Why no windows or doors?

Drawing for conceptual approval of house at 67 Williams St. “Look, Ma! No windows!” (Shed)

Not long after neighborhood opposition prevailed over insensitive development proposals for historic Fox Point and College Hill in Providence, a new developer and a different architect have arisen to propose a new house on the vacant land just east of the adorable Italianate cottage at issue last summer.

The proposed new house is large but not, it seems to me, large enough to cause dismay among the neighbors. The house just east of it is considerably larger, and the cottage to its west is much smaller, even with the addition. Neighborhood opposition blocked a modernist addition this past summer, delaying the process for months and months; the developer threw up his hands and compelled his architect, the celebrated Friedrich St. Florian, to design an addition much more traditional than the architect desired. Up until then, his designs kept getting more and more modernist, though he must have known of the neighborhood’s desire for a house that fit in, or “harmonized,” with its historical character.

That is the natural feeling of neighbors who have invested considerable amounts to live amid that air of history, and, in so doing, themselves become agents of change, change that either contributes to history or rejects it. And most prefer the former category. They would no more want to change their house in a way that seems to reject history than they would want to live next to a house that degrades the beauty of the block they live on. For example, they would never put solar panels on their roof. How gauche!

Well, the house proposed for the lot at 67 Williams St. is pictured atop this post. It has the lines of a traditional house, but it has no doors or windows. You don’t believe me? Look at the illustration, from Shed Studio, in Cambridge. There are no doors or windows! How can that be? Initial renderings submitted by an applicant to the Providence Historic District Commission do not normally lack such items. Even St. Florian’s designs had doors and windows at the earliest stages of the design review process. Doors and windows are vital elements of a design, even if it is submitted for merely “conceptual” approval.

How the windows or doors are designed could reveal whether the style of the house is to be traditional or modernist.

One commissioner noted, out loud, that the applicants (Jeff and Karen Hirsch, of Framingham, Mass.), even as they failed to put doors and windows on the renderings, had managed to sketch in elements such as balcony railings, roof cornices, and columns for the front porch and porte cochere. Why?

My general theory of architectural rendering is that drawings nowadays are meant less to convey information about a design than to disguise it. Modernist architects are quite aware that neighbors in historic districts are likely to dislike whatever they propose, so why not put off opposition as long as possible?

Still, it was no surprise that the HDC, which met Monday, voted unanimously to “continue” the application – that is, put off any decision until the applicant drew in the windows and doors and brought them to the commission’s next meeting. Surely the commission grokked the applicants’ strategy before it was deployed. A question worth asking might be why the application was considered acceptable for deliberation without any hint of proposed windows and doors.

I am heartened, however, by the application itself. It reads in part:

The design seeks to be contextual with the neighborhood in terms of size, scale, massing and basic design language.

That’s pretty straightforward, you would think. But words such as context, harmony and the like are subject to manipulation in a legal process, which is frankly what design review in a historic district is.

Still, maybe my cynicism is unwarranted. Do the applicants, when they finally move into their house, want to be hated by the neighbors, or welcomed as new homeowners who understand and accept that experimentation with the look of their venerable environment is no way to make friends. We may expect to find out at the next HDC meeting, scheduled for Monday, Dec. 20., at 4:45 p.m.

All of the houses near the proposed house were drawn without windows or doors. (Shed)

Drawing of the neighborhood along Williams Street shows different house sizes. (Shed)

About David Brussat

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. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am 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 employ my writing and editing to improve your work, 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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10 Responses to Why no windows or doors?

  1. Pingback: Presto! Windows and doors! | Architecture Here and There

  2. LazyReader says:

    If you ever watch Marvel’s MCU movies, in Thor, the architecture of Asgard is burrowed from Frank Lloyd Wright and modernism which ancient facades and design tones and celtic art overlooks.
    Inspired by Byzantine, Islamic, Greek with hints of modernistic proportions and Celtic/Protoclassical. One thing you don’t see, Is windows.
    They possess…..
    – quantum level medical technology
    – Interstellar travel without need of ships
    – Ability to convert neutron star matter into useable objects
    – Anti-gravity technology (Childrens toys)
    – Flying vehicles without combustion engines or need of wings.
    – Directed energy weapons both infantry and stationary.
    – Force fields
    despite this, they still use swords/spears in combat, column style infantry tactics, they have no indoor plumbing as evidence with Thor washing using a basin/pitcher and Thor befuddled by “Phones” or “Electronic Letter” so no instantaneous communications…….

    Since all the buildings inspired by concept art and real buildings

    But we do see, lavish architecture simple but robust even among Common folks
    Public throughfares/streets not dominated by vehicles.


  3. John the First says:

    “For example, they would never put solar panels on their roof.”

    Alleged sustainable energy technologies are typically ugly (if not grotesque), they are also in comparison with fossil fuel based technologies extremely inefficient, so that in order to replace the capacity of the latter with the former, the ugliness of the former would become ubiquitously present. Modernist architecture and technologies imposed because of alleged human cause climate change are two branches of the same tree of incompetence, ignorance and aesthetic barbarism.
    Thus, on the basis of knowledge of fossil fuel science and engineering a traditionalist architect would never choose for solar panels, even if these ghastly ugly things would be produced in a manner which makes them aesthetically pleasing.


    • John the First says:

      To add to the above, one of the main points of criticism of those who are opposed to modernist architecture is that traditional knowledge has been dumped at a fast rate so to favour and impose the modernist views. In the area of energy production though the knowledge which is rapidly dumped is even of much more recent origin, even knowledge of efficient energy engineering gained in the twentieth century is dumped in favour of the new methods of ‘sustainable energy’ production, to enforce the allegedly sustainable energy program (which is all but sustainable, as sustainable as modernist architecture..).


  4. John the First says:

    “Up until then, his designs kept getting more and more modernist, though he must have known of the neighborhood’s desire for a house that fit in, or “harmonized,” with its historical character.”

    Typical of democracy, the architect’s ego by means of democratic ‘individualist freedom’ (read: democratic licentiousness) and the accompanying constant need for destruction (every individual wants to rule) wants to assert itself over tradition. In the area of thought we arrive then at the production of sophistry (which first got it’s negative connotation during Athenian democracy, modernist architects are modern democratic sophists).

    “Maybe I’m wrong that the illustration has no windows. Maybe the whole house is a window, which would answer Mr. Mark (above) query about the nudists.”

    The above sophistry which mister Brussat uses to make fun is one of those types of arguments which democratic modernist sophism (read: imbecile nonsense) could easily entertain in a serious manner. Hence, the sophism is contagious, even when used to make fun of things.

    The conservative part of the democracy ever sticks to the old, which brings them the scorn of modernists (not unjustifiable). Hence, democratic society is not ever able to move on through synthesis (combining the old and the new), but like Oscar Wilde wrote, the two parties engage in an endless war of parties which stand for total destruction and those sticking to the old.

    The game is essentially predictable, that the underlying typical ‘patterns of democracy’ are not recognized is a matter of the all ruling religion of democracy and it’s untouchable holy creeds and dogmas.

    The democracy is in lack of a Pericles as far as the conservatives are concerned, perhaps Trump came a bit close, but he had been forced out of the building.


  5. Arthur Mark says:

    They’re clearly nudists who haven’t figured out yet how to get in the house. Suggestions?
    Arthur Mark


  6. LazyReader says:

    I’m Sure they’ll get the contemporary window treatment.
    1: The sure and tried “Wright” esque windows

    2: WIndows inspired by Japanese house

    3: The pane-less with no divider

    4: the post industrial fabricated slots

    5: The “Zoo”

    6: My favorite, the ‘Transparent prison”



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