SO LITTLE has been published in comparison with the wealth of material of real architectural merit which the South produced during the Colonial and Post-Revolutionary periods, this collection of illustrations has been made with the desire to present an adequate number of representative types, chosen from different sections of the South. An attempt has been made to present examples which illustrate three distinct types of the traditional architecture of the South; namely, the Colonial architecture of Maryland and Virginia, the old buildings of Charleston, and the lesser known examples of the classic revival which are scattered through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.
The restful, simple dignity of these old buildings reflect a picturesque period in Southern life; a period which was brilliant socially when European manners and customs prevailed and culture and refinement were characteristic. They are the product of an age that had some regard for the forms and amenities of social intercourse, a time of leisure and manners, of travel and study. In the quiet restraint and dignity of their settings, these homes of a bygone generation are expressive of a very high form of civilization. There is a beautiful propriety and air of distinction about them which reveals them to be the residences of a well-bred and cultured people.
In reviewing these buildings of the eighteenth century one is constantly tempted to make the analogy between them and the contemporary buildings of England. The Georgian influence dominated the design of the Colonial work of Maryland and Virginia. The buildings, for the most part, were studied from the designs of Inigo Jones and Gibbs, while a number of them were actually designed by Georgian architects. The same influence, assimilated with the ideas of the French and of San Domingo, inspired the old buildings of Charleston and asserted itself in many other sections of the far South.
With the dawn of the nineteenth century came the Greek revival temple house, which had no counterpart in Europe. The direct classicism of the revivalist in the temple form of architecture first gained a foothold in the South and produced our own great national style in architecture -- America's independent contribution to the art. While this style has for nearly a century been subjected to adverse criticism and regrettable scorn, there is, however evidence of a growing appreciation and fondness for it today. Historically, it is our appropriate style. Above all, it expresses a simplicity, a restraint, and such exquisite harmony that is needed in our modern architecture.
There is an interesting variety of the old houses in the lowlands of the South in which the principal floor is elevated several feet from the ground. This fashion produced a great diversity of exterior stairs with admirable specimens of wrought iron work, and gave these houses an air very different from those built at the same time in Maryland and Virginia.
The small houses of the South have not received as ample a recognition as they merit. The majority of them evince careful study in composition and in the intention of the detail, and in some way they are more attractive than the larger and more pretentious homes.
The beauty and charm of these old structures appeals specifically to the architect, and in a more general way to all who appreciate beauty and educated taste. The editor, in compiling this book, has kept in mind the practical value of illustrations without the historical text which has been ably written elsewhere. It is his intention to supplement this volume with others in the future.
"In every age men have found in architecture the permanent expression of the beauty of their character and of their spirit. The architect of today, so far as in his power lies, is expressing the beauty of his age."
GOOD TASTE in home building as a result of fine architecture does not necessarily mean that the house must be large or expensive in order to possess all the qualities which the layman associates with examples of outstanding architecture. The simplest cottage may be in much better taste than a house two or three times its size and cost, depending upon the ability of the designer. To create a house of distinction and individuality does require a sense of proportion, a sense of fitness to its surroundings and a regard for precedent. The average home builder thinks in terms of size while the capable designer thinks in terms of beauty and economy which come from the right proportion of masses and scale of details that make for architectural perfection.
Architecture is not merely the science of building well, but as a fine art it adds high qualities of taste and imagination to good building. No building should be ugly, or ill-adapted to the purpose for which it is erected. None should be unsafe or dangerous to health. Even a private house is to some extent a public matter. A well-designed and properly constructed house is not only a better and more economical investment for the owner, but it is an asset to the community in which it is located. The average man is as unequipped to design and direct the construction of his own building as he is incapable of supplanting his physician for his own cure. The most skilled contractor cannot create a plan and build the simplest house equal in beauty, utility and cost to one completed under the guidance of a trained architect. The profession of architecture calls for men of integrity, business capacity and artistic ability whose training covers a long period of careful study and preparation. It is a profession which carries with it grave responsibility to the public. The architect's position is one of trust and confidence, since he is entrusted with financial undertakings in which his honesty of purpose must be above suspicion. He directs the expenditure of money for materials and workmanship in which he has no financial interest.
The work of the architect consists of much more than creating the design and preparing the plans for a building. Though he is primarily an artist, he must have, either personally or through his organization, a thorough knowledge of the various kinds of standard materials and methods of construction; how different kinds of work are performed; and he must be familiar with the principles of the special departments of the building industry and their scientific application, such as heating and ventilating, plumbing and sanitation, and electrical systems. He specifies every portion and kind of material in the building from foundation to roof. He gives directions as to how that material is to be incorporated in the building and he supervises the construction to see that his directions are properly executed. He prepares contracts between the owner and contractor and issues certificates for payment to the contractor. He presides over and co-ordinates the sundry forces of design, supervision and business administration of the building.
The proper erection of the simplest home is a complicated problem involving many trades in the construction industry and generally new methods of construction which require skill in their application. The cost of a house to the majority of people is of paramount importance. A capable architect can give the owner a more practical space arrangement, which is essential to a livable house; reduce the maintenance cost to the minimum; and in many ways reduce the cost over a medocre plan furnished by someone less familiar with the difficulties of house planning. The architect will obtain for the owner by means of proper plans and specifications all the benefits that accrue from legitimate competition in the building industry.
ONE of the by-products of this industrial age in which we live is a loss of individualism -- a standardization of national taste which has asserted itself in our domestic architecture. We have tried to express our individualism in house design by using a style different from that of our neighbor, but our other neighbors have the same idea of being different. The result is that we can go from one end of these United States to the other and, with few exceptions, find the same kinds of houses of recent construction in one locality as in another. We have thought more of "styles" than we have of climate or topography. By trying to be individualistic, we have becone corporate and collective. It seems strange that in a country with the extremes of climate that ours has and with sections whose people have fundamentally different characteristics and backgrounds that, generally, we find the same confusion of styles. The architects are not altogether to blame for this. The average layman thinks in details, details too often gathered from the same magazine that goes to all sections of the country. Our ideas have become generalized. Sections have mimicked one another.
Then, too, our present day mode of living causes us to rush feverishly from one enthusiasm, one worry and one passion to another; never static, never still, never content with marking time or staying put, hurrying to new conquests and new follies, new triumphs and new thrills. We are a restless people and we tire of moving rhythmically, but unadventurously, through a mechanical routine. Our starved desire for romance has found one outlet at least in our domestic architecture. The borrowing of Old World styles of architecture, regardless or their inappropriateness, and the vogue of romantic names for streets and sub-divisions are present day characteristics of our industrious nation. The sensational and universal adoption of the "Spanish" house, brought about by the Florida boom of a few years ago, is typical of the transformation of the plain into the spectacular. Will not a creative spirit in domestic architecture stagnate on such an illogical basis? Can we not best express our individualism or personality by the intelligent use of the tradition with which we have been endowed in each locality?
In this immediate section, that is Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, and I use it as an illustration because I am more familiar with it, we have had little regard for our architectural tradition. By grace of the taste and inspiration of Jefferson, and the culture and political propensities of our forefathers of the first half of the nineteenth century, we have inherited an architectural tradition which, generally speaking, we have not appreciated. I am referring, of course, to the Classic Revival type of domestic architecture which was evolved in the deep South. It fulfills every requisite of our present day mode of living, except taste. Which is bad: The style that is the most personal expression of American domestic architecture and in which a creative spirit and a new sense of form first appeared or a taste which has been generalized by the movies, radio and the press? We cannot, in justice, say that the use of a style is poor taste just because we do not understand it. We have not endeavored to appreciate it. We have maintained an indifference to its merits. Generally, it has been condemned because of ignorance. Not one book, devoted exclusively to the Classic Revival type in this section, has been published. However, excellent books have directed our attention to it.
The architectural tradition which we have inherited in this section is unsurpassed in dignity and monumental quality. It is simple, austere and refined and yet it has a flexibility which is unusual in an academic style. The fusion of Greek and Roman proportion and details, the Greek temple form and the colonnade with a flat roof, the wood and cast iron balconies, the circular stair and the elliptical and lintel headed doorways are a few of the characteristics it embodied. It is elastic and simple enough for modern use and above all it possesses scale and proportion which is far in advance of what we are generally doing today. If we could recover and retain its spirit, we would be blest in ourselves and in our boon to the common country. Are we not losing a great opportunity by ignoring our architectural birthright and letting it pass into oblivion?