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Vernacular form in an urban context; a preliminary ivestigation of facade elements in Vancouver housing Holdsworth, Derek William

Abstract

Visible facade elements are important in the assessment of the age of residential structures. In this study a classificatory procedure is developed in which reference to combination of critical facade elements enable a house to be categorized according to its period of construction and also to be assigned a vernacular label. The case study is placed in the Kitsilano area of Vancouver, Canada. The housing forms of a community (other than a rural or primitive level) have often not been given the attention they deserve in relation to their numbers or their potential contribution to an understanding of the evolution of the North American urban landscape. Examination of architectural histories indicated a pre-occupation with prestigious and monumental architecture rather than the vernacular. In addition, the few general styles embrace too wide a period for use in areas of recent growth, and are not Immediately transferable to Vancouver which has only eighty-five years of building and a distinctive cultural history. Geographers who have attempted similar taxonomic exercises found that style alone was an insufficient basis for classification it was necessary to identify the variations of the salient characteristics of the styles. Therefore, a detailed description and classification of four elements - window style, roof lines, porch and entrance appearance, and external cover material - provided the basis for the identification of vernacular styles and their construction periods, A regression of actual year of construction against the four facade elements indicated their relative importance but did not yield weightings by which the individual year of construction could be consistently recognised. However, particular element sub-types appeared to be associated with general time periods, and time period boundaries based on building cycles in Vancouver were imposed on the data to examine the association of each, sub-type with particular years. Significant overlaps across the time boundaries prevented the allocation of individual facade element sub-types to discrete time periods; however, examination of the distribution of combination of three elements - window, roof, and entrance - indicated the concentration of the majority of houses in relatively few combination of element sub-types. A two-tier classification emerged, in which precise clusters of combinations based upon a roof sub-type core accounted for the majority of occurrences in specific time periods. By amalgamating adjacent clusters, the overlap of element sub-types from one small time period to another disappeared in a more general grouping. Using the architectural labels, the various three-element combination could be conveniently described, and their time-popularity assessed for the Vancouver case. The styles were: Swiss Chalet (1910-1918) and Bungalow Proper (1912-1925) equal Bungaloid (1912-1925); and Cottage-like (1926-1938) and Boxes (1938-1945) equal Bijou (1926-1945). Other architectural labels were then added to this basic grouping, with the place of Queen Anne, Sastlake, and Cubic Styles suggested for earlier Vancouver housing, together with the contributions of modern developments in split-level, ranch style and apartment design. Overlaps found in the examination of specific sub-type time spans could be explained through stylistic transitions from one style to another, since it was recognized that very few styles command a period In absolute terms. A summary description of the styles was presented, and also suggestions for increasing the resolution of the classification. Finally, potential uses of the key were suggested, focusing on three main topics where models of urban social structure might be tested: the impact of transportation technology on in fill patterns and process; the spatial pattern of different housing qualities to indicate differential mobility and status in various time periods; and structural modifications as a measure of changing land use and as an outward manifestation of the cultural mix of occupants. Mention is made of the classification's possible role in creating awareness of the everyday urban environment, and also its important value as a more objective approach to a theme in cultural geography where the use of artifacts as a data source has been venerable to criticisms that they were based on subjective interpretations.

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