Lecture: Hexagonal House (Listen and Read)

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Lecture: Hexagonal House
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If you remember, last week we started to discuss architecture in the residential United States.
Today we'll narrow in on that, focusing on a few architects
who made some significant changes to the 19th century residential architecture.
It's worth mentioning that designers at the time likely faced a lot of scrutiny
both from their peers and from the public at large.
A bit of discouragement probably came along with that.
Many thought that designs should not necessarily be utilitarian, but a status symbol
or way to show off your sensibilities.
Designing was looked upon like more of an art than a science.
There's actually a quote I have here,
from an issue of a journal called The American Architect and Building News, from 1876.
Here, I'll read it to you, and I want you to keep it in mind as we progress with the lesson.
They said that “the planning of houses isn't architecture at all”!
And now we arrive at Harriet Morrison Irwin.
Irwin was born in North Carolina,
when there weren't a lot of architects hailing from the southern United States.
Born in 1828, she also entered a field where very few women dared walk.
A pretty exceptional case, Irwin had not received any formal education to be an architect.
She actually studied literature.
Jane? Would you like to add something?
Yeah, so, she just had crazy awesome architecture instincts or something?
Essentially, yes.
She had spent several years writing,
but found she had a good mind for engineering and math,
and ended up studying it a lot on her own time.
We actually studied one of her favorite authors in the field of architecture,
the British critic John Ruskin.
Do you remember what Ruskin's main theme was?
Oh, I think It was something about nature?
Like, he thought that people who lived close to nature would have better health, both mental and physical.
Exactly right.
So, Harriet really enjoyed Ruskin's writing,
and those ideas bloomed into a few of her own.
At that point, her push into architecture was fairly small,
but caused a bit of an interested stir.
Her first contribution was a house designed with a hexagonal shape.
Six sides, instead of the standard four.
She thought the important thing about the house was that the rooms were arranged around a central chimney.
This central chimney, as you can imagine, provided heat in the winter to each of the six rooms equally.
It also had an interesting flip for the summer.
Harriet made sure there were windows on every outside wall,
to provide each room with natural lighting and a view of the outdoors.
These doubled in the summer, when one could open the windows and doors,
combined with the chimney floo and produce a noticeable breeze.
So she used Ruskin's nature thing,
and made an open little house that could feel open and fresh.
Likewise, having a fireplace in every room would have meant possible smoke or 'dirty air' in the rooms,
and a lot of cleaning.
With the open windows and airflow sweeping in toward the center,
all the dust or smoke would be pulled up and out of the house.
Her house also didn't have a main entrance, or many hallways.
There were a few doors spread around the outside walls, providing easy access to the outdoors.
Another advantage to this kind of layout is the cleaning style.
Think about it,
what part of a room is the hardest to clean with a broom?
Probably the edges of a room.
Under a desk, or in a corner.
Now, I have a strong feeling that, due to the times, biographers weren't as kind as they could have been.
I feel they may have downplayed her designs,
and didn't talk about how truly ingenious and creative this idea had been.
If Margaret had first designed this same house in today's times,
architects would be praising her name from the rooftops.
Well, that may be a bit exaggerated.
Anyway, three of Irwin's hexagon designed houses were created during her lifetime.
In 1869, Irwin received a patent for architectural design,
the first woman in the history of the United States to do so.
That kind of remarkable achievement speaks for itself, if you ask me.
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