I AM asked to contribute something on an unnamed style, sometimes vaguely referred to as the product of the Western or Chicago school - it would be presumption to appropriate to anything so tenuous the imposing title "American Style," The reader who has followed the foregoing chapters has perhaps noticed that each author insists that the style chosen shall closely fit and express the local conditions. He has been shown that the Englishman, the Dutchman, the Italian of a bygone century, has each in his way produced a style or type of building that fits our local conditions and fits it better than any other style or type. All the authorities, of course, cannot be right, but all may be partly right, and I think that examination of the various arguments will show that the qualities which recommend each are broadly alike. The reader then is left where he began, and it remains, after all, a matter of choice, with similar arguments recommending different styles.
There is, however, a common gap in each argument. Let us take, for instance, the argument by the advocate of the Italian villa type. He says in effect that we for various good reasons should build houses having broad, simple wall surfaces, penetrated by openings which balance well, but need not of necessity be obviously symmetrical, and that for the sake of unity we should have broad, overhanging eaves and simple, low-sloping roofs. He then proceeds to show that for reasons of economy such wall surfaces can be easily and beautifully made in plaster. His deduction is that we should therefore employ the Italian style which makes use of all these things. If we grant that these things are desirable and that they produce "style," a logical deduction would be that we should have them; not necessarily that we should have "Italian" buildings. If the result, after we have employed them in our design, prove similar to the Italian villas, well and good, but it is important that the horse be kept in front of the cart and that we strive for style in the abstract, not for English or Dutch or Italian style, not even for American style - consciously.
The real question is "What is Style?" - not "What Style?" If we are successful in determining what this elusive quality is, then the way to get it will be the next object of our search and will be, perhaps, not difficult to find.
All arts are alike in that the common end and aim of each is the weaving of a pattern. The pattern to be woven in the designing of a house is one of forms, lines, colors and textures; relating, repeating and contrasting one with the other, creating rhythms, directions and accents. Without these rhythms and accents, without the pattern, the work remains mere building. Style is the relation of these rhythms and accents, one to the other, to create a pattern; the relation of form to form, color to color, texture to texture and each to all creating one definite expression.
Style is synthetic, and the architect, taking rooms, halls and staircases, arranges them in sequence according to their use and importance; and in the rearing of their walls, floors and roofs, relates planes, solids, voids, lights, shadows, tex-tures and colors so that each gives to each an added and enriched meaning and expression. A window designed essentially as a device for letting light and air into a room he-comes by reason of its proportion and placing, a shadow in contrast to a plane of light, an accent or a note in a rhythmic scale, a line of direction or a spot of decoration according to its arrangement. The delicate adjustment of part to part, each comely in itself, the intricate interweaving of texture, form and color to produce a web or pattern at once logical and interesting: that is style in architecture. Simplicity of style is desirable if we have a right understanding of the word. The simplicity of the side of a grain elevator is not in itself admirable, but the simplicity of a flower is lovely; that simplicity which attains the highest degree of elegant and pregnant meaning without obtrusion. Let us say an interesting simplicity. In architecture there is a fatal tendency to consider style an affair of columns, cornices, doorways, etc., of low roofs and high roofs, of brick walls or plaster. A much more intelligent view-point is necessary if we are ever to outgrow the hit-and-miss results that now make our streets a hodgepodge of incongruities, each swearing at each. It is doubtful if we shall ever again have any great uniformity of type such as has in given places and times produced marked and recognized styles. Altered conditions have altered our artistic ideals and expression. The development and growing independence of the individual call for a more various expression, hut it is not inconsistent to assume that a growing intelligence on the part of the individual will ultimately result in an artistic expression richer in variety and still possessing unity commensurate with an even development of the individual unit. Such a style will be the outgrowth of democracy.
To apply these definitions and principles to house building, let us consider an entire property as the home, part under roof and part out-of-doors. If the property be located on a street in close contact with others, privacy will be sought, along with a certain formality consistent with the straight lines of the street and of the property. If the estate be large, privacy will be achieved by setting the living spaces both of ground and house back from the public highways. If the ground be susceptible to easy arrangement a measurable formality will still be desirable, for a house is but the background for human life, and to reclaim the ground from the wild will be the first necessity to prepare it for habitation. If the ground be rough and intractable the architectural development will be less formal, less rigid, for the essence of good design is that each part shall harmonize with every other part, and the house is but a part of the home, a part of the picture.
A formal Colonial house perched upon the rugged rocks of the Maine coast is unsuited, in spite of the efforts of the Colonial builders to put them there, for the spirit of the house and of its setting are antagonistic. Contrast is a necessary quality in artistic composition, but its complement is harmony. Contrast and opposition are different words.
An appreciation of the "style" of the landscape is the first essential in determining the style of your house, and this style cannot be changed, for no matter how thoroughly you transform the garden and immediate surroundings to conform to the selected house style, there will still be a hedge over which you will look into the unalterable face of Nature as she is around you. The house must grow out of the ground as naturally as the trees. The very color of the air has a bearing on the style, particularly as to color. The bright hot colors suitable to the tropics are a pain to the eye in the gray-blue air of New England or Illinois, and when the snows of winter spread a cold white background they are unbearable.