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Building a House - Developing an Idea


In fact, early in the morning Paul might be seen going into his cousin's room. Everything was ready : drawing board, T-squares, compasses, and pencils.

"Take your seat here, cousin; you are going to render on paper the result of our meditations, since you know so well how to make use of our instruments. Let us proceed methodically. In the first place, you doubtless know the ground on which your father intends to have your sister's country house built." "Yes, it is down there below the wood, about two miles off - that little valley at the bottom of which runs the brook which turns Michaud's mill." "Just show me that on the plan of the estate. Oh, I see it." "You see, cousin, it is here. On the south side of the plateau are the arable lands, then the ground slopes a little to the north towards the brook. Here there is a fine spring of fresh water issuing from the wood, which is on the west. On the declivity of the plateau, and at the bottom of the valley, are meadows with a few trees." "On which side then is the pleasantest view?" "Towards the bottom of the valley, on the south-east."" How do you get to the meadow from your father's house?" "By crossing the wood; then you go down to the bottom of the valley by this road; you cross a bridge here, then you ascend along the plateau obliquely by this path." "Very good; we must therefore build the house almost on the summit of the incline facing the north - sheltering it from the north-west winds under the neighbouring wood. The entrance will have to front the ascending road; but we must arrange for the principal apartments to command the most favourable aspect, which is south-east; moreover, we must take advantage of the open view on the same side, and not disregard the spring of fresh water that flows on the right towards the bottom of the valley; we shall there fore approach it and locate the house in that resting place which nature has arranged so favourably to our views, some yards below the plateau. We shall thus be tolerably sheltered from the south-west winds, and shall not have the dull-looking plain, which extends as far as the eye can reach, in front of the house. This settled, let us look at the programme. No dimensions of rooms are mentioned; we shall therefore have to determine this. According to what your father has told me, he intends this house to be for constant residence, habitable in summer as well as in winter, and consequently to contain all that is suitable for a large landed proprietor. He means to spend about £8000 upon it; it is therefore a matter which demands serious study, especially as your sister and her husband make a great point of ' comfort.' I was at their house in Paris, and found it admirably fitted up, but nothing sacri ficed to vanity or mere appearances. We may therefore start from these data. Let us begin by the plan of the ground-floor. The principal apartment is the drawing room, where the family assemble. We cannot give it less than i6 or i7 feet in width, by 24 to 28 feet in length. First draw a parallelogram to these dimensions. Ah, stay ! not mere guess-work. Take your scale." Paul looked at his teacher in some perplexity.

forgot; perhaps you don't know what a scale means. Indeed your plan seems to have taken no account of any thing of the kind. Listen to me, then : When you wish to build a house, or any edifice, you give the architect a programme, i.e., a complete list of all the rooms and accessories that are wanted. But this is not enough; you say such or such a room must have such or such a width by such or such a length, or have such or such an area so as to accommodate so many persons. If it is a dining-room, for instance, you will mention that it must accommodate 10, 15, 20, or 25 persons at table. If it is a bedroom, you will specify that besides the bed (which is a matter of course) it must accommodate such or such pieces of furniture or occupy an area of 30o feet, 40o feet, &c. Now you know that an area of 40o feet is equivalent to a square whose side is 20 feet, or a parallelogram of about 24 feet by 16 feet 8 inches, or of 3o feet by 13 feet 4 inches. But these last dimensions would not suit a roam; they are rather the proportions of a gallery. Independently, therefore, of the area of a room, its breadth and length must bear certain relations according to its purpose. A drawing-room or a bedchamber may be square; but a dining-room, if it is to accommodate more than ten persons at table, must be longer than it is broad, because a table increases in length but not in width, accord ing to the number of the guests. You must therefore add leaves' to the dining-room as you do to the table. Do you understand? Good. At this point then the architect, in pre paring the plan, even if it is only a sketch, adopts a scale, i.e., he divides a line drawn upon his paper into equal parts, each representing a foot. And to save time, or to simplify the work, he takes for each of these divisions the 192th, or the 96th, or the 48th part of a foot. In the first case we call it a scale of Ath of an inch to a foot, or a scale of 16 feet to an inch; in the second, a scale of ith of an inch to a foot, or a scale of 8 feet to an inch; in the third, a scale of Ith of an inch to a foot, or a scale of 4 feet to an inch. Thus you pre

pare a plan one hundred and ninety-two, ninety-six, or forty eight times smaller than its realization will be. I need not say that we may make scales in any proportion ad infinitum - one, two, or three hundredths of an inch to a foot, or to to, 100, or 1,000 feet, as we do for drawing maps. In the same way we may give details on a scale of 6 inches to a foot, or half the actual size; 2 inches to a foot, or a sixth of the actual size, &c. Having chosen his scale, the archi tect is enabled to give to each part of the plan exact relative dimensions. If he has adopted the scale of one eighth of an inch to a foot, and wishes to indicate a door 4 feet in width, he takes tths. Do you understand? I am not quite sure that you do; but a few hours' practice will render you au fait at it. To show you distinctly the utility of a scale, I will take your plan. Your drawing-room is an oblong. I will suppose it 20 feet by 27 feet; that is pretty nearly the relative proportion of the sides. A ninth of the longer side measured by the compass is 3 feet. I measure your facade by this and find that your lower story is 30 feet high. Now fancy to yourself how (I will not say your drawing-room, but) your entrance-hall, whose sides are only 13 feet, would look with a height of 30 feet between the floor and the ceiling. It would be a well. Your elevation therefore is not on the same scale as your plan. Take for your sister's drawing-room 1/8ths on this graduated rule, which will give 18 feet on a scale of of an inch to a foot. Just so; that gives us the shorter side of the drawing-room. Now take moths on the same rule, which will give 27 feet; that will be the longer side. Now your oblong is drawn with dimensions perfectly exact. You will have to surround this room with walls, for we can scarcely give ordinary floors a greater width; you must therefore have walls to receive the joists. A rubble wall through which flues have to pass, can hardly be less than foot 8 inches in thickness. Your drawing-room will there fore support itself. Next in importance to the drawing room is the dining-room. Where are we to place it? We ought, especially in the country, to be able to enter it directly from the drawing-room. Is it to be on the right, or on the left? You have not the least idea; nor I either. But chance cannot settle the question. Let us think about it a little. It would seem natural to put the kitchen near to the dining-room. But the position of the kitchen is a matter presenting some difficulties. When you are not at table you don't like to have the smell of the viands, or hear the noise of those engaged in kitchen work. On the one hand, the kitchen ought not to be far from the dining room; on the other hand, it ought to be far enough from the chief rooms for its existence not to be suspected. Besides, the back-yard, the out-buildings, the poultry-yard, a small vegetable garden, washhouses, &c., ought to be near the kitchen. It is a matter of importance too that the kitchen should not have a south aspect. And we must not forget that your sister, who knows how a house ought to be managed, has taken the precaution to say in her laconic programme : Kitchen not She is right : under-ground kitchens are unhealthy for those who live in them, present difficulties in the way of surveillance, and diffuse their odour through the ground floor. We shall put it therefore on a level with the dining-room, but without direct communication with the latter, to avoid odours and noises. Let us examine our ground, its position and aspects. The most undesirable aspect, and that which in the present case offers the least agreeable prospect, is the north-west. We shall therefore place the drawing-room with its exterior angle towards the south-east; on the right we shall put the dining-room; and next the kitchen, which will thus face the north. Do not be in a hurry to draw the plan of these subordinate apartments, for we must know first what position they are to occupy in relation to the drawing-room and the entrance-hall. We are required to provide a billiard-room It will be well to place it on the south-east, as a pendant to the dining-room. The hall and your brother-in-law's study must be near the entrance. If we place the dining-room and the billiard-room, whose dimensions are to be nearly equal to those of the drawing room, in juxtaposition and continuation with the latter, the drawing-room will be lighted only on one of its shorter sides, for we must put the entrance-hall in front. The drawing-room would in that case be gloomy, and would command a view of the country only in one direction. Let us then put the dining-room and the billiard-room at right angles to the drawing-room, allowing the latter to jut out on the sides of the favourable aspect. Let us give each of these two apartments a length of 24 feet by a width of i8 feet. These are convenient dimensions. Then mark in front of the drawing-room an entrance-hall, whose area we shall determine presently.

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feet, scale, drawing-room, foot and dining-room