An indelible image of confidence and style, the most famous house in the world, the White House in Washington DC, symbolizes a national home for freedom of expression and unity as well serving as the President's official residence. You may wonder why this house appears so stately and formal and how such designs come into existence. Its roots trace thousands of years into the past to an elegant system of order and proportion. The columns that support the gabled roof of the White House entrance portico resemble ancient Greek and Roman temples. The remaining handsome facade stretches past it in two directions in perfect symmetry. This genesis of design, which we consider traditional, provides the catalyst for the architecture of the Neoclassical style White House. Vernacular, also known as folk, and modern architecture provide two more cornerstones on which we formulate most home styles in the United States.
We need homes to shelter us from the natural environment, so we translate walls and roofs into an architectural style with the choice of materials and the method of assembly. As an example, imagine a simple form. Two end walls and two steeply pitched roofs, an A-frame shape, create the cover and sit atop a supporting foundation. Next, we consider material. Stone, wood, metal and concrete make up walls and roofs. We must source available material that is affordable, workable, and plentiful. Then, we must attach these elements so that they stay together, which we call structure.
Architecture enters the equation as we determine the type of available materials, the shape of the structure, and how we fashion the joints of a building's elements. In the A-frame example, we position two wooden roof slopes lean against each other, and two wooden end walls attach to a concrete foundation. Where and how the materials and elements join each other produces the fashion of the building. Now that we live in the 21st century, we have thousands of years of construction from which to draw lessons and inspiration. The three cornerstones influence how we fashion; that is style, houses based on the evolution of their forms and materials.
The Vernacular, or folk, cornerstone relates to shelter fashioned by fundamental knowledge and conventional materials within a region. One example is an Italian hillside village of stucco-covered stone walls and clay tile roofed houses organically configured into charming clusters, which is a Mediterranean theme. The vernacular of the Mediterranean influences most areas of the American Sunbelt. Medieval English villages with steeply pitched thatch roofs and timber-framed walls that evolved into the Tudor style provides another example. The favorite current-day Farmhouse style derives from the American Vernacular of plainly formed and simply detailed country houses. Architectural style blossoms out of the regularity of ordinary folk dwellings.
Classical architecture, which is a refined tradition of order and proportion that relates building elements and details to nature, provides the second cornerstone. The roots trace back to ancient Greece and Rome. A common inaccurate perception is that classical architecture applies ornament freely. This notion is not the case at all. For example, supporting elements bulge and terminating elements flare out and away as they would in nature. Shapes and details are positioned to reflect the physical world. The order of detail complements the whole composition and delivers the traditional architecture that we find comforting, protective, and familiar on emotional and intuitive levels. Neoclassical (like the White House), Georgian, Colonial Revival, and Greek Revival styles are examples of traditional architecture derived from classical design.
Modern architecture serves as the third cornerstone. By departing from all precedent and employing contemporary materials in a minimal and functional method, modern design delivers many unique styles of houses. The Craftsman theme is one of the earliest modern types, as are Prairie, Ranch and Art Deco. Mid-century modern is considered a particular style of contemporary architecture. The mixture of modern into vernacular or traditional architecture delivers hybrids of styles that may have similar forms or similar details. The term "transitional" implies a combination of traditional and modern design.
These three cornerstones of architecture influence design and overlap each other in contemporaneous American culture. Though there are styles that fall outside of these three categories, such as Gothic or organic architecture, the most common styles built in the United States fall within 1) Traditional, 2) Modern, or 3) Mediterranean categories. Mediterranean roots in the vernacular category deriving from localized conventional design. Architecture rooted in Classical design fits under Traditional. Modern design now transcends a century, and the connotation of "modern" begins to blur as time progresses.
The Neoclassical White House represents a relationship to Classical architectural roots established thousands of years ago and continued through tradition. Modern architecture shifts with innovation producing new fashions. Vernacular architecture delivers simple solutions from the consensus within its region. All styles, trends, and categories are important, fascinating, and fun. Every genre deserves celebration, replication, and improvement. Let us respect and allow each to promote their unique traits so that they continue to provide a rich and diverse experience for future generations.