A Language to Learn

The starting place to learn the fundamental grammatical rules for communicating clearly with our houses is here with the Classical system of building

Barista Coffee: Making the Perfect Cup of Coffee and Delicious Cakes to Have with It . There is no more thoroughly worked out system of building than the Classical method, and yet for 90% of today’s building profession, from homeowners to architects, it has been forgotten. If we are going to recapture the essence of a timeless house, the Classical language system is one we must relearn.

The Classical system of building conveys an underlying set of principles; principles that defined this country. Thomas Jefferson saw the ideals of harmony, symmetry, honesty and beauty as the beliefs that should ground our country. We need character traits and values that encourage good behavior. We need order, not disorder. We need balance, not imbalance. We need harmony, not chaos. This order, balance and harmony happens in architecture when we understand the most thorough and complete building system ever devised and use it to inspire us.

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The rules for building that we’ll discuss in this blog are not new; they have just been forgotten. Over the last 3,000 years, there were only a few hundred years in the Middle Ages and then recently in the past 60 years that we have not used the Classical system properly. The rise of modernism and production builders is two factors that have caused us to lose sight of how to use this masterful system for building. Today we see parts and pieces of the Classical system everywhere, yet they are being used improperly.

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Correctly Proportioned. Chatsworth Cottage, North Carolina. Design by Christine G.H.Franck, Inc.

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Incorrectly Proportioned

The reason columns look too skinny, pediments are misshapen, keystones make no sense, and dentils are wrong is because we no longer understand how to use the parts and pieces. Instead these elements have become mere symbols of a traditional style. Often they are used to convey importance, class or taste, while in fact they show our ignorance. In one sense we have returned to the Middle Ages in that today our buildings make no sense. We have forgotten the rules, yet continued to use the parts. We are like barbarians trying to speak a language without knowing the rules. Not only do we not know how to make and use the parts, we don’t know where they go.

Learning the language of Classical architecture will give us more words for our vocabulary. It allows us to be more descriptive, more playful, and more original. But first, we must start with understanding the system. One piece of this system is using the human scale to attain beauty in a timeless house, which we’ll discuss next.

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