Sunday, December 2, 2007

Are contemporary homes or Modern designs considered Period work?

Let's begin with the first few entries of the definition of ' period':

a rather large interval of time that is meaningful in the life of a person, in history, etc., because of its particular characteristics: a period of illness; a period of great profitability for a company; a period of social unrest in Germany.
any specified division or portion of time: poetry of the period from 1603 to 1660.
a round of time or series of years by which time is measured.
a round of time marked by the recurrence of some phenomenon or occupied by some recurring process or action.
the point of completion of a round of time or of the time during which something lasts or happens.

If a style of architecture (or art) shows a distinct characteristic in form and material use, or process of construction that can be identified within a specific period of time then it can be categorized and termed 'of the period ca. ____'. Religious, philosophical, scientific and cultural changes and advances also were classified into movements. All styles, made up of specific characteristics, can be termed 'period' including Bauhaus Modern, Deconstructive, Beaux Arts, Gothic Perpendicular, Louis XIV, Post Modern, Art Deco etc. Regional styles like 'California contemporary' or 'Florida Mediterranean' are examples in flux and too general to categorize. Architects can create a revival of architecture that is merely one or two years old if distinct and superceded by another one that breaks the previous characteristic elements.

Are today's architects able to create correctly detail Period homes?

The problem we have had for over 40 years is that most university programs spend very little time on domestic architecture and emphasize commercial work in Modern styles.
Most of our academic institutions followed the Beaux Arts method until Bauhaus Modernism completely replaced the notions of beauty, proportion, talent, hand worked details, etc. by machine age technology. Modernist tenets are violently opposed to any historic period classical revivals and progressive arts publications promote the 'new' while marginalize to the extreme any good period work.
Only one university in this country has a full classical architecture curriculum.
Therefore most practicing architects doing historical revival work had to learn the basics and the more elaborate examples completely on their own.
The layperson in today's times has had little exposure to the great architecture of Europe from which our Western Tradition of Classical Architecture was born. The work of Architects and other drafting firms who produce revival styles have to be measured against the 'real' thing. And many compromises are made, most of which are not necessary and are due to a misunderstanding of the proper details and proportions.

Are period homes more expensive to build than other styles?

Generally a home's interior finishes constitute the highest costs in relation to foundation, envelope, roof, or rough plumbing and electrical.
Period homes (before 1940) definitely have more trim work and moldings than a contemporary or modern design which is free of crown molding, paneling, elaborate ceiling treatments, etc.
Historical period homes were all dressed out by hand, as well as built by hand with no power tools even. Plaster moldings were set in the field or applied wet. Wood crowns were built up with several layers of running moldings and/or hand carved.
Modern plumbing fixtures, except for gold plated ones, can be equivalently priced unless reproductions are sought.
In today's market there are prefabricated moldings, medallions, brackets and other trim available in plaster, wood, and synthetic polystyrene, fiber reinforced plastic, etc. These items are considered 'big bang for the buck' expenses that help defray the high cost of on site hand built and placed trim work.
In general a period home will cost 1.5 to 2.0 times the cost of a contemporary home. ---Potentially more even as decisions on whether to specify real granite and marble columns versus cast concrete or fiberglass, limestone vs. porcelain, slate vs. concrete tile, are weighed.
See essay here: Boxy but Good! --

What size home will work best for a period design?

Nearly all sizes of homes, small or large, are amenable for a period look. Of course if you are looking to create a castle effect you should budget for a larger plan. However the fields of France, England, Germany and Italy are littered with small versions of larger palaces, castles, and manor houses.
What is more important is the geometry of the plan rather than the total square footage.
Blocky rectangularand symmetrical homes tend to work with any Renaissance Italian or French style, and these can be downsized to very simple plans. Medieval castles tended to be assymetrical. Brissac was a Renaissance remodeling of an earlier turreted castle.
Plans with several bay windows and reentrant angles would work nice in a Gothic revival style.
I think we can include Craftsman style homes which were rectangular and then made more meandering by turn of the century architects such as McKim, Mead and White whose domestic architecture included very symmetrical and meandering plan layouts.
When building on tight lots it is preferred to hide garages in the rear via a side driveway or alley access as true period style homes rarely had bulky projecting wings forward of the main body unless these were symmetrically disposed and minor in massing relative the center area.

Since most of your experience has been in Europe and Turkey and most of the "Gentleman Homes or Estates" were/are rather large. What about period size? For example, a period dining room at Blenheim is certainly different than a period Banquet Hall, How do you properly size a "period room?"


Actually there is no real set limit up or down regarding the size of a period house or room.
Everything is scaled larger or smaller, which is the beauty of designing a traditional house with period details.
You simply have to know in about which 50-100 years time segment you are trying to emulate.
Of course there are very grand examples of Louis XIV for example, but much smaller homes can adopt this style and general treatment in terms of symmetry, moldings, and general proportions.
There are a few 'ideal' dimensions that the Italians developed based on width and length to height of a room. So a smaller room will have a shorter ceiling. Blenheim has double height rooms based on very wide and long floor areas.
Each room has a scale starting with the doors and windows which help direct the size of moldings at base, ceiling and wall interesections and ceiling treatments, chandelier and torchiere sizes, flooring pattern, etc.