Monday, January 30, 2012

Why Didn't Regulating Lines Get Passed Down? (#3 in a series)

When did we stop using circle geometry (aka: regulating lines, the Golden Section) to design buildings?

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.

His children were happy to inherit the house but wanted more room, un-dedicated, larger spaces. They had already added a garage and a stone wall to separate the house from the back road which had become a short cut from one state route to another.

They needed the front door about where it was, they wanted light but hoped to preserve their privacy. And they liked the house. The wing needed to compliment the original vision.

The original house is to the right, past the flamingos. The new wing is in the middle with skylights, next to the garage to the left. The overhang matches the existing and protects the entry deck and the walkway leading to the driveway. The half wall and the light post with its round globe at the edge of the deck help lead the eye to the entrance which was in danger of disappearing under the shadow of the roof. The flamingos and flower pots help too.

Friday, January 27, 2012

North Bennington Walking Tour, 50 - 54, 46

The Dyer House is no longer here.
Cross the railroad tracks, and walk up to # 50, the William Hawks House and carriage barn, built in 1855. They are not on the 1856 map. Perhaps they were not finished when the data for the map was collected.
The house has an 'old-fashioned' center entrance, room on each side, shape. Over that is the Italianate 'new-fashioned' hip roof, double front door, porch, bay window, and trim!
The Hawks mill was on the south west corner of Water and West Streets.

Return to the railroad station and cross on Depot St. which wasn't here,
to Houghton Street.

There was a depot, a freight and engine house, but not these. This station was built in 1876. Here three railroads met: the Troy and Boston, the Western Vermont and the Bennington Branch, all with different owners and differing track specifications.

Houghton St was named after the family whose elaborate Queen Anne Victorian house was here. For an extra excursion turn left on Houghton Street, continue across the tracks to Lake Paran Park on the right. Lake Paran was created by the railroad bridge over Paran Creek in the 1840’s.
Between the houses the Robinson barn - #51 - is visible. In 1856 this land was fields, farm yard, and kitchen garden.

# 52 may be the M.B. Murch house. The D. Corkins house has been replaced by St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. picture to come

# 53 – Hicks, a simple c. 1820 house, updated over the years with new windows and wings.

# 54 –Warren Dutcher House. Greek Revival c. 1840, with added porch. Mr. Dutcher’s house in Bennington had burned in 1849. He invented a improved temple for mechanized looms. By 1858 he had relocated his factory – which had been on Paran Creek - to Hopewell, MA.

#46a - Barn for Hawkes (Eddington) House picture to come
This side was the working side of the house: the location of the stable, dairy, kitchen garden, and barn yard. The front door was for company.

These are the main buildings which were in N. Bennington in 1856, with the exception of 11 houses, a school and an Academy (now gone), and 3 factories, all on Water Street. (Those buildings which remain will be added as a 'drive-by' tour.) Barns, shed, outhouses, and other secondary structures were not recorded.
I found it fascinating to understand physically, by walking down the streets of the village, how it would have felt to live here, how small a village it was. I hope you do too.
I welcome your comments and corrections. The internet makes improvements simple. Thank you for visiting.

Folk Victorian, circa 1872

A contractor bought this 2 family in-town house and asked for my help. Because of the deep lot we were able to return to its original single family status and add a 'barn' as the second living unit.
This massing was similar to other homes in the neighborhood. The back of the barn looks out over town owned wetlands.

The house was renovated on a strict budget.

The 2 units sold as condominiums immediately.

Some highlights:

The living room fireplace mantle had disappeared. The contractor
found a new one at a discount warehouse, Building 19: Victorian style interpreted by Thai craftsmen. We laughed, but it fit the budget and in place, painted, looked great.

The basement had about 6 ft. head room. We found out why when we dug the foundation for the barn addition - a high water table. That required the wing be set higher on the site. Then the roof lines didn't meet properly, necessitating on-the-spot redesign.

The original 1872 house used only one profile for all the moldings. It ran sideways up the windows, upside down as an apron, right side up on the baseboard. The visual variety came from how the light stuck the curves in the different positions. So simple, so effective.

The windows in the faux barn door are over the kitchen sink. The current owners have continued the visual joke by landscaping a faux barn entrance ramp below the 'door'.

The project made a real impact on the neighborhood and received
a local Historic Prservation Award.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

New garage in the same place

This garage belongs to a dramatic c. 1915 Arts & Crafts home, glimpsed here directly behind the garage. Across the street is a wooded and shrubby bank sloping down to the river.
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.

Structurally this was difficult, holding back the sand as we dug a bigger hole. We also ran into an uncharted sewer line running across the driveway from the caretaker's house. While we were applying for the building permit from the Town, the State's wetlands rules changed.
Please notice that I use 'we'. That includes the owner, the contractor, even the neighbor whose septic system was uncovered. The excavator, the foundation man and the engineer conferred about that sand. The new stone wall and steps, the depth of the roof overhang, the trim around the garage doors, the paint color are as important to the garage's success as those neat Arts & Crafts garage doors.

The whole property received a local Historic Preservation Award.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

North Bennington Walking Tour, 43 - 49

Main Street was laid out in 1760 to go north to Shaftsbury. Houghton Street was cut in 1835, also to go to Shaftsbury, but avoiding the hill on the main road. The railroad was
here in 1856 but not Depot Street. The railroad continued across the dam at Lake Paran to Bennington. The bridge and dam which had washed out had quickly been replaced.
The tour begins at The Eddington House
# 44 - WF Hawkes House, now called The Eddington House. A porch once ran across the front of the house, probably not as early as 1856.

# 43 -SC Loomis House (picture of fan light)
The Park: the Post Office was here, as well as an apothecary shop, a store, and the home of H. Koon. They were destroyed in a fire in 1886 that burned all the way to the Cobblestone House. A cabinet shop sat in what is today the bank parking lot.
# 45 – Surdam House, c. 1835. The house shape and size is similar to those on Bank St. Its stone construction is unusual in the village. The entrance side panels and hood are taken pictures in the1830 design book of Asher Benjamin.

# 46 – Built c. 1780 for Fannie Hinsdill. It originally had a center chimney. This house has been continually updated - the triple windows, c. 1910, and the picture windows in the 1950’s for a barbershop.

#47 – The Cobblestone House, 1848, Gothic Revival, with its steep roof and gingerbread icing along the eaves was inspired by medieval stone carvings. It retains its early American story-and-a-half shape and scale. In 1856 one of the Colvins lived here. The cobblestone exterior was also popular in western NY. This house was built by Warren Dutcher who auctioned it off for $1 per chance.

#48 - GW Simmon House, c. 1850, is a classic Greek Revival - with a later porch and Italianate double door. It was constructed with timbers from a mill on Paran Creek which was being rebuilt.

#49 – Robinson is a mirror image of #50. This house has Italianate ‘improvements’: a double front door and a bracketed entry roof.

Both the Simmon and Robinson houses have barns, befitting a prosperous homeowner of the 1850’s.

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).

#45 -Hawkes House, c. 1830, and updated many times. Breaks in the trim indicate a porch location, window changes, and various expansions. Mr.Loomis ( #43) and Mr. Hawkes owned the market in the square (#3).

#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.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

North Bennington Walking Tour, 37 - 42a

Bank St. was laid out in 1851 to go to White Creek. It wasn’t Bank St. until the bank was built in 1865. The 3 Greek Revival houses (#37-39) are excellent examples of the style.

The Colvin family farmed the land on this road. They also owned mills.

#37 - Sidney Colvin House, 1855. This house was set back from the road to create a setting, much as was the Robinson House on Prospect Street. Popular authors at the time recommended withdrawing one’s

house from the road to reinforce the Jeffersonian ideal of each family being self-sufficient


#38 - Charles Colvin House – Wood could be planed by steam powered machinery in 1835. Wide smooth boards were easy to mill, and readily available. These columns and frieze boards are the result. This house sits close to the street, urban compared to #37.

#39 - built by E. Safford. These cottages (with a central unit and side wing) have corners that look like colum

ns. They were inspired by ‘pattern books’, books showing plans and drawings. Many houses like this were built in upstate New York.

#40 - Originally this was a single family house, built c.1820, with simple trim, no frills, and a center entrance. It is larger than the simple mill houses on West and Sage St. The porch is later.

#41 – G. Robertson House, The Greek Revival house once boasted a frieze and corner pilasters, now hidden by vinyl siding. The Italianate porch is later.

#42 – Elwell House, 1851, Italianate, is very similar in shape and detail to the PL Robinson House on Prospect Street. However, it is not set back but sits directly on the street. One looks up at it and the feeling quite different. Its shape is similar to #41, , but its trim is light and airy, not solid.

#43 - Once the barn for the Elwell House, this building was moved in 1917-18 and remodeled to become a Masonic Temple. Note the similar verge boards at the eaves. Barns have cupolas (the tower at the top) to vent the hay stored inside, because hay heats up and can easily catch fire.

Where the roads met was a square bordered by the post office, 2 stores, an apothecary, a cabinet shop and – where the gas station is today - The Paran Creek House, a 3 story hotel with a broad veranda.

Behind that was a carpenter shop.

SB Loomis owned the hotel. He lived next door and also owned, with WE Hawkes, one of the stores in Lincoln Square.

housekeeping: measuring and regulating lines

I have just added 'regulating lines' and deleted 'research' from the labels on 'measuring'.

Or perhaps, "So what?"

Because I am trying to write a post on whether the use of circle geometry died when architects took over design from builders, as has been suggested. I don't think so, but as I put together an answer I am asking myself more questions. So my understanding needs to be more thorough. I need to follow up on those directions of inquiry, see where they go and what's there.

I am beginning to think the answer has to do with how master builders, masons, joiners, and architects transferred information to workers. Drawings on paper? A reference cut in a stone ? A diagram on sheathing? Hatch marks meant for assembly on posts and beams?

So my 'research' on measuring turns out to be generic to thinking about the history of regulating lines.

I don't know who is actively following this, but if you are, please read the posts on measuring.

Note: This is when I think being an architect as well as an historian makes the difference. I know a lot about architectural drawings, about what actually goes into providing good information to the people who will be constructing what's in my head. Without that experience I might not even know it could be historically important.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

North Bennington Walking Tour, 31- 36

#31 – H. Hall House’s shape is similar to, but more generous than the housing on Sage St. A wide frieze board has been added at the eaves.
This house and its neighbors were a small community around the Baptist Church which sat here at the intersection of West and Park Street.
Built between 1830 and 1850 they are the beginning of the new style, Greek Revival.

#32 – W.J.Toombs House. The gable of this Greek Revival house

faces the street. Its entrance faces down the hill, to the side in the center of the house.

33 – Known as “the Lodge” because it served as a guest house for the Parks and McCulloughs whose 1864 mansion is across the street. Now a school with many wings and alterations, the original house, built by Martin B. Scott, is in the middle.

# 34 – Baptist Parsonage, 1847, brick, Greek Revival. The door and window casing are similar to the Watson House on Prospect St. The pattern at the eaves creates a frieze in brick. The frieze boards in the neighboring houses show how much easier it was to do in wood. The left wing is later. The original house was quite small.

# 35 – D. O’Brien’s house in 1856, it was built c. 1830 by Nathaniel Hall, brother to Hiland Hall, whose house was down Park Street. This house had a serious fire. The left and rear wings are 20th century. The shape of this house, gable end to the street, side wing with porch becomes the preferred shape in the village.

Take a walk through the Historic Park-McCullough House grounds. Visit the ‘Big House’ and see what Trenor and Laura Hall Park built in 1864 in their village with money from the California gold rush.

The Hall – Park - McCullough family was a generous contributor to the betterment of the village. Hiland Hall and John McCullough served as governors of Vermont.

The Hiland Hall farmhouse is beyond the Big House.

Church St was not here in 1856. This was Hall and Colvin farm land.

In 1856, as well as the district school (#18) and Asa Doty’s school (#27) there was an academy for older students on Water Street.

The North Bennington Graded School was built in with the help of Hiland Hall and Trenor Park.

# 36 - The Baptist Church, built in 1845, sat on the corner, looking over the town. When Trenor Park wished to build his mansion here, in 1864, he laid out Church Street from here to Bank Street and moved the existing building a block down, out of the way. It has still retained its view out over the village.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Luykas Van Alen House, 1737, Kinderhook, NY, Part 1 of 4

The newsletter of The Society for the Preservation of Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture arrived this week,Vol. 14, No. 10-12. Walter Richard Wheeler described the documentation before the Luykas Van Alen House in Kinderhook, NY, was restored.
Here is a partial view of the HABS drawing reproduced in the newsletter.
(1934, HABS, Adam Van Alen House, Kinderhook, NY, E. J. Potter, delineator. Please see the foot note for explanations and caveats.)

This morning I took out my compass to see what I could learn about the design of the house.
I used the HABS 1934 floor plan for my base drawing. As this house was built by people of Dutch descent who would have known Dutch framing systems from the Continent (NOT England) I was uncertain about what I would find. I looked first at the main house, the 2 rooms with fireplaces on the left. The floor plan fits within the circle.

Then I looked at the wing - the right side beyond the stair. It is thought to be a little later, perhaps beginning as a barn. Here the layout is more complex: (A) is the arc from the length of the wing. It intersects the continuing length of the house at the location of the partition. (B) is the arc of the width of the house and wing. Its length seems to determine the placement of a beam beside the stair. Its diagonal (C) may determine the location of the door and steps into the room on the end (the north room, on the right in the drawing). One would enter the room on the corner of its square, the room itself is the Golden Section.

Footnote: I also found the beams to be located at points determined by circle geometry. However:
The drawing I am using is very small, About 10 ft = 1 inch. As a architect I consider this to be 'schematic' - definitely too small for construction. The elevations in John Stevens' book are only about 1"=20', much too small to be able to identify a relationship between the plan geoemtry and the elevations. The next step is to print out the HABS drawings which are available on-line.
I am also thinking about how the circles were actually used. The builders might have drawn the first circle on the ground where they intended to build. Or maybe not.
2/3/2-12: I am not really comfortable with this analysis. I have decided not to delete it until I have better understanding. But read it with skepticism!

HABS: Historic American Buildings Survey is an excellent introduction to the house. It includes a photograph which shows the main house and the wing.

The best book on Dutch 'Colonial' construction is Dutch Vernacular Architecture in North America, 1640-1830, John R. Stevens, HVVA, NY, 2005

Sunday, January 8, 2012

North Bennington, Vermont, Walking Tour, # 26 -30

The tour does not include Water Street because in season the greenery makes the buildings on the 1856 map and Paran Creek invisible. The other 6 months of the year there is visibility from the side lawn of the Library. The Water Street side walk is also located on the west side of the road, away from what one would hope to view.

Walking up hill, west from the McCullough Library, corner West and Main Streets, North Bennington, Vermont
In 1856, the Boot and Shoe Factory sat on the right side of West St. with the Union Store (#3) to its north, a tin shop to the west. On the left was the Hawks & Co. mill.
# 27 – Doty Hall, which housed tailor shop and a shoe shop in 1856, was built by Asa Doty as a private school with a second floor auditorium. While the school is a box topped by a stylish pediment, its location and its lack of detail give it much less presence than the stores at Lincoln Park.
#28 - Built in 1827 by Asa Doty, this house matches the Hammond and Welling houses. Its fan light has the same row of balls. About 1850, it was ‘up-dated’ with Italianate details: the corbels under the roof, a bay window on the east side. The Park family lived here while their summer mansion was being built in 1864.
#29 – RW Bangs House, probably c.1830, as the entrance is centered on the front under the roof slope. The shape has not yet been turned so that the gable end faces the street.
#30 – mill housing with little detail other than simple Greek Revival eave returns.