The history of American architecture is the history of the evolution of demographic, cultural, and social trends. One of the most interesting examples of relatively fast-changing preferences is American architecture. In its relatively short past, American architecture has evolved along with the changing face of the country, representing a patchwork of various cultural influences that make up the United States as a whole.
One of the American home equipment warranty companies, American Home Shield, celebrating its 50th anniversary, decided to turn to the history of the American home. This brief excursion, which spans 450 years, from Cape Cod style (1600 to 1950) to prefabricated houses (1945 to the present), can be viewed here .
Cape Cod Style (1600–1950)
The journey begins with Cape Cod style houses. Two-story, minimally decorated, modest Cape Cod-style homes reflect the values of the Puritan colonists who designed them, as well as the harsh New England weather conditions for which they were built. In the 20th century, interest in the Cape Cod Style gave this type of private house and its layout a place in American architecture.
Georgian Colonial House Style (1690–1830)
Georgian style came to the USA from England. The years of the reign of King George I – the time of assimilation by British architecture of the classic traditions of “continental art”, especially Palladianism. The king himself had little interest in his country, did not know English, and he was more concerned about the German possessions. His first minister, philanthropist, and England’s largest collector of paintings, Robert Walpole, father of the founder of the “Gothic novel” and also collector Horace Walpole, was engaged in politics in the field of art. The advent of Georgian houses marked a shift in the architectural profession in America. At that time, the architectural profession was mainly the prerogative of the masters and architects began to take on the role of artisans, or rather the responsibility for their work, starting to produce details, objects, and decor according to their own sketches.
Federal Style (1780–1840)
The crusade to build a new society after America gained independence from Great Britain marked the efforts to create a new American style of architecture that drew its origins from the culture of ancient Greece and ancient Rome. This American “Renaissance” is especially associated with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Latrobe. The style reached its peak between 1785 and 1820 and was later used in the construction of government buildings. The University of Virginia Library, for example, is modeled after the Pantheon in Rome. Residential buildings in the federal style (usually two-story) are characterized by the following features: rectangular shapes; low mezzanines; raised foundation; windows are strictly symmetrical; shutters; oval arches; the use of wooden decor; curved open stairs in the spirit of classicism;
Greek Revival House Style (1825–1860)
America’s cultural debt to Greece grew in the mid-19th century as archaeologists began building large-scale ancient ruins and began to find new architectural marvels of ancient Greece, and architects began to borrow from the illustrations. The Greek Revival style in the United States is characterized by flamboyant simple stucco, a pedimented façade, and a wide, simple frieze. Other notable features include decorative pilasters, a pillared entrance porch, and narrow windows around the front door.
Italianate House (1840–1885)
Unlike the “Greek Revival” house style, Italianate style houses favor asymmetry and natural landscape. Other features include flat, low roofs, tall, rounded windows, and decorative corbels. Evolving from the free, organic design of a medieval rustic villa in the Italian countryside, this Italian estate style has surpassed the Greek house style in popularity in part due to the lower cost and durability of building materials such as brick, stone, and plaster.
Queen Anne Style (1880–1910)
The Industrial Revolution brought different methods of production, and materials encouraged the emergence of the nouveau riche, and stimulated an architectural style that explored new possibilities. The Queen Anne style appeared in America at the end of the 19th century, showing excesses reminiscent of the British monarchy. Some features specific to the Queen Anne style include a steep roof, a round tower, and a bay window. The design is asymmetrical, complex, and overly decorative.
Arts and Crafts (1905–1930)
Just as the new money and production methods of the Industrial Revolution led to new architectural styles, the backlash against this period spurred a unique Arts and Crafts movement that referenced the pre-industrial period. It denounced the impersonal architecture of the Machine Age, favoring instead an elaborate handcrafted process that used locally sourced natural materials and emphasized the hand of the artist-designer. A low roof, wide overhanging cornices, and a porch with thick square columns are commonly associated with this style. Numerous windows also helped create light-filled interior rooms.
Art Deco + Art Moderne House Style (1920–1945)
As architecture evolved from a craft into a genre of art, architects began to see collaboration with artists as part of their practice. The French Art Deco style combined the simple geometric forms of modernism with refined materials and craftsmanship and influenced the field of architecture as well as furniture design, automobile manufacturing, and cinema. Note the flat roof, sleek white façade, and porthole windows are all hallmarks of the Art Deco style. The American version of this style is especially prominent in Miami, New York, Asheville, and Cincinnati.
Ranch Style (1945–1980)
The ranch house was a confluence of several American cultural and demographic trends, including modernism, westward expansion, and the post-World War II population boom. Modeled after Spanish colonial architecture, these one-story houses were built using simple structures and local materials. Ranch houses were really easy to build, which contributed to their popularity at a time when demand for new single-family homes was skyrocketing. Ranch houses have a simple floor plan and an open plan. Other notable features include a gently sloping gable roof, a brick façade, no decorative details, and a large double-pane window.
Prefabricated Homes (1945-…)
As American soldiers returned home from the fronts of World War II and began to start new families, the population grew rapidly, creating an unprecedented demand for new housing. One way developers met this need was through the prefabricated house—a house made from relatively inexpensive materials that were then shipped to the building site and quickly assembled like a kit. Many prefabricated houses were built in the style of modernism or futurism. Modular prefabricated houses used durable materials such as wood paneling, sheet metal, and steel frames.
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