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September 15, 2011 / bjh3ev

Vernacular Architecture: Washington, D.C.

After being asked in lecture to describe the vernacular architecture of my hometown, I started to think more about characteristic D.C. architecture and could only come up with national monuments and museums, which don’t really count as representatives of vernacular architecture. So I started doing a bit of research into what styles can be considered typical of D.C. and settled on the row house as a very common structure that can be looked at as an example of the vernacular architecture.

Unsurprisingly, the row house archetype responds more to social and cultural desires than to the climate of the area. Planners and architects in the nation’s capital are distinctly aware of the city’s presence as a symbol, which leads to very European and traditional designs that may not be the best suited for an Eastern American climate. The need to accommodate a large number of residents in a small land space seems to be the primary reasoning behind the construction of so many row houses, with a range from the ornate in affluent neighborhoods to the very basic and functional in impoverished areas. The row house doesn’t seem to react directly to the climate found in D.C. which has a huge range from hot and humid to occasional blizzards.

I also stumbled upon this case study on retrofitting a row house on Capitol Hill in D.C. that aims to update the efficiency of the building while conforming to historic guidelines. I thought it was interesting because their improvements included so much new technology that would allow energy-efficiency, which contrasts with examples we’ve seen in lecture of passive systems in buildings.

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One Comment

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  1. jcf2cmsystems / Sep 20 2011 10:51 pm

    In this post you state that the row house responds more to the social and cultural desires rather than the surrounding environment. What type of housing do you think would better suit the area giving its current needs or desires?

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