The Arts & Crafts Cabin

A Field Guide to American Houses

Modern Dwellings

Part I. — Their Construction.
By H. Hudson Holly
Published 1876

Design for Gateway

Design for Gateway.

I.— Construction.

Architecture is a comparatively new art in this country, and has had but little earnest and intelligent study; so we can not be said to have any styles and systems peculiarly our own. Yet out of our necessities there have grown certain idiosyncrasies of building which point toward an American style. In the absence of such a style we have been apt to use inappropriately the orders of foreign nations, which express the especial needs of those countries, and those alone. Doubtless we may introduce from abroad methods of design which meet our requirements; but we must not hesitate to eliminate those portions for which we have no use, or to make such additions as our circumstances demand.

For instance, in our pure atmosphere, where odors are readily absorbed, it would be foolish, except in large establishments, to build the kitchen apart from the house to escape from its fumes, when a simple butler's pantry between it and the dining-room would effectually prevent their entrance. So, too, it would be the merest folly, in building an English cottage, not to have a veranda, simply because its prototypes in England have none. We evidently have need of this appliance in our dry and sunny climate, and from such requirements a distinctive feature of American architecture must arise.

In this way we are doubtless building up an architecture of our own, profiting, as other founders of styles have done, by precedents in other countries. Our materials, climate, and habits differ enough from those of Europe to demand a distinctive change in their use and arrangement. For example, in European countries, wood, a most valuable building material, is rare and expensive, while in most sections of our own it is very abundant. But instead of using this in accordance with its nature and capacities, we have stupidly employed it in copying, as exactly as we can, details of foreign architecture which were designed with reference to the constructive capacities of brick and stone. Hence we see rounded arches, key-stones, and buttresses of wood; wood siding is sanded and blocked off to represent stone; and the prosperous American citizen with a taste for feudal castles, like Horace Walpole, may live to see three sets of his own turrets decay. Fortunately our people are beginning to recognize the folly of such unmeaning shams, and when stone or brick is adopted, it is treated as such; and when wood is employed, we are properly commencing to show details adapted to its nature. Until, however, we come to possess a vernacular style, we must content ourselves with copying; and the question arises, Which of the innumerable systems is best suited to our requirements? We have tried the Egyptian, but nothing cheerful seems to have been the result, as our City Prison will testify. The Greek, as set forth by Stuart

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