by Jan Olson
How and where we live reflect the cultural values we hold. In fact, the architecture of homes and buildings and even landscapes are really expressions of a community – Our Place. We live in an old neighbourhood near the centre of the city nestled between a great river valley and a magical ravine. Think about what those values are and how they are expressed.
Community as Memory
According to architect Peter Zumthor, the beautiful thing about architecture is that it can “tap into” an occupant’s past meaningful experiences through their senses and their emotions. Architecture also has the power to set the stage for occupants to create new meaningful experiences — and memory plays a key role in helping to make all of this possible.
From individual memory to collective memory, architecture can impact what and how we remember. An architect’s design might make the most of “suggestible” memories by creating built forms that help to “preserve” a memory— like home style, for instance. On the other hand, architecture can bring new meaning into our present as well. Architecture uses human memory to help occupants both “do” and “learn”. Yet, what occupants probably remember most are the meaning, sense and emotion that an environment helped provide. Perhaps it is out of these qualities that a truly great work of architecture can help someone make a decision or even impact a culture.
The Home As Basic Building Block of Community
Hestia, Greek Goddess of the sacred fire, was once known as “Chief of the Goddesses” and “Hestia, First and Last”. She was the most influential and widely revered of the Greek goddesses. Her symbol, the circle, represents elements that relate closely to community and the built landscape. As in many cultures around the world the circle signifies the centre of home and hearth, the basic elements that create community. As the Goddess of Architecture, Hestia envisioned that homes be built from the core outwards, with the center holding a hearth that contained her sacred flame. This vision of a house captures the concept of home- a place where body, mind and spirit, are replenished and cared for. Home also includes a place where relationships are built and expanded upon, thus creating a community. This idea can be extended to the larger neighbourhood, where we celebrate, play, learn, and discuss affairs in another home- our Community League buildings.
Architecture and Tradition
Architecture takes into account the history of an area and what direction a neighbourhood may take into the future. Traditional architecture represents the historic styles popular in a community. Homes found in communities that are over 100 years old, like ours, maintain the structure of building heights, the layout of lots and home plans, and front street presentation. These elements even carried forward in new construction, tying the present to the past and maintaining a community’s tradition. This can create a continuity and consistency in the community. Residents and visitors easily understand an area by looking at the style of the buildings and landscape. In our community there is a great respect for the heritage homes and the beautiful energy of history radiating from them.
Many of these traditional homes create a sense of calmness and consistency throughout the community without large departures from the traditions and heritage. This is similar to other prairie towns laid out on grid roads with north south alignments. Someone from the prairies quickly understands the nature of the form and can easily move through the town. Another example is the construction of kitchens, which have a similar flow, and visitors guess correctly where the cutlery or glasses are held. This familiarity creates a connection between person and form and allows for familiarity, feelings of ease, and belonging.
Styles of Neighbourhood Houses
According to the 2012 City of Edmonton Municipal Status census, 15% of residences in this area were built before 1946. Over half the residences (52.6%) were built during the 1960s and 1970s.This is mainly due to a large amount of construction of low rise apartments near or on Whyte Avenue and 99th St. and high rise apartments around Saskatchewan Drive in the 1960s, 70s, and 1980s.
In spite of that building boom, the area, especially around Mill Creek or just off 99 St, is still home to many old genuine character homes. The number is dwindling, however, because some of these houses are being torn down and replaced with new infill housing.
Almost half of the residences (44%) are apartments in low-rise buildings of fewer than five stories. A number of these are owner occupied condominiums while others are rented. Another one in four residences (25%) are apartments in high-rise buildings with five or more stories. Roughly one in three high-rise apartments are owner occupied condominiums with the remaining two in three being rented. Just over one in four (28%) are single-family dwellings. The remaining 3% of residences are a mixture of duplexes, row houses, rooming houses and other types of residence.
The Traditional Home in the Community: Foursquare House
During Victorian times, the fashion was to build houses that were complex and often highly ornamented. Homes of the 1880s and 1890s often had irregular rooflines with several gables, asymmetrical arrangements of windows and doors, and complicated floor plans that required many hallways and stairways. Frank Lloyd Wright and other popular Chicago architects rebelled against the fussiness of Victorian-era architecture early in the 1900s. Seeking simplicity, they pioneered a new breed of housing designed to blend in with flat, prairie landscapes. At the same time economics and a different value system pushed homebuilders to find easier and more
economical forms of houses.
The budget-conscious and simple designs were reflected in the foursquare house style that became practical for mail order kits from Sears, Aladdin and other catalogue companies. The kit came in a boxcar with a book of directions and all the parts pre-cut and numbered for self-assembly (something like IKEA, but on a grander scale). These houses are particularly common in neighborhoods near rail-lines. Between 1908 and 1940, Sears Roebuck sold 75,000 pre-fabricated houses in 370 designs. Foursquare designs were in the company’s 20 best- selling house designs.
The boxy form made these houses especially practical for narrow city lots. The foursquare is typically a two-and-a-half-story house on a full basement, with a monitor dormer (a dormer with a roof-line that mirrors the primary roof) in the attic. Most foursquares have pyramidal hip roofs (which come to a peak in the center). Front porches span the full width of the house, with two, three or four simple columns supporting the porch roof. From the front, many foursquares are symmetrical with a center front door and equal groupings of windows on either side, upstairs and downstairs. Others have an offset front door but with upstairs windows being perfectly or nearly symmetrical.
Some of the homes exteriors were built with plain or sculpted cinder block, brick or stucco, but most are frame, with clapboard or shingles. Frame foursquares may have different sidings on the upper and lower walls. Clapboard is a favored siding material for the first story with cedar shingles on the upper story, and a beltcourse delineating the different materials. Dining rooms often feature a bay window to break up the straight lines of the house.
Arranging the rooms in quadrants eliminated the need for long hallways and made efficient use of every square inch of interior space. The interior of an American Foursquare house echoes its box-like form. Typically, each floor contains four rooms, one neatly tucked into each corner. On the first floor you will find an entry foyer, living room, dining room, and kitchen. The second floor is an orderly arrangement of three bedrooms and, in one corner, a bathroom.
The basic four-plus-four floor plan was often modified. In some cases, the living room occupied half of the ground floor. In others, the ground floor was extended to accommodate the kitchen and pantry. The bathroom was located on the second floor—assuming, of course, the owner wanted one. In one early Sears plan, the space was labeled “toilet or store room.”
There are also stylistic differences. If, homeowners wanted some frills to enliven the functional and efficient floor plan. Builders could add some decoration, which offered a range of architectural styles. For instance, adding bay windows (especially in the dining room), small towers or gingerbread house trim was known as a Queen Anne style; stucco siding and a porch with stone columns and roof parapets represented the Mission style; white clapboard siding and black shutters, pediments or porticos is usually identified as a Colonial Revival; or exposing roof rafters, beamed ceilings, built in cabinetry, and handcrafted wood work was known as a Craftsman. The house could also be a combination of some of these architectural styles. Really, the Foursquare could be adapted to the builder’s wishes.
Today, these uncomplicated, solidly built homes continue to express the practical values many residents share. While they are not the only architectural form of practicality, they do provide comfortable, space-efficient housing for mostly middle-class families. Stroll through our century-old neighborhood and you’ll find they’re easy to spot. From the sidewalk, you will see a cube-shaped structure with a pyramidal roof and central dormer. There is often a wide one-story porch, too.
See how many different styles you can find.
The word bungalow derives from the Gujarati word bangalo and hindi bangle meaning “low thatched home”. It is used to describe the houses of the bengalese, or “house in the Bengal style.” The style (and word) made its way to Canada via Britain and the United States, where it came to mean a detached one (and-a-half) storey dwelling with gentle sloping gables and often designed to have a verandah. Bungalows came in various shapes and forms, but small size, simplicity and economy generally characterized the style.
In our community, the most common form of bungalow, with all of its many versions is the California bungalow. This design plan was rectangular in form with the narrowest side oriented toward the street. A variety of exterior materials are employed including clapboard, shingles, and stucco (sometimes mixed with glass). There are often lattice roof vents in the gable ends. Later on, when cars and buses replaced the quieter horse drawn vehicles, residents closed in the porch to create a more relaxed space. Due to its popularity amongst working class families and small builders the Californian Bungalow became the typical house style in the 1920s and 1930s. Residences were generally modest in size and detailing, which made them affordable and efficient to heat in the winter.
During the inter-war years, development in Edmonton slowed considerably. However, the 99th St. community experienced an unexpected amount of infill development, especially during the late 1920s and early 1930s. The style of residential infill varied, but the Arts and Crafts style continued to influence the design of many of the bungalows that were built during this period. Albertan bungalows are single-level wooden structures, typically less than 1,000 square feet (93 m2), and normally feature a detached garage facing onto a back alley, a single bathroom, two or three bedrooms, an eat-in kitchen, and a small living room. In many styles the focal point of the living room is the fireplace, and the living room often has a broad opening into a separate dining room. Sears and Roebuck carried numerous plans from the 1908 to the thirties. The most popular styles in our neighbourhood are the Plymouth, Riverside, Fair Oaks, Hartford, Detroit, Brentwood, Collingwood, Manchester, Somers, Solace, Somerset, Rosita, Shelbourne and Argyll.
Modern Style Bungalow
This style was very common after the war, in the 1950’s. It is a modern variation of the earlier Craftsman Bungalow Style. The roofs have a lower pitch. The eaves are broad. The windows are larger and the detailing is simpler. The exterior was generally stucco (mixed with glass), often with some yellow brick accents. This style was similar in size and had the typical floor plan to previous house styles of the area. It was, however, characterized by a marked simplification of external features.
A raised bungalow is one in which the basement is partially above ground. The benefit is that more light can enter the basement with above ground windows in the basement. Anyone who has rented a basement unit in Edmonton knows how important light is, especially during the winter months.
While I do not have the space to show all of these plans you can simply go on line to http://www.arts-crafts.com/archive/sears/ to see many of the styles represented. While not all bungalows were built with kits, you can try to identify some of the popular kit styles throughout the neighbourhood.
One of the beautiful aspects of older communities like ours is the variety in house design. Different housing designs and sizes create a community that can support various levels of mobility and family size. For instance, bungalows are very convenient for the homeowner in that all living areas are on a single story and there are no stairs between living areas. Also, a bungalow can support a small or young family, a couple with no children or a single person. As property values have skyrocketed, developers have been purchasing particularly the old bungalows and replacing them with luxury duplexes, or two-story modern style homes. I hope that we do not lose the flavour of a diverse community, which can be exemplified through its architecture.
Modern architecture is showing up in pockets around the 99th street area. Many of the old houses which are no longer viable to live in are being torn down and the lots open to new development. To potential homeowners, developers list such infill development advantages:
1. Neighbourhood revitalization (social and physical renewal), may improve property values as it eliminates vacant lots and/or abandoned buildings and creates incentive for current owners to up-grade their property. Infills often give people the opportunity to move closer to areas they may have grown up in, keeping them closer to family and friends. Living in the hub of activity and living in communities with old trees add to a great cultural attachment. One does not necessarily need a car in the urban centre.
2. Makes better use of existing City infrastructure, public facilities and services. Infill development concentrates development in areas where infrastructure is already established – such as public transit, sewer and water. Infills usually are located in close proximity to necessary amenities like shopping, entertainment, restaurants and schools.
3. More housing options and increased affordability. Infill development also provides a greater range of housing types, which can increase the appeal of the neighbourhood.
4. A more financially and environmentally sustainable city. Mature trees, generous green spaces, and an interesting contrast of old and new in a variety of architectural forms, add a unique perspective to the urban environment. Some newer developed areas seem to offer a monolithic repetition of the same product type reflecting a single time period.
More new homes are being built in Edmonton’s older neighbourhoods, but the city remains a long way from its inner city development target. The City of Edmonton wants 25 per cent of all new development to occur in older neighbourhoods by 2020.
Opponents to the infills are excited about the revitalization of the neighbourhoods, but are not as happy with the construction style. I found this blog from a person who lives in a close inner neighourhood here in Edmonton:
“As a person who lives in a mature neighbourhood I have some concerns with infill development. I understand that some of the existing housing stock in older neighbourhoods is too far gone to be saved. However, most of these homes are solidly built and have the potential for many, many decades of use ahead of them. Demolition and replacement is not the answer in most cases. The reuse, renovation, restoration and possible even expansion of existing homes should be encouraged. Most older homes are built with a greater degree of craftsmanship than is found in residential housing today. New [infill] homes look like they have been transplanted directly from the ‘burbs. They are all two or three storey structures with bland designs that bear no resemblance to the existing architectural character of the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood is becoming a dynamic neighbourhood populated by young families with children. I want to see older neighbourhoods, including mine, to continue on this path to revitalization. However, the wanton destruction of existing houses and home designs that show a total lack of imagination or craftsmanship is not the answer. We have an opportunity to create dynamic urban neighbourhoods. Let’s not waste it by creating a collection of boring inner city suburbs filled with massive, unwelcoming front-facing garages instead.”
A compromise might be to consider the wonderful creativity of modern eco friendly housing that establishes a point of conversation. Often these homes are very unique in styling and in colour which correlates with the personality of the area. In the avenues you will find that there is diversity in house style, but that practicality still reigns in the construction. The following comments support the movement of architectural homes in older neighbourhoods.
Can you find these houses in the neighbourhood?
A portion of the San Jose historic design guidelines that addresses the role of modern architecture in older neighborhoods:
“Rather than imitating older buildings, a new design should relate to the traditional design characteristics of a neighborhood while also conveying the stylistic trends of today. New construction may do so by drawing upon some basic building features — such as the way in which a building is located on its site, the manner in which it relates to the street and its basic mass, form and materials — rather than applying detailing which may or may not have been historically appropriate. When these design variables are arranged in a new building to be similar to those seen traditionally in the area, visual compatibility results. Therefore, it is possible to be compatible with the historic context while also producing a design that is distinguishable as being newer.”
Scott Greider, architect, on his personal blog site:
“A modern-style home can be a wonderfully contrasting complement to a historic neighborhood. It certainly beats decay and vacant lots, and it also beats a hundred suburban neo-Colonials with three-car garages in front. The style of the structure is not the main point. Urbanism is site plan more than architecture. If you bring the house close to the sidewalk, put the parking or garage in the back and make the front wall permeable (that is, not a blank wall), you are strengthening a neighborhood, no matter the style of architecture. Cutting edge architecture can be breathtaking under many circumstances, and when juxtaposed in older neighbourhood surroundings with ravines and an old tree canopy, it can become magical.”
1) Peter Zumthor: Peter Zumthor Transcends Time with Kolumba Art Museum IRT/AR, Department of Interior Architecture, Rhode Island School of Design. Vol 4
2) David Murray, Ken Tingley and Don Luxton, “Historical and Architectural Assessment of the Houses in East Campus Village, University of Alberta,” September, 2003
3) Scott Greider: http://en.wordpress.com/tag/scott-greider/, retrieved June 8, 2013
4) Rebecca Hunter. Mail-Order Homes: Sears Homes and Other Kits. Shire. March 2012.
5) Catherine Wade. Wartime Housing Limited, 1941-1947 an overview and evaluation of Canada’s first national housing corporation. University of British Columbia. School of Community and Regional Planning. 1984
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