Throwback: Design slam

Posted 5th September 2008 by Kurt

Traditional vs. Traditional “looking”

Here is a good real-life example of traditional design intentions being executed poorly. This new house is infill on a street of mostly antebellum houses. It looks like it was constructed well using good materials by today’s standards. But they screwed up the proportions and some details which make the whole thing feel inauthentic. First: the pop-out in the center with the gable roof makes this a single oversized bay with symmetrical 2-bay wings. It puts too much emphasis on the center, making the other parts feel less significant. The large “paladian” window on the second floor is almost as big as the whole entryway on the first. It is poorly massed. A better configuration would have been a standard symmetrical 5-bay configuration with a single gable roof plan. This would be in character with most of the other houses on the street which are 3 or 5 bay with single gable. I know a stone foundation is not really cost effective for most building projects these days, but they should not have raised the foundation as high as it is. This is out of character with every structure around it. The oversized brick stoop is also too much.
Now the details: The large window casings are out of place on a brick structure. The windows should have a simple lintel and sill of stone or brick if stone is not in the budget. Considering the expense involved to produce those custom casings, they probably could have afforded limestone lintels and sills instead. And finally the cornice: the entablature is massed properly, but they used a tiny cyma molding in place of a bed mold, and again a tiny cyma where the crown should be about double the size of what it is. 

Compared to a traditional building:

Important characteristics to note on the traditional plan:
Size of the windows suggest hierarchy; the first floor is emphasized. The stoop is simple and understated. There is almost no setback, making the home contribute directly to the public space. There is no gratuitous trim or ornamentation, not even a cornice. The overhang is accomplished with corbeled brick.

Posted 5th September 2008 by Kurt