INFLUENCES ON ARCHITECTURAL CHARACTER

- LANDSCAPE AND ECOLOGICAL

“The Appalachians are immensely old—older

than the oceans and continents (at least in

their present configurations), far, far older than

other mountain chains, older indeed than almost

all the other landscape features on earth.”

—Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

The Northeast landscape can be divided into

three distinct ecological zones.

The northern part of the Northeast Province

includes the Allegheny Mountains and Maine and

drifts into the Lakes Province. This is a glacially

carved landscape with long, cold winters (average

winter temperatures below freezing and only 100

to 140 frost-free days annually). Landforms are

level to rolling. Vegetation ranges from broadleaf

deciduous forests to conifers (which grow well in

local acid soils) to mixed forests. The summer

landscape is lushly green. Fall brings brilliant

colors. The long winters are white and brown.

Little rock is exposed except along waterways.

 

The White and Green mountains of the northern

Appalachians, is a craggy landscape that features

glacially carved granite mountains, many rock

outcrops, and abundant snowfall. The forested

setting changes with elevation from a mixture

of hardwoods and conifers to spruce-fir.

 

To the south are the Appalachian Highlands and

a topographically diverse landscape with plateaus,

coastal plains, and the Ozark Mountains. These

are smoother, more rounded mountains with little

exposed rock. The average winter temperature is

above freezing. The forest is mostly deciduous

with a wider variety of trees in the wetter east

and a dominant mixture of oak-hickory in the

drier west.

 

CULTURAL

“If we don’t know where we’ve come from,

how will we know where we are?”

—Pauline Chase-Harrell, architectural historian

 

During the Colonial period, the English dominated

settlement in New England, the Dutch in New York

and New Jersey, the Germans in Pennsylvania,

the Scandinavians in Delaware, and the French

along the lake and river system of what was then

the Western frontier. The patterns of westward

migration of these groups established paths of

architectural influence throughout the region.

 

The English established the prevailing cultural

patterns, including a preference for wood

architecture, especially for timber framing and

clapboard, shingle, or vertical board siding. Steeply

pitched roofs are another common and prominent

design feature. Early building types included the

salt box (a house made by attaching a shed roof

to a gable roof); the timber-framed “English barn”;

and, later, the “connected farmstead” of New

England in the latter part of the 19th century.

In the Middle Atlantic, the Dutch, German,

and Scandinavian builders made their own

contributions. These included the double-pitched

Dutch gambrel roof (originally common only to

barns in New York’s Genesee Valley but now

everywhere) and German masonry construction.

The French influence worked its way up the

Mississippi and is visible in the enduring

traditions of sweeping roof forms and generous

porches.

 

Swedes and Finns introduced log homes in

Delaware. Other ethnic groups adapted log

structures as they moved into the southern and

middle frontier. Originally they used rough logs.

Later cabins used hewn logs and permanent

chinking. Except for the Iroquois in New York

State, Native American structures have been

obliterated, but archaeology has allowed for

renewed interest in these forms.

 

The 19th century brought cultural and

technological changes that blurred distinctions

among styles in favor of a national style, or

rather a series of national styles. The first of

these was Greek Revival, launched in the 1830’s.

A decade later, a preference for Gothic Revival

and other “Victorian” styles was greatly aided by

popular pattern books for houses. The invention

of the balloon-frame house in Chicago in 1833

introduced mass-production techniques to the

construction of houses. Railroads fostered the

shipment of prefabricated building parts (such

as ornamental cast-iron building façades) to

frontier towns across the Nation.

 

Later in the century, several movements promoted

artistry as an antidote to standardization. The

Arts and Crafts movement emphasized handcrafted

buildings and custom-designed details and

decorations. A regional variation, the Adirondack

style, created elaborate “rustic” log-and-stone

vacation homes for the wealthy.

 

Rustic design was later adapted for hotels

and public recreational structures, especially

in the 1930’s during the height of the Civilian

Conservation Corps (CCC). The movement left a

powerful imprint on the design of Forest Service

structures in the 20th century.

 

Modernism continued the trend of standardization

started during the Industrial Revolution.

Increasingly, buildings were designed to look the

same and be built from the same materials no

matter where they were sited. But in the New

England States, movements toward Colonial

Revival and other historical interpretations

provided a powerful counterbalance, as did the

growth of the historic preservation movement.

Reverence for history remains an important factor.

 

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