One enters a certain suburb of New York. All the houses are new; no buildings were there a year or two ago; it was a clear field for architects to do what they could, for the promoters were anxious to make it an ideal suburb; yet its general impression is discordant in the extreme. Houses are individually most interesting, far above those of the average town in character, yet it is one of the most unpleasant towns one ever sees. One leaves it with discouragement, with the impression that our country architecture is resulting in a condition worse than the much-despised mid-nineteenth century, when at least there was a certain harmony; that our study, our familiarity with the best work in the world has resulted in nothing; that "the mountain has labored and brought forth a mouse."
One passes "Colonial," "half-timber," "modern English plaster," "thatched shingle roofs," "Italian adaptations" - all seriously studied too, and most of the houses distinctly good according to their several ideals - and the result is wildest discord. Each house strives to assert its independence and drown its fellow. It is as if in an opera Brun-hilde and Carmen, Yum-Yum and Aida, Thais and the Runaway Girl were all on the stage together, answering each to each in her own song, some serious, some frivolous, each admirable, and the result diabolical.
An English or a German town never gives this impression. Is it possible that there they have a clearer conception of the basic type? One house may have the orderly arrangement of the Georges and the next a Tudor-arched doorway and mullioned windows, but the difference seems rather interesting. Is it because they are all perfectly natural in their use of materials and roof forms, members of the same family, so to speak, all examples of the same traditional type, nearer, perhaps, than their builders realized or that one can recognize at present on account of his having befogged his wits with much reading of the characteristics of these "styles?"
But this was to be an article upholding a certain "style!"
Until a style is past and done with, it has no name. The medieval architect would have been much surprised to learn that he was designing in "Gothic," or the early settler that he was doing "Dutch Colonial." Let us beg the question then, and argue for a certain type, rather. "Grayeyres," "Two Stacks," "Swarthmore Lodge" or the Villa Nova or Woodmere houses are pure examples, but what can they be called more than "Northern Tradition?" As far as I can see there is nothing in them not a natural expression of construction. The stout stone columns were doubtless taken from the old barns near Philadelphia, the pergola surely from Italy, the porch about the Villa Nova house from nowhere at all, but each is perfectly fitted to its uses. What difference does it make whether windows are in groups with mullions between or each a single rectangle fitted with small, square panes, or the doors round-arched with fan-lights or depressed-pointed with clustered moldings?
They are of a type with gables and sloping roofs, the whole house under a single roof or with a long main ridge with intersecting gables disposed either formally or informally as the site, the plan, or the owner's whim suggests. In each the gentle lines of silhouette seem to fit our irregular treatment of a countryside where, for instance, the long tranquil lines of the Italian villas might seem unrelated. They must have a proper setting of formal terrace and garden to be in their full majesty; but our northern type is democratic and seems born of the soil. It suits hillside or meadow, formal gardens or no gardens at all with equal naturalness, a sine qua non of a successful American type, for.