The Importance of Building Earnest
August 2006

From the 1860s, the ideals of a modest country house in Victorian England grew out from the rejection of industrialization and urban growth towards a more rural life as a model for social reform. It became a symbol of harmony between man and nature, an influential idea that carried much significance to a generation of artistic designers such as Philip Webb, Richard Norman Shaw, C.F.A. (Charles Francis Annesley) Voysey, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyrd Wright.

Idealized rural communities were created to inspire a collaboration between painters, architects, craftsmen and builders for the revival of English domestic architecture. The agricultural slump of 1879-94 led to an economic downfall and a decline in the demand for the working estate country house. The demand for the modest country house, with extensive grounds that comprise mostly of gardens and woodland, continued to be on the rise.

With their asymmetrical and long sloping roofs, Dutch gables, diapered (decorative) brickwork, half-timbering, and tall chimneys, the country houses made an honest attempt to depart from the grand-scaled homes of the predominant Beaux-Arts Style around that period.

Mid-19th century English vernacular architecture stemmed from the philosophy that the building is rooted in its landscape. The design of the building should be a direct response to the vernacular building techniques and materials of its locality, sound proportions, fine materials and good craftsmanship, honestly expressed. Traditional architecture, from classical to vernacular, teaches us about the authenticity of buildings by understanding proportion, scale, honest use of materials, light and response to the natural site. It is important for the architect to continue to have an understanding of a region's building materials and methods, and how to utilize this knowledge in the construction of today's dwellings, whether traditional or modern. Within economic and functional means, we should attempt to seek the truth in how a building is perceived by respecting the past as much as looking forward with thought-provoking ideas.