin head' after a monk's cowl.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Building to the weather - Bennington, VT, #1
a post for the summer solstice
Here are 2 pictures of the same house. The first was taken in April, the second in June.
Note the absence of shade in April, its presence in June.
The house was build around 1765 in southern Vermont. The trees were planted around the same time.
In the spring, when the warmth of the sun shining through the windows into the house is so welcome, the trees are just beginning to bud. By June, the trees have leafed out shielding the house from the hot sun. They will protect the house though October. Late fall and through winter, the sun will once again be able to warm the house.
Not only do the trees keep the sun off the house, they create a micro-climate. In their shade the air temperature will be about 10* cooler than out in the sun. This temperature change also creates a breeze, always welcome on a hot day.
In lower latitudes, the path of the sun across the sky is different. The east and west elevations are the ones which need trees for shade, while a roof overhang is enough to shade the south facade.
Each climate has its own ways to shelter from the sun. For me one of the pleasures of traveling is watching how a particular part of the world builds, and plants, to its particular climate.
When I wrote- on this blog - about the Park-McCullough House Carriage Barn, I hoped to explain to a modern audience this basic knowledge about climate that our ancestors took for granted. I thought using a building everyone could visit (as it was open to the public) would make the ideas more accessible: you could go look for yourself. I found instead that readers thought only rich people who hired architects built to the weather.
This time my illustrations are ordinary, vernacular buildings.
Monday, April 23, 2012
The "you designed something? where?" wing
This center chimney salt box is well loved by its current family.
Now the family was ready to tackle the wing. It was very poorly constructed from mismatched and left over materials. One space, a dark room in a previous life, smelled of chemicals. The door to the barn was problematic.Was there even a foundation? But the porch? Ah! that was fine. Here is the original wing.
The 'Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn' way of organizing farmsteads applies to eastern Massachusetts as well as Maine . (See Hubka's book by the same name.) So I had my form. To avoid working around 18th century post and beam framing the old bathroom which needed serious repair was moved to the wing. A new bathroom was added. A second staircase was also included, as the original which rose against the center chimney was tight in all directions including headroom.
So here is a 'little house' and 'back house'. It has bedrooms with closets, an entry graceful enough for company with a mud room tucked around the corner, a back stair with light, a family room and a work room with easy access to the barn, and the welcoming porch.
We all agreed our wing should not compete with a house which has graced its hill for 300 years. And, yes, it takes skill and a good eye to build a quiet addition that suits its inhabitants.
Friday, February 24, 2012
Wing for a Georgian Federal farm house
This renovated and new wing belongs to the house for which I recreated a new entrance. See my posts about the 1795 Federal entrance for pictures of the main house which so beautifully uses the Golden Section for its elevations.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
1810-1840 - Death of the apprentice system
2 articles in Vermont History, The Journal of the Vermont Historical Society, Vol. 79, No.1, Winter/Spring 2011, reinforce my understanding that the apprenticeship system was falling apart in the early 1800’s.
Russ Fox in Julius Barnard (1769-after 1820) as Peripatetic Yankee Cabinetmaker, writes about how design ideas travel as craftsmen migrate. He traces Julius Barnard from apprenticeship in Connecticut, to a short stay in New York City, 9 years a cabinet maker in Northampton, MA, another 9 in Windsor, VT, with a sojourn in Hanover, NH. Then he moves to Montreal for 4 years; Pittsfield, MA, for about 7. In both cities he tries other ways to make a living.
I saw that Barnard stayed in Northampton and Windsor (1792-1809) long enough to train apprentices and hire journeymen. After that, although he takes on apprentices, he isn’t engaged as a cabinet maker long enough to provide real training.
Russ Fox adds an appendix which identifies 6 other Vermont furniture makers who were in and out of Montreal for short periods of time. He says there were too many skilled craftsmen in rural New England for the work available, especially as families migrated west.
Ruth Burt Ekstrom, in The Lure of the West and the Voices of Home: Excerpts from the Correspondence of William Spaulding Burt, shares with us letters written from 1833 to 1839 between parents in Vermont and their son who has ‘gone west’. The parents want him home; they tell him that good work is to be had in town. He works in various places in New York and Ohio as a carpenter. He is not apprenticed. His father writes that the son should come home for more schooling but there is no mention of any systematic training in a craft that compares to the roles of apprentice, journey man and master craftsman.
I saw that by 1815, the traditional paths for passing on skills - as I outlined in my post 'Regulating Lines #3" - could not be maintained. The road to knowledge was now a trail with potholes and broken bridges. By the 1830’s, those paths appear abandoned, forgotten. However, my post on story poles show how some parts of traditional design and construction knowledge continued to travel forward some other route.
Saturday, February 18, 2012
story poles - Part 1 & 2
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Folk Victorian, in a great neighborhood
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Regulating Lines - at least 3 geometries
Friday, February 10, 2012
Luykas Van Alen House, Part 3 of 4
Thursday, February 9, 2012
North Bennington Walking Tour, an Introduction
Note to the reader:
These posts are intended to be working documents. I hope you will add to them.
There are 3 parts:
1) The 1856 map of North Bennington,
2) The map of the red, green and blue walking tours,
3) Descriptions of the village and the houses which existed in 1856,
You are encouraged to comment.
If you prefer, pages for your notes are available at the John G. McCullough Free Library, North Bennington. Each building has its page with lots of blank space for you to add your information.
The walking tour emphasizes the architecture and technology of North Bennington in 1856. Of course, that’s only one way to understand our past.
North Bennington's historic record and this walk will be much richer when we know more about who lived here and what they did.
Please add your information, your perspective. Please give dates whenever possible.
Thank you for your help.
Luykas Van Alen House, Part 2 of 4
Sunday, February 5, 2012
Edward Shaw - uses the tools
Well, he does say that a main floor window's height should not be more than double its width. Room length, breadth and height and height are mentioned in relationship to each other. But then he states that 10 ft is the desired height... There is great advice for the carpenter and homeowner about foundations, lath and plaster, and 'warming'. Fun, but not what I hoped for.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
what to do with a post
Monday, January 30, 2012
Why Didn't Regulating Lines Get Passed Down? (#3 in a series)
It has been suggested the change came when architects took over the design process from builders. Well, maybe. I just don’t think it’s that simple.
In Europe, during the Middle Ages, the understanding of how to use geometry was passed down through the guild apprenticeship system, specifically the masons’ guilds, the men who were the master builders of the medieval cathedrals, forts and castles.The title ‘architect’ was used in the late 1500’s, but often as metaphor. The OED cites its use as a synonym for God, “The work some praise, And some the Architect”. 1667, Milton, Paradise Lost. Only gradually is the word specifically associated with the task of designing rather than building a structure.
Consider this chain of command:
John Mylne (d.1657) was the Master Mason to the Crown of Scotland.
His son, John Mylne (1611-1667) and then his nephew, Robert Mylne (1630-1710), succeeded him. All were members of the masons’ guild.
Sir William Bruce of Scotland (c.1630-1710) is considered the ‘architect’ who brought Palladian ideas to Scotland. He was Surveyor General of the King’s Works. Was this a title created for him because he had lived and traveled abroad, had a great library but did not draw? Robert Mylne was one of the people who drew for him. Mylne also supervised the construction. And he, a mason, would most likely have been using the geometry passed down through the guild.
James Smith (1647-1731), succeeded Bruce as Surveyor General. He had traveled abroad, studied in Rome, but was trained by Mylne.
He in turn trained William Adam (1689-1748). Both were admitted to the local masonic guild. These men began to be referred to as ‘architects’: Colen Campbell (1676-1729) in his Vitruvius Britannicus calls Smith "the most experienced architect of that kingdom".
William Adam trained his sons, John Adam 1721-1792), Robert Adam (1728-1792), and James Adam (1732-1794) as masons.
Robert and John Adam are the men after whom the Adam Style (often called Federal in New England) is named. Robert was truly an ‘architect.’ He designed and drew, someone else executed.They traveled abroad. Most of them read Latin. But at least through the Adam brothers the knowledge of design and construction was rooted in the masons' knowledge, in regulating lines.
An aside: Scottish history during this time is full of political intrigue ( Queen Mary of Scots, King Charles, etc.) which influences who gets to design and build which buildings. For more information try Scottish Architecture, Glendinning and MacKechnie Thames & Hudson,Ltd., London, 2004. They are excellent historians and writers.
1950's vernacular Usonian
The highly respected instructor at the local vo-tec built this house for his family in the 1950's. Compact, with built-in furniture which dictated the use of every room, it felt much like the Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian houses I had visited.
Friday, January 27, 2012
North Bennington Walking Tour, 50 - 54, 46
Folk Victorian, circa 1872
Thursday, January 26, 2012
New garage in the same place
The topography required us to build in the same sandy location as the existing tiny, structurally unsound, stone garage. The garage needed to be, like the original, useful and incidental.
The original caretaker's cottage (just out of view on the left) overlooked the garage, so a low pitched hip roof was chosen as less intrusive than the original gable.
The whole property received a local Historic Preservation Award.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
North Bennington Walking Tour, 43 - 49
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
North Bennington Walking Tour, 43- 2
#44 – Sam C. Loomis House, Federal, c. 1830. This house is hidden by its siding – its graceful front entrance, corner pilasters, and fanlight in the gable still peek through. It is smaller, only 2 windows wide, less imposing than its neighbors down the street (#2, 25, 26).
#26 - Hiland Knapp House, c. 1825. The curving bands – guilloche – at the eaves and at the entrance, slender ionic columns, a subtle brick pattern, dressed marble lintels and sills are graceful and sophisticated. The style, Federal, was inspired by the Adams Brothers, popular English architects at the time.
#25 - B. Hammond House: Federal, c. 1825, is the reverse image of the Welling House (#2). In 1856, there was no roof over the front porch.
#2 –The Welling House end the Green Tour. Its Italianate side porch to the north once circled the house.