Tuesday, December 12, 2023

The Practical Geometry of the Parson Barnard House: Its Assymmetry

The Parson Barnard House, Part 3.*

The front  elevation is asymmetrical.  Did you notice?

The door at the Parson Barnard House is not in the center of the front of the house. But, yes - it's the focal point. The pediment, the surround, the red paint, the chimney above reinforce its importance. The paired windows on each side create a space between them where  the door belongs.  





The paired windows are not equally spaced from the door, see A and A. The spaces between each set of windows are also unequal, see B and B, nor are the distances from the corners equal. see C and C. * *




The frame, the posts and beams, with the door and second floor window centered under the chimney, more or less.** 

The post and beam frame is structure here; it is not the design.





The windows could have been centered in each bay and the house would look like this: simple, direct, and a little crooked, boring.

Note: this looks very much like today's subdivision Colonials with the obligatory 2 windows on  either side of a door. It's acceptable, but that's all.



Instead, the carpenter built this. He gave us balance and grace, a lively facade.

This image is from 2021. The first floor windows in the HABS drawing have been replaced with windows with panes which match the early second floor windows.  


What did the carpenter consider?  

First: the Hall was the larger room; the Parlor, smaller. The front door could not be not centered on the front wall. 

Second: the door needed to swing so that people could go directly into the Hall to the right, the main room of the house. The door must also swing back, fully open, for easy access to parlor.

The drawing shows the door swing with black arrows, The vertical red line is the center of the entry hall, but not the center of the front facade, nor the center of the space between the windows on either side.

The porch is no longer there. It did not date to the early construction.

Third: the 2 main rooms of the house, the Hall and the Parlor, face south. That orientation allowed for maximum sunshine which gave (and still gives) both light and warmth to the interior. Placing two windows on the south wall in each room (and at least one on the east and west walls) was essential. 

Fourth: the parlor was the formal room. It was the parson's study/office; he was the most important person in the town. It required a pair of balanced windows, gracefully placed.

Fifth:The carpenter was using simple geometries: the square derived from a circle. He knew how to use diagonals to divide lines in half. He used the arcs of the square to set a smaller distance as shown here.***

We see today that he had a sense of design, a 'good eye'. Unfortunately, we don't know who he was.    


The window placement came from that geometry and the carpenter's visual understanding of the house: how that facade would 'speak' to those coming as well as to those already in the house. 

Bents were raised one after another, set into the sill below; the plates added above. The carpenter would have laid out the bents  along the sill and the plate on the framing floor before the raising. He would have cut the stud pockets along with those for the posts. The window frames were probably added later as they were hung from the beams at the ceilings, but he would have known the sizes of the windows he planned to install.

The geometry  of the window spacing  in the Hall used the distance from the exterior bent to the center bent in the Hall as a radius. The arcs of the semicircle and its reverse cross at 2 points, once on each side.The secondary arcs cross the semicircles 4 times at their 1/4 points. 2 straight lines with dots on their ends position the outer sides of the windows. 

This layout is 2 4 arc stars side by side.***

The placement of the Parlor windows follows the same geometry. 

I have drawn an alternate way to layout those locations. To read a simpler solution skip to the last paragraph!

Just as in the Hall the length of the arcs chosen is the distance from the right side of the post at the right of the parlor to the right side of the center post. Those 4 arcs cross top and bottom. The line with a dot at each end comes from the 2 points where the arcs cross. It locates the right side of the right window.  

The 4 arc star has 4 points. Those points allow the original square to be divided into 4 equal smaller squares. They also give the length between the window and the right post. That length, drawn here with arrows, gives the distance from the left window to the exterior wall, also a black line with arrows.

Or consider this: the carpenter knotted his twine (his Line) to mark the width of the parlor, outside of the corner post to the inside of the 3rd post. He folded the Line in half, and then again. He now had 4 equal lengths  which he could have marked on the sill and the beams.The outside lengths located the left and right edges of the windows. He folded a shorter Line to locate the windows in the Parlor.**** He would have known his geometry so well he could use short cuts. I write about this is my next post: 

* the link to my posts on the House for the practical geometry of the frame    

http: s://www.jgrarchitect.com/2023/11/the-practical-geometry-of-parson.html and https://www.jgrarchitect.com/2023/11/the-practical-geometry-of-parson_20.html https://www.jgrarchitect.com/2024/01/the-practical-geometry-of-parson.html 

**The HABS drawing, c. 1934, shows a larger surround and pediment. These were updates to the house, removed to reveal the original 1715 doorway.

 *** I often find this '4 arc star' when I explore Practical Geometry. It follows naturally from the square derived from a radius. The radius is often the width of a room, the length of a beam. It easily provided 2 points for dividing a space in half either way. It is often the width of a room, as it is in this house. I have found no name for this geometry so I am naming it here: the 4 arc star .   

**** He could also have transferred his dimensions to a pole. Carpenters today use a 'pole' to make sure  clapboards and window casings line up around a house. It is a thin board, a piece of scrap, that can be propped up against the house wall and easily moved from location to location,


No comments: