Modern Infill in Historic Neighborhood

wooten front elev

arch street view

wooten corner view

arch & 13th street view

Above is a single-family residence we designed for review and approval in an historic district in Little Rock, Arkansas.  We submitted for a design review permit to the Capitol Zoning District Commission and the staff report can be downloaded here 1300 S. Arch 9-1-10. Based on our client’s needs and desires, we proposed a modern interpretation of a dogtrot prototype.

Historically, the dogtrot house consisted of two equal one story rooms on either side of a central hall joined by a common gable roof.  The dogtrot was named by early observers who saw the purpose of the passage as an animal shelter – a place where dogs could run through the house.  This type was prevalent in the South, where the passage also functioned as a shady breezeway where meals could be taken in hot weather.  Richard Hulan in an article for Pioneer America wrote: “The true dogtrot house is not so much a way of framing space as a way of living in space.”  Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn described a dogtrot as, “It was a double house, and a big, open place betwixt them was roofed and floored, and sometimes the table was set there in the middle of the day, and it was cool, comfortable place.”

When approaching this type of house and its relationship to the site, the view through the opening (void) onto the landscape of gardens to the south and to an historic cemetery to the north that dates back to 1843, emphasizes the center of gravity of the house.  It is the clarity of the opening or void which distinguishes this simple scheme and is an emblem of its character.

Not only is the form important, but also the relationship of the form to the street, the block and the neighborhood.  We  located the building within the setbacks established by the historic district as well as took into consideration the rhythm and pattern of the existing historic housing along the street.  We tend to agree with Steve Luoni, Director of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center on this thought, “From my point of view the most important considerations for establishing compatibility involve relationships more than materials (both bad and good buildings are made from brick for instance). Relationships would be considered at different scales: the block, street and property parcel.”

Regarding materials, we proposed the use of coated metal for the exterior finish of the roof and exterior walls. Metal is a great product that has been used for decades and we have written about the benefits in our other posts, “Metal roofs with ecological benefits” and “Metal roofs/tax credits”.  Historically, this material was used on roofs, but is less common as a wall material.  However, vertical siding similar to board and batten is represented in the historic district and we thought this approach was complimentary.

During the presentation to the Design Review Committee, Mansion Area Advisory Committee and the Capital Zoning District Commissioners, the conversation revolved around the proposed metal material and discussion about whether or not metal is an approved material for the exterior walls in an historic district.  To some, metal need not be considered, instead Hardiplank horizontal siding.  But to the majority, the metal was seen as an appropriate use of material for the exterior walls.

To conclude this blog:

“Preservation is not about freezing time and ensuring all buildings never change, and places never evolve. In fact it is just the opposite. Preservation helps people understand the evolution. By maintaining older buildings, a place suddenly has a visible history that you can read by simply walking down the street.  Preservation ensures that the city reads with multiple layers of history, rather than solely new development. Attempting to reproduce historic styles in new modern materials and forms is not only confusing, but can also quickly go wrong. Simply put, slapping on a set of columns and decorative ornamentation does not magically create history.” – excerpts from “Will the Preservation Ordinance Stifle Modern Architects?”

Stay tuned for photos during construction.

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