Rocket Launch – Something strange happens to ones perception of space when approaching a tall house, up a hill, with pointy gables. It starts to feel like one is approaching a rocket launch. I am tempted to start a count down, naming this place “three, two one, lift off house.” The flat facade of the building adds to the effect because there is no intervening element to catch the viewers attention and stop the upward motion. This is reinforced by the driveway wall which also points, behaving like a one point perspective, drawing the viewer’s eye toward some infinite point on the horizon.
Single Visual Element – A bit of academic analysis clearly gives us to understand that, from a design standpoint, the house in the photo really starts at the street. It is one with the driveway; a single visual element, dominated by an extremely strong profile, defined by vertical lines which terminate in arrows pointing skyward. Have you ever driven through a farm town and seen the silos next to a railway? The only thing missing from the photo of the house under consideration is the train.
Transformation by Decoration – Also worth considering is that rows of tall flat facades, springing directly up from sidewalks, show up in residential buildings in places like Paris, Vienna and New York. These buildings are transformed, by dint of decoration. Variations in the size, placement and celebration of openings, add complexity to the extent that one barely realizes they are tall, which begins to suggest that height might be something to cultivate rather than disdain, as I was at first inclined to do.
Why so Awkward? – Likewise I am led to ask, if not the height, then why so awkward? The answer, of course, is that on some level most of us understand that the unity of form and purpose evident in the row house, the silo, and even the rocket is missing in the suburban residence. We end up with what I call a “fusion tract house,” sporting a garage door, a couple of gables, and the arched part of a “Palladian” window, all forced into a shape that does not suit.
Architectural Form – If this home owner were my client I would, without going too far into value judgements, simply ask if this tall silhouette is one that he/she would choose to put in a typical suburban neighborhood in “any-town” USA. If the answer was yes, then I would advise that the homeowner embrace the concept by loosing the “Home Depot” doors, windows, and finishes in favor of a stark functional version, organized to reinforce the architecture. If, on the other hand, the answer was “not so much,” I would recommend either a different site or a different architectural form.
Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED Accredited Professionnal practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design and has a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction. She has many years experience working for well known architects, developers and retailers. In 2011 she started Gaddis Architect an independent practice in Alexandria, VA. In addition, Ms. Gaddis has an interest in residential projects and is the author of “Real People Don’t Hire Architects,” a blog about houses.