Potent rowhouse poetics

Stylistic diversity among rowhouses in Chicago. (Courtesy of Timothy Vaughn)

Stylistic diversity among rowhouses in Chicago. (Courtesy of Timothy Vaughn)

The three sets of rowhouses that I posted in “Survey: Your preferred row” a couple of days ago elicited from William Carroll Westfall among the most evocative lines I’ve read on the differences among types of architecture. He refers to a row of modernist townhouses in Amsterdam, another row of proposed “bad trad” townhouses in Brooklyn, and finally a row of classical townhouses in Boston. (Click on link above if you need to remind yourself of what they look like.) Bill left his poetry in my comment box, so I raise it to the status of a blog post (lofty indeed!) so more can revel in its beauty:

The first example forgot to put the façades on the buildings, and they fail to smile at the public. The second example forgets that wallpaper does not make a façade. It smiles to the public but there is no respect for the public in that smile. The third, in Boston, gets it right. It faces the public with a display of architecture’s mastery of materials to give the buildings substance and a sense that this is a serious place worthy of enduring buildings. It also recognizes that not all people and not all families are the same: some of those buildings are SROs, others are flats.

Townhouse in Chicago by Timothy Vaughn.

Townhouse in Chicago by Timothy Vaughn.

My original intention was to illustrate the classical townhouses with the work of Chicago architect Timothy LeVaughn, but the Boston townhouses were easier to get at quickly (and of course speed is a priority in architectural punditry). So then I had hoped to substitute the Boston townhouses with a set of his Chicago townhouses, except that, he says, his townhouses are not connected in the conventional row-house manner. He sent some extraordinary shots – including the one at left – but up top I place a set from Chicago that he suggested as an excellent example from Chicago. The one by Vaughn at left is simply stunning in its beauty. Looking at it is its own reward.

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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