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Building a House

It was not quite certain that Paul perfectly caught this explanation, though repeated several times; and he did not understand it completely till he saw Branchu construct the air-holes and the centres were removed (Fig. 27).

"I spare you the difficulties,"said Eugene, seeing that Paul was puzzled to comprehend the construction of the cellars,"for the structure of the vaults and their penetra tions is a matter that requires long study. We have made only simple barrel-vaults, and you will observe that the cellar doors are all in the end walls, or tympanums, and not in the side walls bearing the springing of the vaults. With the difficulties, I also avoid useless expense. The courses which form the plinth will be of hard stone, but you will observe that, except at the angles and for the air-holes, they are only a facing, - they are not parpings, that is, do not form the whole thickness of the wall. We have excellent rubble-stone, which, with the good mortar we employ, offers greater resistance to pressure than is required to carry two stories and a roof. Letting these rough stones tooth out on the inside we tie them better into the haunches of the barrel-vaults (Fig. 28), and thus economise dressed stone.

FIG. 28.

You will also see in elevation, above the plinth, how we can spare dressed stone if we wish, while preserving a perfectly sound construction. We find moreover, on the surrounding uplands, layers of thin limestone, which split in regular beds from 6 to 8 inches in thickness, and which make capital range-work. We call that range, or coursed work, in which the stone is laid with visible faces, beds, and joints somewhat roughly dressed. This range-work facing, which presents in its way an attractive appearance, and whose rusticity contrasts with the smooth finish of the dressed stone, is backed with ordinary rubble walling. Thus, in districts where stone occurs naturally of this shape in the quarries, we get an economical building material. But it is puerile to amuse one's self with making thin coursed-work where soft freestone abounds, and where it must be cut into little bits to obtain this appearance. You will see that it is contrary to common sense to cut great blocks of stone into little bits, and that when the quarries supply those only, it is reasonable to employ them according to their natural dimensions, and to adapt the construction to the nature and height of the stones. Here we have large blocks, when we require them, but they are not common. In short, we ought to proceed, as far as possible, according to the nature of the materials which the soil furnishes us in abundance." The drain was made, the vaults were turned; the steps down to the cellars were laid; the plinth had risen more than a yard above the ground. It was time to think about studying the details of the elevations. That over looking the garden was only roughly sketched out. Paul was hoping that it would present a more regular appear. ance than that of the entrance side. He made a remark to that effect, for Paul had seen in the environs of Paris, many country-houses that seemed to him charming, with their four pepper-boxes at the angles, their porch in the very centre of the façade, and their zinc cresting on the roof. He had too high an opinion of his cousin's ability to allow himself to criticise the facade of his sister's house, as designed for the entrance side; but in his heart he would have preferred something more conformable to the laws of symmetry. Those windows of all forms and dimensions shocked his taste a little. When the facade on the garden side (Fig. 29) was sketched - a frontage which, this time, presented a symmetrical aspect - Paul declared himself satisfied with it; and in the evening, the family being assembled, he asked why the entrance front did not pre sent the symmetrical arrangements which delighted him on the garden side.

"Because,"said Eugene,"on the garden side our plan gives us rooms which are the counterparts of each other, of equal dimensions and corresponding purposes; while on the entrance side we have very diverse in juxtaposition. The question you raise, Paul, is a very large one. Two methods may be followed. On the one hand, you may plan a symmetrical architectural casing, in which you try, as best you can, to accom modate the services required by a habitation. Or, on the other hand, you may arrange these services, in plan, according to their importance, their respective place, and the relations that are to be established between them, and erect the casing so as to suit these services, without troubling yourself to obtain a symmetrical appearance. When it is proposed to erect an edifice whose exterior aspect is destined to exhibit a grand unity of design, it is desirable to endeavour to satisfy the rules of symmetry, and to take care that the building shall not present the appearance of having been built piecemeal. In a private habitation it is imperative first to satisfy the requirements of its inhabitants, and not to incur needless expense. The habitations of the Ancients were not symmetrical, any more than those of the Middle Ages. Symmetry strictly ap plied to domestic architecture is a modern conceit - an affectation - a false interpretation of the rules observed during the best periods of art. The houses of Pompeii are not symmetrical : the country-house - the villa - of which Pliny has left us a complete description, did not present a symmetrical ensemble. The castles, manors, and houses built during the Middle Ages are anything but symmetrical. Lastly, in England, in Holland, in Sweden, in Hanover, and in a large part of Germany, you may see numbers of dwellings wonderfully appropriate to the needs of their inhabitants, which are constructed without regard to sym metry, but which are nevertheless very convenient and elegant in appearance, from the simple fact that they clearly indicate their purpose.

"I know that there are many persons quite disposed to put themselves to inconvenience every day, in order to have the vain pleasure of exhibiting regular and monumental facades outside; but I think your sister is not one of those persons, and therefore I have not hesitated to proceed according to what I conceive to be the law of common sense in making the designs for her habitation. I can fancy her asking me, with her quiet, and slightly ironical smile "Why, my dear cousin, did you make me so large a window in this small room? We shall have to stop up half of it.'... Or, Why did you not give me a window on this side, where the view is so pretty? ' "If I replied that it was to satisfy the laws of sym metry, she would perhaps have laughed outright, and, in petto, might probably have thought that her respected cousin was after all a fool, with his laws of symmetry.'" "Alas !"said M. de Gandelau,"there are too many people in our country with whom considerations of vanity take precedence of everything else, and that is one of the causes of our misfortunes. Appearance is the great object. Every retired bourgeois who has a country-house built, wishes to have his turrets regularly disposed at the corners of a building, symmetrical, indeed, but in which he is very indifferently lodged - satisfied if this inconveni ent erection is called the chateau, internal comfort being sacrificed to the gratification of exhibiting outside bad stucco carvings; zinc ornaments on the roof, and a quan tity of nonsensical decorations which have to be renewed every spring. Build us then, cousin, a good house, well sheltered from the sun and rain, thoroughly dry within, and in which nothing is sacrificed to that debased luxury which is a thousand times more offensive in our country districts than it is in the city."

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symmetrical, stone, appearance, paul and entrance