Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in an architectural history class.
Professor: So last week we started our unit on residential architecture in the United States. So today we’ll be surveying a number of architects who made contributions to residential architecture in the 19th century.
Now, it’s worth noting that people who designed homes at that time probably had to dealwith a certain amount of discouragement. Since there were other architects who thought it was more respectable to design the kind of buildings…and maybe other structures…that were less…less utilitarian in their function.In fact, an article from an 1876 issue of a journal called The American Architect and Building News stated that, and this is a quote, they stated that “the planning of houses isn’t architecture at all”!
So keep that journal article in mind as we look at the work of an architect named Harriet Morrison Irwin. Harriet Morrison Irwin was from the South, born in North Carolina in 1828.At the time, there weren’t many architects from the southern United States. And as you might imagine, very few of them were women.So Irwin was really a prettyexceptional case. And she wasn’t even formally trained as an architect.Her educational background was in literature. Yes, Vicky?
Student: So she just had like…unnatural gift for architecture?
Professor: Yes. She was actually a writer for several years. But she did have a penchant for math and engineering, so she read a lot about it on her own. Um…especially the architectural essays written by the British critic – John Ruskin. And John Ruskin believed what?
Student: Um…that buildings should have a lot of access to the outdoors, to nature.Ruskin said that being close to nature was great for people’s mental and physical health.
Professor: Right! So that was an influence. Now, Harriet Irwin’s contribution to architecture was relatively minor but still quite interesting and unique. She designed a house with a hexagonal shape. Josh?
Student: A house with six sides? Instead of the standard, you know, four-sided home?
Professor: Yeah. The rooms inside the house were also hexagonal, six-sided.So one important thing was that the rooms were arranged around a chimney in the center of the house, which could provide heat for the whole house through flues, uh, small airpassageways into each room, as opposed to having a fireplace in every room, which would require more cleaning and make the air inside the house dirtier.
The house’s shape also allowed for more windows. Each room had a large wall that could fit a couple of big windows, giving every room a nice view of the outdoors.
Student: Plus there would be good airflow through the house.
Professor: Yes. In warm weather when you can open all the windows. Good. The doors to the house as well…uh…the house didn’t have a main entrance or any hallways.So there could be a couple of entry doors in different places, which like the windows, provided ready access to the outdoors.
So, what other advantages might there be to hexagonal rooms? OK. Think about cleaning. What part of a room is usually the hardest to clean? Like…to sweep with a broom.
Student: Oh! The corners. Because in square or rectangular rooms, the corners are at 90 degree angles. It’s hard to reach all the dust that gathers in the corners. But if Irwin’s rooms were closer to a circle than a square, it would be easier to reach all the dust and dirt with a broom. Right?
Professor: Exactly. Now, um…biographers who wrote about Irwin in the 19th century, I feel, sort of downplayed the ingenuity of her design. But I think if she had designed this house today, the same biographers would praise her for coming up with a floor plan that emphasized function, efficient function of a house, as well as a design that’s creativeand unique.
In any cases, three houses were built in Irwin’s time that used her hexagonal design. And in 1869, when she was 41, Irwin became the first woman in the United States to receive a patent for an architectural design. And that speaks volumes if you ask me.