Quoins on the shop floor

Selection of embellishments for sale. (laurelbeminteriors.com)

Selection of embellishments for sale. (laurelbeminteriors.com)

There are many categories of architecture porn. (I hasten to say that’s a good thing.) One of my favorites is long lists in prose of ornamentation. So I was, shall we say, charmed to read architect Joel Pidel’s recent thread begun this afternoon on the TradArch list. It was soon joined by architect Michael Rouchell, and then by Andrès Duany, the guru of the New Urbanism. I will simply quote passages from this marvelous set of ruminations on how ornament could be sold. By the way, joining the TradArch list is free, and if you are into architecture, it is lovely to lurk and luxuriate in what these erudite folks spout out. But these are not just archiporn but genuinely good ideas. (And, I see, not from TradArch but from the Urbanist list, which I’d never heard of. I myself am alson on the Pro-Urb list) Long may this thread unspool! A quoin, by the way, is a segment of stone, brick or wood used in traditional design to reinforce the exterior corner of a building.

First there’s this idea from Joel:

I’ve had a couple pragmatic ideas for disseminating classical architecture and its details more broadly in the every day world, say for the mid-level and builder price market rather than the high or luxury end.  Somewhere between the home depot price point and the custom higher end.  There are pros and cons to these, but based on this discussion was thinking Tradarch might a good place to pool resources and ideas for such an undertaking, or criticism and derision.  I’m sure these are not “original” to myself but have probably occurred to others as well, and perhaps they are just not feasible and that is why they haven’t been done.

1) Classical autocad/revit/sketchup package.  This would be a resource put together by traditional and classical architects/designers that mid-level builders/contractors/designers could purchase with their computer based drafting software.  It would consist of a vast library of scalable classical and traditional elements: orders, columns, standing and running trim, balusters, construction details, etc.  If desired, it could even include standard traditional house typologies in plan/section/elevation as templates.  All of which, of course, could be modified as necessary.  This is already being done piecemeal, I know, by various offices who now have their own collection of details and such.  If we harnessed this for a more modest means market, it would have the benefit of increasing the quality of the low end of design, where architects are often not even involved, but admittedly would also turns it into a kit of parts.

2) Develop a parameter-based molding series generator and partner with a company that can mass produce these moldings for the lower end or spec market (think slightly customized Home Depot).  Insert period/style, room dimensions, limit conditions, hierarchical importance and a set of properly proportioned and scaled molding options for crowns, bases, rails, etc., are generated for selection and order.

Admittedly, these are more along the lines of Andrès’ ideas for mass production and have implications for the “local/handmade/artisan” market if the intent is to promote this more effectively, so I’m not sure to what extent it’s a Catch-22.

Then there’s this from Michael:

I think that this is a good idea.

I have always thought that window manufacturers should team up with shutter manufacturers so that they could offer complete window & shutter packages, sizes all coordinated, and perhaps easy enough to specify rather than going with the fixed “shutters.”
 
Perhaps entrance door/pilaster/entablature/pediment packages where the pilasters, doors, transoms and entablatures or pediments are all interchangeable.  There is some of this available off the shelf, but nothing that is properly detailed and proportioned.

And finally, from Andrès:

Joel, here is an analogy. Forgive the prices. They are probably 10 years out of date, which is the last time I was involved in buildings that had a choice – I have only done affordable housing since.

Sherwin-Williams has some 2,000 colors they sell for $24 a gallon. Ralph Lauren has 30 colors that sell for $45 a gallon. They’re both made of Sherwin-Williams paints and sold at Sherwin-Williams stores. Why are we paying more? Because somebody was selecting the good ones for us. So what your vast catalog (which is a necessary idea) requires is not in the enormous amount of everything, but a  judicious selection of a few good normal things at different price levels. To use [architect and historian John] Massengale’s categories, there would be good, better and best. We have at DPZ [his firm] several families of windows that make our façades look great within minutes. They really can’t miss. I would very much like to contribute to this endeavor with whatever we have. Also the manufacturers will listen to us and build only the good ones if  we approach them with great numbers.

Ahhhh!

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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