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Building a House - Theoretical Studies

"Our mediaeval architects, who did not follow what is called the classical tradition professed now at our Ecole des Beaux Arts, and who did not go to Rome or Athens to study the art of building suitable to France, had tried to discover that style of profile which suits our materials and climate - which seems reasonable enough; and they not only discovered, but skilfully applied that style. I am going to give you proof of this.

"First, then, as they did not lay stones in the rough, as I have told you, but ready worked - so that they did not need retouching when once in place - they were obliged to draw each profile within the height of a single course. If these courses were deep, their profiles might be large; if they were shallow, they must be small.

"Let us take a string-course for example. A string course is a course of stone which indicates a floor - an intermediate resting-place in the height of a wall. And it is not without reason that a projecting course is placed at the level of a floor : first, because it is well to give more strength to the wall at this level where timbers are lodged; secondly, because it is necessary to level up the building at the same height, to make it even in order to raise a fresh story. But this course should not arrest the rain water, and thus occasion the wet to penetrate into the walls; on the contrary, the profile should be so drawn as to throw off the wet, so that the timbers may not decay. Observe, then (A, Fig. 45), how architects who thought more of satisfying the requirements of construction than of borrowing forms from edifices that were not affected by the conditions imposed by our climate and style of build ing, usually designed_ the profile of a string-course. They drew the line a b at an angle of 6o°. From the point c they let fall a perpendicular, c b, on this line a b. The angle a b c was therefore a right angle. Taking from b to d a greater or less length according to the hardness of the stone, they hollowed out the moulding e, which we call a water-drip, or throat; so that the rain-water falling on the inclined surface a b did not stay there, but following the direction b d necessarily fell to the ground at d, since it would not ascend into the hollow. The surface of the wall, c f, was therefore protected. If a cornice was to be made (as at B), they laid a first course g to support the projection of the table h; then they laid, as a second course, this table h, taking care to provide a drip at i. If this table had to receive a metal or stone gutter, they took care to cut a slope from j to k, leaving the bed horizontal where the joints occur, as shown in perspective at C. The gutter rested then on the blocks left at 1, and if it allowed the rain-water to escape by the joints, these drippings find ing the slope k j, followed it, reached the throat i, and fell to the ground without penetrating into the interior of the wall. According as the stone employed was hard or soft, the mouldings were more or less deep or shallow. I sup pose here the profile to be cut in a stone of moderate hard ness, whereas, if the stone is very hard, you can give the profile a sharper outline as at D. You will then obtain a more striking effect, darker shades and more brilliant lights.

But in drawing exterior profiles, you must always consider the direction of the solar rays.

"If, for example, you trace a profile such as this at E, it is evident that as the sun's rays follow the direction o P, all your mouldings will remain in the shade, and will pro duce no effect. But as soon as the sun gets lower and its rays have a more inclined direction, R s, all the mouldings will receive lines of light of nearly equal strength, and the profile will give a series of uniform lights and shadows which will not indicate the projection. But if you draw

this profile according to figure F, the solar rays following the same direction o'p', will meet the projections n m, which will be luminous, and when the direction is lowered you will always get differences of relation between the lights and shadows. I give you only general views here; it is for you to observe and profit by your own observations when you have the opportunity of studying actual buildings.

"It is also very important to make the drawing of your profiles conform to the nature of the materials employed. You cannot give to a material that is moulded, cast or run, - like plaster or cements and mortars - the profiles that are suitable to stone. Materials thus laid on are adapted only to.a fine and slightly projecting moulding. In the same way, if you design profiles for works in wood, you must consider the ligneous and tenacious quality of this mate rial, and avoid surfaces of too great extent : you must not leave out of sight the fact that wood allows of delicate workmanship; that it is employed only in pieces that are relatively thin; and that to be properly worked, it requires the use of edged tools, such as chisels and planes, which follow the grain and are with difficulty worked across the grain. In all this, economy is in unison with common sense and the good effect produced; for if you choose to intro duce a profile that does not suit the material used, you will give occasion to the employment of unusually difficult and consequently expensive processes, and your work appears painful, affected, and laborious. Some architects think to create astonishment by thus adopting processes which do not harmonize with the materials they use; who, if they are constructing with brick, strive to give to their building the appearance of a construction in stone; who affect to imitate marble in wood, or wood in plaster; who seem in fact to make it their object to give to each of the materials employed forms that are not appropriate to their nature. Observe these undesirable methods, with a view of always avoiding them, if you would be an architect. The per verted taste of most of those persons who employ builders is often an obstacle to the use of sensible methods; but unfortunately, among us, classical studies have led artists into this false course, and in the end the public have become enamoured of the undesirable results to which it conducts; so that it is often difficult to induce employers to listen to reason, and to proceed according to the dictates of a just appreciation of the proper use of materials. But be this as it may, this is one of the questions in regard to which an architect who respects his art ought never to yield." "It is, in fact,"said M. de Gandelau,"a strange mania possessing some people who have building done for them, to presume to impose the most ridiculous fancies on their architects; but it is not of modern date, since Philibert de l'Orme used to complain of it even in his time." "Philibert de l'Orme,"remarked Paul,"was, I believe, the architect of the Tuileries." "Yes, in part at least,"replied Eugene;"but you have his book, if I mistake not, in your library." "Certainly; and I will go and find it for you."M. de Gandelau soon returned to the drawing-room carrying the venerable folio.

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profile, stone, materials, direction and profiles