While architectural styles contribute to the richness
and understanding of historic places, stylistic features were often applied
to basic building forms rather than being integral to their original design.
These basic building forms the side-gabled rowhouse or flat-roofed
rowhouse, for examples are the fundamental elements that give historic
architecture and historic districts their character. Therefore, when proposed
changes to existing buildings or proposed new buildings in a historic
setting are evaluated, the qualities of the basic building forms and materials
are more significant than the applied stylistic features.
To preserve the individual buildings, the architectural
character of each structure must be identified and either maintained or
restored. To preserve a historic district, the architectural character
of each proposed new structure must be compatible with neighboring historic
buildings. The architectural character of a building refers to the qualities
of massing, scale, proportion, order, rhythm, and materials. This chapter
defines these qualities.
A. Massing Massing, also referred to as architectural form,
is the overall volumetric shape of a building. The massing of a building
may be described as large or small, simple or complex (Figure
23). It is defined by the exterior walls, roof shapes (Figure
24), and appendages such as porches, projecting bays, towers, and
cupolas. In a historic district, massing is the single most important
characteristic to consider in the evaluation of proposed additions and
new construction. A large new building set in a context of uniform-size
historic building blocks is visually disruptive because the continuity
of the historical pattern is broken. Roof-form is important only where
the roof is visible from the street. On Gay Street, for example, roofs
are typically concealed by a front parapet wall and are not important,
while on South Church Street, roof-forms are highly visible and contribute
significantly to the shape of a building (Figure
B. Scale Scale in architecture is a measure of the relative
size of a building or building component in relation to a known unit of
measure or customary size for such a component. A person evaluates how
large a building or building component is in relation to the human body
size and his or her memory of the expected size for such a component.
For example, a sense of the size of a brick building can be established
because of the size of a brick (Figure
25). Bricks typically can be held in a persons hand and thus,
when assembled, can be used to evaluate the overall height and width of
a building. Doors and windows, like bricks, are scale-giving features.
Doors are typically slightly higher than the height of a tall person,
or roughly seven feet high. Double-hung sash windows in historic buildings
are typically five or six feet tall, or just shorter than a tall person.
If the size or shape of a familiar building component diverges from the
expected, it may be said to be out of scale.
The principle of scale applies both to individual buildings
and to streetscapes. In an urban setting, where each building forms a
part of a larger streetscape, building scale is of paramount importance.
In the West Chester Historic District, the typical building block
that makes up street after street is a three-story high, three-bay wide
brick box (Figure
26). Historic buildings may be larger or smaller than this unit, but
this form predominates. In the hierarchy of social order in a community,
prominent buildings such as courthouses, churches, and banks differentiate
themselves by contrasting with the predominating building form.
The perceived scale of any proposed building or addition
is a function of 1) the overall size of the proposed new construction
relative to existing building sizes, and 2) the visual relationship of
building facade elements in the new construction relative to the visual
relationship of building facade elements in existing buildings.
Outdoor spaces, formed by the buildings, fences, and
vegetation that surround them, also have scale. The historic retail streetscape,
with its uniform walls of building facades, awnings, street trees, brick
sidewalks, lamp posts, and narrow street is of a human scale. The large
parking lot, in contrast, lacks a human scale. When buildings are set
back from the street, and are fronted with entrance drives and parking
lots, they are scaled to the automobile, not the human.
The scale of buildings in a traditional town creates
a clear hierarchy of building significance. In West Chester, the county
seat of Chester County, the Courthouse should and does visually predominate.
Next in terms of scale are the churches and bank buildings along High
C. Proportion Proportion in architecture is the relationship among
the dimensions of the various building elements and the individual features
to each other. Architectural harmony is achieved in a building facade
when facade elements are proportional to each other and to the overall
facade: The purpose of proportion is to establish harmony throughout
the structure - a harmony which is made comprehensible either by the conspicuous
use of one or more of the [classical] orders as dominant components or
else simply by the use of dimensions involving the repetition of simple
ratios. (John Summerson, The Classical Language of Architecture,
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1963, page 8.)
One of the oldest systems of proportion was the Golden
Section, which was devised in ancient Greece (Figure
28). The Golden Section, which is a rectangle with a width to length
ratio of about 5:8, is formed when the diagonal of a square is dropped
as an arc. The resulting proportions are an ideal ratio in western art
In architecture, the use of repeated proportions creates
a harmony in a building facade (Figure
29). The overall shape of the facade is repeated in facade elements
such as doors and windows.
D. Order Order in architecture is the arrangement and relationships
of parts of a building. A symmetrical building facade one where
a center door is flanked by an equal number of windows on each side of
the door is highly ordered. The east facade of the Courthouse is
highly ordered - literally of the orders; that is, its order
is derived from a strict application of the Corinthian Order taken from
classical architecture. Windows that align vertically are ordered; their
placement is based on a rational structural and visual order. An asymmetrical
facade is less formal than a symmetrical facade, but may also be highly
ordered. For example, the facade of a side-hall rowhouse has an arrangement
of vertically aligning door and window openings that directly relate to
the arrangement of hall and rooms inside (Figure
E. Rhythm Rhythm in architecture is the pattern and spacing
of repeating elements such as windows, columns, arches, and other facade
31). Almost all buildings are made of elements that repeat themselves
alternating vertical bands of brick wall and windows, alternating
horizontal bands of brick wall and windows, for examples. The spacing
of buildings in a historic streetscape creates a rhythm also.
F. Building Materials The historic buildings of the West Chester Historic
District are constructed of traditional building materials brick,
occasionally stone, painted wood, and slate or metal roofing. The repeated
use of these traditional materials along the streets of West Chester creates
an architectural cohesiveness and harmony that gives the district much
of its distinctive character.