Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The Baptist Church of Streetsboro, Ohio, Part 2

The Streetsboro Baptist Church, built c. 1820: the second phase of its construction - its decoration - the front facade and the steeple.



The first post* discussed how the framer used the geometry of the 3/4/5 Triangle to layout the floor, the bents, the walls and  windows, the roof and steeple. After the framers made the building 'tight to the weather',  joiners would often be responsible for the finish work: window sash, doors, molding.  Different trades had different skills and tools.

I think this division of labor happened here.


The church front on a cloudy day in October. It is a handsome building. It is also a box decorated with boards and moldings. That's what I am looking at in this post.

The HABS drawing is below.



The windows had been set by the framer when he laid out the floor plan, the walls, and the roof frame. The black lines show what the front wall would have looked like when the joiner began his work. Holes for windows, a space - perhaps a larger framed opening - for a door, a triangular gable. 

The congregation expected that this box with a roof would become a modern Greek Revival church. 

Of course the joiner was considering the pediment, the frieze, the architrave. the water table. He also needed to lay out a facade which has grace and rhythm as well as symmetry.


Here is the geometry of the facade as the framer knew it: 3 bays with their height from the floor to the roof trusses, their width between the corner posts, and a door, centered but of undetermined dimensions. The windows are centered within the  3/4/5 rectangles of  the frame's rhythm. Their shape is 2- 3/4/5 rectangles.


I think, the joiner chooses to balance the windows first, to set them as supporting wings to the central door. The corner boards grew to become paired columns balanced by 2 more columns on the other side of the windows. Note that the columns are not on the lines of the bays, therefore the center bay is slightly wider than the side bays. The window bays became back drop to the central bay with its  double door and paneled transom.The joiner 'adjusted' the geometry; but the window bays' symmetry is so strong it is hard to catch. The tall, broad main door, recessed  in the main bay, then surrounded by the columns and the frieze, becomes the focus. 

The joiner 'fooled the eye' and created a dynamic facade, much better than 3 equal rectangles would have been.


The framer built the base which supported the steeple. Its dimensions at the roof are based on the 3/4/5 Triangle.


The steeple uses neither the geometry of the frame nor that of the front facade. It is a series of blocks, decreasing in size, with their corners clipped. The design uses the square and the circles that fit within and without it. Was it the work of the same joiner? **

The HABS drawing shows the steeple sections.

Here I have added the circles  - In 'A' the red circle is outside, the green inside. In 'B' that green circle is now outside, a new smaller red circle inside. 'C' continues the progression with the red circle from 'B' now the outside. The green circle of  'C'  is the base of the spire.

 The steeple layout follows the  drawings of James Gibbs in his book "On Architecture", published in England in 1728. Copies were in the Colonies, available to builders.  I have written about Gibbs' steeples here: https://www.jgrarchitect.com/2022/02/james-gibbs-steeples.html  

 These  HABS measurements are too simple for an in depth study of the steeple geometry.

The shapes that make up the tower are a series of blocks with related faces all derived from the simple manipulation of the square: a complete square, 2 squares, one square, half a square (the base for the spire).
The spire's height uses the width of the steeple's base as its unit of measure: it is 1.5 times as tall as the base is wide.

The paneling, edge moldings,  and the series of roofs as the tower extends create the steeple.

The  door itself is approximately square, the transom: half a square. They are the same size as the section of the steeple which holds the bell.

The wall of that bay acts as a setting,  a frame for the door.  The columns and architrave are a second frame.


Look again at the photographs.

The church's grace and presence come from simple proportions in the design and the understanding of how light and shadow give life to the parts themselves and thus to the whole building. 

Here is what Asher Benjamin wanted the joiner - and by extension, we who see the church - to understand about moldings :  

"...the bending, or turning inward, of the upper edge of the Grecian, or quirk ovolo, when the sun shines on the surface [and] causes a beautiful variety of light and shade, which greatly relieves it from plane surfaces, and if it is entirely in shadow, but receives a reflected light, the bending or turning inward, at the top, will cause it to contain a greater quality of shade in that place, but softened downward around the moulding to the upper edge."   ***


* Part 1:  https://www.jgrarchitect.com/2018/04/the-baptist-church-of-streetsboro-ohio.html

** The Sandown, NH, Meeting House and Gunston Hall in Virginia are good examples of this separation of craft. At Sandown a skilled joiner built the main door and the pulpit, perhaps the wainscotting and box pews. George Mason of Gunston Hall brought William Buckland from England to create the porches and interiors for his new brick house.

**Asher Benjamin, The American Builder's Companion, 6th edition, 1827, R.P. & C. Williams, Dover Publications reprint, Plate IX, Names of Mouldings.


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