A Brief Recap of Historical American Home Design

According to Vincent Scully, Jr., in his book American Architecture and Urbanism, a defining characteristic of the American built landscape has been the tension between two competing forces. While the apparently limitless all-natural landscape created a desire to keep moving, to learn what was beyond that forest and over that mountain, a countervailing yearning to stay rooted in 1 spot also took record. Our built environment has been an outward expression of our anxiety about leaving the security, security and familiarity of home when we can not help but follow the dictum”Go West, young man.”

This duality has been expressed in many ways in the design of the houses. From an emphasis on flat continuity anchored by a vertical totem to our fascination with the RV (even if it’s tethered into a parking space), we want the illusion that we can get up and proceed at any moment while having the security of being attached and adjusted into a home. It’s not surprising that our national pastime is baseball, the 1 sport where scoring is attained exclusively by leaving and returning home.

So let’s take a look at the way American house layout has expressed and tried to resolve this tension — what may happen when the realization hits that the trend of growth is changing.

Daniel Contelmo Architects

Even in the colonial era, a stress on the flat line was a defining characteristic of home layout. Design features like placing horizontally proportioned upper-story dividers tight into the eave with constant sill trim below bolstered this nascent horizontal expression.

While most houses of this age, especially those in New England, put the mass of the chimney in the center of the home, there was likewise a trend, especially in the mid-Atlantic and South, to put the chimneys in the sides. In the latter instance, all of the horizontal motion is contained and stopped, especially with vertical components like pilasters at the corners.

The tension between wanting to stretch out and break free while being hauled in position is clearly evident.

Between Naps on the Porch

The houses of 19th-century America had a linear aesthetic, despite the era’s predilection for revivals. Home designers could not help but weave all of those horizontal themes and trim into the layout when faced with inherently vertical fashions like that of the second empire. Therefore the towers, mansards and vertical factors are held in check with a ribbon of trim that weaves in and out to deny this perpendicular.

Bud Dietrich, AIA

Obviously, it was the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright and the other Prairie School architects to resolve — or exploit the tension caused by the duality between horizontal and vertical. While creating homes that seem to float on the property and in which each design decision serves to accentuate the flat, even Wright could not help but create this massive central vertical anchor that firmly roots the house to its location.

Dick Clark + Associates

Yet the homegrown Prairie School dropped from grace, as transplanted Europeans like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius introduced International design to America.

But we Americans altered that style to suit our character. Therefore it was not the idealized modernism of Le Corbusier but versions that were more linear and stretched, more expressions of growth and not as much of Europe’s urbanism.

Home layout took on a new kind as a result of a car-dominated culture that celebrated the freedom of the open road. Relaxed, casual, distribute throughout the landscape, the brand new ranch-style house gave expression to the expansiveness of the soul. And as the desire to be rooted at a location gave way to increasing mobility, the perpendicular totem no longer appeared.

Butler Armsden Architects

As a result, variations of this ranch house fill the U.S. landscape from east to west and Canada into Mexico. This ranch house, sitting on its horizontal lot with all the ocean in front and the mountains behind, is a full expression of the American dream and the California lifestyle.

Princeton Architectural Press

Occasionally a home can take on the characteristics of the Conestoga wagon and Airstream trailer, ready to pick up and move whenever the owner’s tires of this area.

However, what happens when ever-increasing advancement means less space to build and explore?

Union Studio, Architecture & Community Design

Perhaps then we have a critical look in taming the auto. And while we are at itwe could build communities as opposed to developments. Places where we still have the single-family home, but this time it’s built for sustainability and efficiency. These areas could be, after all, more in tune with the agrarian ideal that’s been at the core of our built environment for centuries.

More: Back into the Future of this House

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