The styles in designing houses may change from year to year, or more likely from generation to generation, but the methods of building and the traditions in back of them continue on, with only slight changes which mark the evolution of the art. In as brief a period as we have had in this country to produce domestic architecture, we can notice very distinct styles of design, but running through them all are similar ways of building. Our earliest Colonial houses were built according to traditions brought over from England. These traditions in turn had deep roots in Europe, back to primitive days, when houses were not much more than temporary, movable shacks.
There is, however, one general trend through which building methods seem to pass. First, we have rather heavy, clumsy ways of building; this is followed by a long period of experimental cutting down of the materials of construction and standardization of parts; following this comes the stage of extreme lightness of construction, when the builders go as near the limit of safety as possible, and then accidents occur which tend to discredit the system.
The early English houses were built of heavy oak-trees. Later half-timber houses used smaller structural members and more standard sizes. These traditions were brought to this country, but it was soon found that heavy oak was not necessary for their stability, but that some of the native soft woods would answer the purpose. The thinning-down process continued, until we developed the frame dwelling of balloon construction which is practically built of 2 by 4 pieces throughout.
We are now having a building code formulated by the United States Department of Commerce, which is intended to establish the minimum requirements for small-house construction, so that greatest economy of material can be secured, but also a precedent set for the minimum cutting down of material in building. In the compilation of this code this tendency to reduce the quantity of material used was very evident in the discussions which centred around the problem of whether the brick walls for small houses should be 12 or 8 inches thick. In Colonial days they thought nothing of building them 2 feet thick. To-day we hesitate at building them as thick as 12 inches. In fact, our building codes show no uniformity of opinion on the matter, and our experts disagree. The preliminary form of the above-mentioned code has settled upon an 8-inch thickness for walls not exceeding 30 feet, and made additional allowance for an extra 5 feet in height on the gable end of the building.
The process of thinning down is still going on, as this indicates.
The illustrations representing briefly the historical progress of styles in domestic architecture in the United States are given to show how these styles have varied, and impress the reader with the rather constant undercurrent of construction methods throughout these changes.
In the early Colonial houses the wooden frames were built of heavy oak timbers which were hewn into shape and dressed down with the adz. Sometimes rafters and joists were sawn, and the further along we progress in time the more we find the saw being used.
CLASSIC OR GREEK REVIVAL 1785----------.
If we now jump to the period between 1865 and 1889, we find that the awful atrocities of architecture were being built in the East with similar heavy frames, although slightly less massive. Where tradition was less strong in the West, the balloon frame had grown up, but during the same period houses of equally bad design were built with one or the other systems, showing that the system of construction had very little to do with the style of architecture. Even consider the variety of styles used in modern domestic work, and then one can realize that all of these different types of buildings are built much in the same way. Good design has apparently little relation to good construction, although good design is improved when it expresses the construction. We often see very beautiful houses set up for moving-picture plays, but these are built of flimsy stage scenery. We have also seen very ugly houses which make us curse the builder for having built them so well.