The Regional Review

Volume I - No. 4

October, 1938

sketch of cupola


By O. M. Bullock, Jr.
Regional Architect

The term "park character" when used in reference to park structures calls up a picture in the minds of the laity, and all too many architects, of flexible tree limbs grotesquely woven, boulder fireplaces, round pole logs with ragged overlapping corners and generous overhangs; this paper concerns itself primarily with overhangs and was written in reply to many sincere requests as to standards of taste in such matters.

There is no formula for good taste in design; buildings may only be judged by the esthetic satisfaction they offer, and, like any other matter of taste, individual judgment will determine the rating of any particular example.

Standards by which current architecture is judged have varied from generation to generation; the present being "modern" and hence "good", i.e., "popular" and the immediate past "poor", "atrocious", or just "old fashioned".

Philosophy of architectural design, as written, has been fairly consistent in America, but the interpretation of the philosophy in three dimensions has taken many varied forms; each more or less popular for a time and closely related to the economics of the period and public taste./P>

The fact of antiquity alone does not automatically dub a specific building good or bad design; but through the ages many examples of good design have been accepted by those trained in the appreciation (understanding) of architecture and an analysis of the elements of such designs will result in fairly sound principles which usually result in structures which are more or less universally pleasing; i.e., in good taste.

With the tremendous expansion of the country during the latter part of the nineteenth century came a Romantic Period in American art, architecture, and letters, and many elaborate and often grotesque structures were erected; women had the "vapors" and iron dogs guarded formal lawns while the houses in the background writhed in an agony of ornamented overhangs, turrets, and tall windows. Those who could afford it went back to nature (in a refined way), and lodges and wood retreats were built; all in the "rustic" manner of the period. Twig architecture was brought from the woods to the city and sometimes cast in iron; wide overhangs, over-elaboration of detail, and a complete loss of repose characterized the work of the period.

At this time enterprising architects, imbued with the spirit of the times, cast aside the (to them) dull tradition of architecture and set out to invent a style more in harmony with the period - and they published books to prove their point, handsomely illustrated with wood cuts and steel engravings.

sketch of house

Samuel Sloan, a prolific writer of the day, published Homestead Architecture in 1870 in which this is found, among many other quotables:

"What a world of rural enjoyment might be concentrated within the little scene represented by the figure before us! Simple and plain, yet of very decided character, the owner of such a home need not envy the monarch the gilded beauties of the palace or the toy that mankind calls a scepter."

sketch of house

In Villas and Cottages, A Series of Designs Prepared for Execution in the United States, published by Calvert Vaux in 1874, we find:

"......self-reliance, liberality, simplicity and humility must be the prominent characteristics in any family that spends even a few summer months successfully in a mountain home; and if such a residence is to be specially adapted to its surroundings, it must in some way or other be suggestive of these ideas."

In his introduction Mr. Vaux wrote:

"...... almost every American has an equally unaffected, though not, of course, an equally appreciative, love for the country.' This love appears intuitive, and the possibility of ease and a country place of suburban cottage, large or small, is a vision that gives a zest to the labors of industrious thousands"

This love of the country is translated into three dimensions in such sylvan shelters as those shown above.

These were the sort of books to which original park structure designers turned for their inspiration, and the false, over-elaborate, in sincere "woods" architectural style was carried into park work. It cannot be called a rustic style because "rustic" by definition means plain, simple, sturdy, artless, and unadorned. Though called "rustic" architecture, it is actually "Romantic" or "Naturalistic."

Because park structures first appeared during and following this period, it was logical that the current interpretation of form and sentimental hope for harmony with nature would be followed, and roof lines with ponderous overhangs are the natural though uninspired, result.

Architectural design is based first of all upon the need for shelter; it may then be decorated, but it need not be unattractive if stripped of all decoration, for good proportion and repose are not a matter of decoration. The shadow cast by projecting eaves bears a direct relation to design and proportion; a structure may fail to please through too light a shadow, or accent, at the eaves line as readily as through the addition to too much cornice. In addition to the shadow cast by oversize roofs they must be considered as masses in relation to the area of the structure covered; again they may fail to be in scale through being either over large or too small.

Except at high noon a wide overhang at the eaves offers but little protection from the sun and very little ever, at gable ends. Until our romantic period of Bungalow Building such protection was seldom thought necessary even in Southeastern United States where sun glare is a real problem.

The actual protection from rain and snow offered by wide overhangs to walls and foundations is no more than that from the sun, and again the absence of overhangs before the gay nineties may be noted in areas of heavy snow and great rainfall.

Park Architecture should be inconspicuous, should have repose and a feeling of being indigenous to the locality (with the notable exception of a strictly Recreational Area such as Hampton Beach where the architecture may be featured and be festive). If this end is to be achieved, park structures should exhibit simple lines and avoid all useless arnament, the use of which results in lack of repose through variations in light and shade.

There is no formula which if followed will result in universally fine park structures - and - a wide overhang arbitrarily applied does not automatically insure park character.

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Date: 04-Jul-2002