Welcome to the Architectural Observer!

The Architectural Observer rarely looks at “important” buildings; the focus is upon overlooked ones.  Some will be antique survivors which have come through time surprisingly intact.  Many will be old buildings which have been altered without regard to their stylistic integrity while others will be new construction which never had any stylistic integrity to begin with.

The decline of architectural integrity is just one more facet of the prolific and ongoing devolution of our culture.  The Architectural Observer calls it like it is!  Are there more important and pressing issues facing us now?  Yes, but everyone needs a distraction from those other issues once in a while.  And besides, this is relevant and much more fun!

There are 3 kinds of distractions here:

OBSERVATIONS  highlights the lowlights of our built environment – and observes occasional architecture details that might otherwise be overlooked.

DRAG QUEEN ARCHITECTURE showcases buildings built in one style but which are trying to pass themselves off as a different style.

TRANSFORMING A TRI-LEVEL is the continuing saga of my latest renovation project… a 1960’s house which was never completed.

Let’s face it; we built better buildings in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than we do now.  Let’s take a cue from the past and start to remember how buildings are supposed to look and function.  Thanks for joining me – please use the contact form for polite inquiry or to gripe at me.

Bookcases and Lighting

Bookcases and Lighting

The basement renovation is crawling along… the bookcases are now installed (complete with edgebanding) and the recently acquired 60’s ceiling light has been installed.  The first photo below shows the bookcases before the trim was installed on the face:                     Continue Reading

Decaying 1920’s Adobe Construction

Decaying 1920’s Adobe Construction

An abandoned homestead which dates to the 1890’s was apparently updated in the 1920’s with adobe construction.  These updates, despite their advanced deterioration, are quite fascinating. Adobe construction on the property consists of a small one-room structure of unknown purpose, a porch balustrade, and a garage or storage building.  The mortar used to hold the adobe blocks together has… Continue Reading

Removing a Fireplace Mantel and Tile Surround

Removing a Fireplace Mantel and Tile Surround

Recently I had the opportunity to assist in the removal of an early 20th-century mantelpiece from a vacant farmhouse which was unfortunately no longer valued by its owners.  The mantelpiece and other woodwork and windows are to be installed in a new house currently under construction on the same farm. It was a surprisingly simple… Continue Reading

Inside a Wrightian Usonian House

Inside a Wrightian Usonian House

Built in 1962 in Polo, Illinois, this recently restored Wrightian Usonian house was designed by Verne Lars Solberg who studied under Bruce Goff at the University of Oklahoma in 1949.  It is quite beautiful and the restoration was done very well.  All photos below were taken from vernelarssolberg.com where even more photos and information about this… Continue Reading

Auction Action

Auction Action

This morning I went to a consignment auction which had a few items of architectural / aesthetic interest.  With 8 rings selling simultaneously, and something of interest in each one, it was hard to be in the right place at the right time for the purpose of bidding.  Mostly it was a fun way to… Continue Reading

Sculptured Glass Block

Sculptured Glass Block

Today I happened upon a building which was delightfully peppered with sculptured glass block.  I haven’t seen much of this stuff outside of Chicagoland where it was popular in the 1960’s, so I did some digging online.  Soon I was rewarded with A Chicago Sojourn – an absolute must for anyone who loves the architecture of… Continue Reading

Mail Order Plans and Kit Houses – Part 1

Mail Order Plans and Kit Houses – Part 1

Most people have heard of Sears catalog and kit houses, which were popular in the early 20th century, but many are unaware of the numerous other businesses which sold essentially the same product.   These competing businesses routinely adapted each other’s work or simply flat out stole from each other.  Many designs were reversed, perhaps in an… Continue Reading

A Trip to 135-Year-Old Lord’s Hardware

A Trip to 135-Year-Old Lord’s Hardware

How many businesses can you think of that have been in continuous operation for 135 years in the same location?  Probably not many.  Lord’s Hardware has been operating continuously since 1882 in downtown Indianola, Nebraska.  If you need some obscure widget and don’t have time to wait for fulfillment from Amazon, there’s a good chance that Lord’s… Continue Reading

Making the Bookshelves

Making the Bookshelves

When renovating a house, it is always good to keep in mind that everything will take longer than you think.  It’s been a busy winter, but the last few days have been unseasonably warm so it was a great time to start ripping plywood for the bookshelves.  Once everything is cut and installed, there is… Continue Reading

Mid-century Modern Door

Mid-century Modern Door

This door graces a mid-20th century ranch house in Southwestern Nebraska.  I had to photograph it when I saw a “For Sale” sign in the yard and determined that no one was actually living in the house.  An unfortunate storm door could not completely obscure the whimsical circle-motif glazing.  I’d be willing to bet that the… Continue Reading

Yesteryear’s Update

Yesteryear’s Update

People have been remodeling buildings ever since they started building them.  Here is a structure which was began as a two story brick office building sometime in the 1920’s. In the late 1940’s or early 1950’s it was modernized and given an extra floor in the process.  None of this is evident from the sleek modernist facade,… Continue Reading

Superficial Bracketing

Superficial Bracketing

The two houses shown below have each been augmented with brackets.  Both houses date to somewhere around 1910 and are vernacular examples of the foursquare form.  Neither house is specifically styled, but each has characteristics common to both Colonial Revival and Prairie houses; both styles were popular when these houses were built.  Neither house was intended to have… Continue Reading

Interesting Exterior Stair Enclosures

Interesting Exterior Stair Enclosures

Many commercial buildings have (or once had) exterior stairwells or staircases.  Most need some type of enclosure.  Solutions have changed over the years; here are three different sets of stairs – each is an interesting survivor:   Sleek 60’s Aluminum       Iron Stairwell – 2nd quarter of the 20th century        … Continue Reading

Windowless Facade w/ Recessed Entry

Windowless Facade w/ Recessed Entry

This minimalist facade is both playful and sophisticated.  Probably dating to the mid-1960’s, the building it graces serves as the offices of a CPA.  Not all business can do away with a glass front, but for those that can, this is a fun and memorable way to make an impression.  The name of the business… Continue Reading

Exterior Lighting c. 1970

Exterior Lighting c. 1970

What’s not to love about super-sized exterior light fixtures mounted at a jaunty angle?  These three globe lights illuminate a bench adjacent to the entrance of a bank building:         Continue Reading

A Visit to the Koester House

A Visit to the Koester House

The majority of house museums scattered throughout the country rely heavily upon conjecture and the acquisition of period pieces to recreate the past.  The Gothic Revival style Koester house is delightfully different, and doesn’t feel overly curated or over-restored.  It feels believable. Completed in 1876, the house depicts life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and… Continue Reading

Lustron Houses

Lustron Houses

Lustrons pop up when you least expect them.  I hadn’t run across any in a long time and then, BAM, two in one day!  Both have had alterations and differing levels of maintenance.  If you’re not familiar with Lustron houses, here is a bit of history on them courtesy of the Old House Web.  The… Continue Reading

Miscellaneous Craftsman Style Houses

Miscellaneous Craftsman Style Houses

Many communities dotting the Great Plains initially grew and flourished in the early 20th century – roughly the same time period which saw the Arts and Crafts movement blossom.  Therefore, its not surprising that the Craftsman style was quite popular in these growing towns. Readily identifiable characteristics of the style include typically low-pitched gable roofs… Continue Reading

Converted to Garages…

Converted to Garages…

Underutilized and undervalued properties are frequently prone to conversions which compromise their architectural integrity.  Here are just two examples of structures which have been converted to uses quite different from their original functions.   First, a former single-family house:       Our second conversion was probably built as a bank.  Its corner location and entry are typical… Continue Reading

Neglected 70’s Dome Home

Neglected 70’s Dome Home

Standing out in sharp contrast to its more conventional neighbors, this vintage dome home appears to have been vacant for an extended period of time.  It’s sad to see “the home of the future” look so decrepit.  Buckminster Fuller, American inventor, teacher, architect, author and designer, popularized the geodesic dome for residential and other purposes.… Continue Reading

A Very Small One Room Schoolhouse

A Very Small One Room Schoolhouse

Described on an historical marker as one of the smallest schoolhouses in Nebraska, this late 19th-century frame structure measures just 14 by 16 feet.  Simple structures like this, purely utilitarian and void of architectural styling, are easy to overlook and discount.  However, they tell us much more about our history than the type of historic… Continue Reading

A Craftsman in Drag

A Craftsman in Drag

Such irony!  The Craftsman style of architecture – and the Arts and Crafts movement in general – came about as a rejection of the fussy and superficially decorative styles which dominated the last half of the 19th century.  Craftsman dwellings sought to achieve ornamentation honestly; components such as rafters, square posts and brackets with structural… Continue Reading

Bruce Goff’s Freeman House

Bruce Goff’s Freeman House

This unique house designed by Bruce Goff is in well-maintained condition and sits on a beautiful wooded lot in a small Midwestern city.  It was recently on the market for $239,500 but is now listed as “off market”. Built in 1959 in Joplin, Missouri, the L. A. Freeman house has been waiting for just the right new steward to appreciate… Continue Reading

What Style Is It?

What Style Is It?

The house below was recently enlarged and re-styled to the extent that the original house is hardly perceptible.  Originally a one-story house of modest construction and vernacular styling, the house today serves as a showcase for various effects which can be created with synthetic stucco finishes.  The first photo below shows the side of the… Continue Reading

Let there be light!

Let there be light!

A very small mile-marker today, but still progress.  A new circuit with lighting along the east wall… the future location of a continuous desk/work surface.  Simple porcelain lamp holders (complete with pull chains!) are in place now – but after I find the perfect set of four mid-century modern pendant lights they will be replaced… Continue Reading

Details

Details

It’s been said that “the devil is in the details”.  If true, this newly constructed house may be a poster child for the expression.  Aside from the chartreuse paint, this house looks a lot like other newly constucted homes. Even from the street there are a few inconsistencies visible – more are apparent closer up.… Continue Reading

Brick Veneers as a Facelift

Brick Veneers as a Facelift

While not as popular as vinyl siding, the use of brick veneers to provide an easier-to-maintain exterior (or simply to alter the look of a house) is still fairly common.  Usually a few tell-tale clues remain to reveal that the house began as one clad in wood. The following houses were all built with wood siding… Continue Reading

Repurposing c. 1980

Repurposing c. 1980

The first thing that I noticed about this late 20th-century church, aside from the odd proportions, was that its stained glass windows were much older than the structure itself.  Closer inspection revealed that the windows had been reworked, presumably for incorporation into the existing church building.  What had become of the old building?  A little research online… Continue Reading

Undercover Garage

Undercover Garage

Posing as wood construction, this garage is actually built of brick.  A recent cladding of clapboard siding gives the illusion of a frame structure, though the brick around the door and side windows was left visible:   Continue Reading

Building – Half Off!

Building – Half Off!

At first glance, this brick commercial building looks a bit awkward.  Closer inspection reveals that it is only half of of building; the left hand side was once the center (or near-center) of the structure.   The right hand side has a vertical band of ornamentation which one would expect to be mirrored on the… Continue Reading

The Black Hole

The Black Hole

Back in October I posted images of the somewhat awkward built-in china cabinet.  It was encased in concrete block which served as the foundation to an upper level fireplace which was never built (in an upper level which was never built).  When the basement was gutted and walls were removed, the concrete block foundation took… Continue Reading

Miscellaneous Aging Metal Buildings

Miscellaneous Aging Metal Buildings

Metal has been a popular siding choice for workhorse-type structures for well over a century – here are just four examples from one small farming community.  These buildings, while not generally appreciated from an aesthetic point of view, do shape the perceived character of many small towns by virtue of their sheer ubiquity.  Without them,… Continue Reading

Paint!  It’s only temporary…

Paint! It’s only temporary…

This past fall I did something that I haven’t mentioned yet.  I painted the house.  I haven’t mentioned it yet because it’s not a REAL paint job – it is more of an emergency cosmetic maneuver.  The large expanse of bright white siding paired with orange concrete blocks was beginning to get on my nerves.… Continue Reading

Primer!

Primer!

The basement walls have now been primed and are ready for painting.  The final paint color won’t be substantially different from the primer, so there won’t be a dramatic change after painting. After the paint goes on, I’ll start building storage units and bookshelves.           Continue Reading

Miscellaneous Details c. 1910

Miscellaneous Details c. 1910

The following details were observed on a building dating to the early 20th century which is the recipient of casual maintenance.  The double doors originally led to a fraternal lodge on the second floor.               Continue Reading

Not Every House Has a Style!

Not Every House Has a Style!

Frequently I run across houses which defy simple description in terms of architectural style. After the clunky massing, the first thing one notices about this house is the top-heavy appearance.  This is largely due to the fact that the dormer windows are much larger than the first story windows (rather than slightly smaller as is conventional for… Continue Reading

Fun with Brick

Fun with Brick

Masons – and architects – used to be a lot less inhibited than they are today!  I recently ran across this building in southwestern Nebraska and was impressed with the playful masonry.  The windows on the main facade are replacements; they were likely factory sash originally like those seen on the side of the building.… Continue Reading

Miscellaneous Houses

Miscellaneous Houses

I had planned to go on a road trip yesterday to digitally capture more architecture, but the weather was not cooperative, and today it is too cold.  Therefore, I am putting together some miscellaneous images I had previously taken.  They all have something of interest to share…               Continue Reading

Window Jambs

Window Jambs

The basement windows now have jambs!  I made them out of pine nailers salvaged from the roof of an old house which was being remodeled; they closely match the color and nail-riddled texture of the ceiling.  The best part is that they cover up much of the hideous white vinyl surround of the new windows.  I… Continue Reading

More Mid-Century Design

More Mid-Century Design

Some towns seem to have a glut of mid-20th century architecture.  Here are a few buildings – or parts of them – which exhibit design characteristic of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.  Just because.                     Continue Reading

Prairie Plus

Prairie Plus

Loaded with unusual detailing, this interesting interpretation of the Prairie Style dates to around 1910 and is located in southwestern Nebraska.  Horizontality is emphasized through the use of contrasting wall cladding – the first story is clapboard while the second story is shingled.  Horizontality is further emphasized by the banding of each of these materials; shingles alternate… Continue Reading

Neo-Mediterranean Makeover of Former Queen Anne

Neo-Mediterranean Makeover of Former Queen Anne

Dating to the 1970’s, this remodeling of a former Queen Anne style house into a Neo-Mediterranean showplace is strangely captivating some 40-odd-years later. The original c. 1900 Queen Anne feautured clapboard siding and boxed eaves which were arched and shingled in the gables for interest.  At some point – possibly in the 1920’s – the clapboard siding… Continue Reading

High Style on the High Plains

High Style on the High Plains

This radio station in northwestern Kansas is a delightful example of mid-century modernism – and helps to explain both its original appeal and current popularity.  It’s quirky!  It’s fun!  Of course, this building might not have been so attractive had the radio station’s call letters been less uniform.  Remarkably unchanged on the exterior, this building is… Continue Reading

Utilitarian Courthouse Grounds

Utilitarian Courthouse Grounds

This county courthouse, built 1906-1907, is a late example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style and one of the most architecturally noteworthy structures in its community.  While many county courthouses which are located in small towns are situated either on a downtown square or on a prominent corner, this particular courthouse seems almost shunned – it sits… Continue Reading

Detailing the Sheetrock/Joist Junction

Detailing the Sheetrock/Joist Junction

I knew I would regret this when I committed myself to the idea, and I was right.  It is a tedious process going around the room and filling the gaps between the sheetrock and wood joists where I fit around them.  Most likely I will still have to skim over some of these areas with… Continue Reading

A Crass Alteration

A Crass Alteration

It used to be that you could always count on banks to maintain their facilities with the utmost care.  They’re a lot like most funeral homes in that regard; they typically look groomed and manicured and maintained.  So I was kind of surprised to see this rather crude intrusion of an ATM on what had been… Continue Reading

Hidden in Plain Sight

Hidden in Plain Sight

At first glance, this mid-20th century storefront seems to be just that; mid-20th century.  A look above the metal canopy shows a Victorian storefront of limestone which has been painted.  The replacement windows are not very compatible with the surrounding historic masonry. A look through the plate glass of the display windows reveals the original… Continue Reading

Random Observations – Part 2

Random Observations – Part 2

I had the opportunity to take my camera out for a spin this Thanksgiving weekend… the mood was not at all surreal as it had been last week.  I found lots of interesting buildings; they haven’t all been torn down yet.  Thanks for joining me!                 Continue Reading

A Tale of Two Jails

A Tale of Two Jails

What a difference 48 years can make – especially in terms of style or fashion.  The photos below demonstrate not just a change in stylistic preferences, but also in jail design.  Already out of fashion when completed in 1907, this crenelated example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style served as both a county jail and the sheriff’s… Continue Reading

Mud and Tape

Mud and Tape

The sheetrock is in place and the joints have received mud, tape and sanding (Thanks, Jim, for mudding, taping, and sanding… I hate that part).  Next project: wood jambs for the windows.       Continue Reading

Soft Brick Graffiti

Soft Brick Graffiti

The soft brick used to construct the back wall of an 1890’s commercial building has provided the perfect medium for generations of young graffiti artists to leave their mark.  It may not be as colorful or loud as the work of spray paint artists, but is still interesting.  Here are three different views of the… Continue Reading

Nuisance Abatement or Mediocrity Assured?

Nuisance Abatement or Mediocrity Assured?

The practice known as “nuisance abatement” – using municipal codes to justify the destruction of neglected or abandoned properties – continues to take a toll on overlooked resources across the country.  The process can be especially devastating to small towns which are already struggling economically.  For many such towns, aging architecture may be their biggest potential draw; few small… Continue Reading

A Century of Modifications

A Century of Modifications

When I ran across a commemorative plate in a second hand store recently, I noticed that it showed two versions of the same church building.  I found a third, and more recent, version in a photograph online.  The three images nicely show the evolution of a simple structure over the course of a century.  The contemporary… Continue Reading

Random Observations in a Small Town

Random Observations in a Small Town

It’s Sunday morning in a small Midwestern town; the mood is slightly surreal.  The few people who are out are gathered at an auction house; a cluster of vehicles surrounds it.  Loudspeakers along the main street fill the air with a woman’s voice intoning a church sermon.  A couple seated in plastic chairs along the sidewalk smoke cigarettes.  The… Continue Reading

Mothballed Storefronts

Mothballed Storefronts

It’s a common sight in small-town America – vacant or underutilized storefronts lining the heart of town.  Declining populations and a struggling economy have both taken their toll and it shows. How communities deal with these growing vacancies varies from place to place.  The most forward-thinking communities will “mothball” buildings until their utility can be harnessed again.… Continue Reading

Mid-Century Modern Door Hardware

Mid-Century Modern Door Hardware

Every once in a while I run across an interesting example of well-designed door hardware from the mid-20th century.  There used to be more, of course, but our culture’s obsession with making everything new again has relegated a lot of it to the landfill or salvage shops well before its utility had been exhausted. Today… Continue Reading

Replacement Siding: Before and After

Replacement Siding: Before and After

I’ve yet to see a replacement siding installation which was without at least some undesirable side effects.  The house shown below fared far better than most do when subjected to a “maintenance-free” (ha!) future; the homeowner and/or the installer saved the cornice brackets on this Italianate house rather than scrapping them.  By wrapping the paired… Continue Reading

Houston in Microcosm:  3 Intersections Over the Course of Time

Houston in Microcosm: 3 Intersections Over the Course of Time

Houston, Texas, is a fascinating place.  Famous for its casual zoning laws, the city has an insatiable appetite for redevelopment and reinvents itself at a seemingly constant pace.   In scenes that have been repeated time and again for more than a half century, quiet residential corners radically transform over the course of a few years.  In a typical… Continue Reading

Real Craftsman Turned into Fake, Television-Inspired, Craftsman

Real Craftsman Turned into Fake, Television-Inspired, Craftsman

Looking like something straight out of a television program about house flipping, this former authentic Craftsman-style house has been reduced to a caricature of itself as the following “before” and “after” photos illustrate. In the “before” photo (image courtesy Google Street View) the house was essentially intact.  The only real changes it had suffered were replacement… Continue Reading

Extreme Makeover c. 1972

Extreme Makeover c. 1972

Some remodelings are more exhaustive than others.  This structure, for example, was re-imagined somewhere in the past, likely the early 1970’s.  The then-popular mansard roof was used as a device to completely conceal the second story while stucco, diamond-paned windows, broken pediments, and decorative  blinds were paired with it to create a look which defy any… Continue Reading

A Painted Floor

A Painted Floor

Recently, I decided it was time to do something about the basement floor.  Not only was it ugly, but because of numerous irregularities and textures, it was awkward to sweep and keep clean.  Even though I’m still hanging sheetrock, I decided to go ahead and paint the floor so as to have a nicer work… Continue Reading

The Porch as a Style Setter

The Porch as a Style Setter

Old houses have long been subject to changing architectual trends and fashion. Since its beginning, the United States has been a place of change and experimentation; the fact is just one reason why we have not done so well at preserving our architectural history as have other nations. Our readiness to embrace the next trend has long taken… Continue Reading

An Ozark Giraffe …  in Nebraska

An Ozark Giraffe … in Nebraska

Indigenous to the Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas, the stone veneers known as “Ozark Giraffe” are a highly memorable vernacular construction technique.   Examples of structures clad in this manner are also commonly found in adjacent areas of Oklahoma and extreme southeastern Kansas.  Believed to have been used as early as the 1910’s, the technique flourished… Continue Reading

Identity Crisis

Identity Crisis

Although this house is clearly struggling with its identity, it’s quite obvious that the house was originally styled in the Craftsman manner; it probably dates to around 1915.  Surviving original defining details include the projecting eaves with exposed rafter tails, triangular knee braces, and brick porch piers with squat battered columns.  Alterations to the facade include… Continue Reading

A Tudor in Drag

A Tudor in Drag

This house was built as a modest example of Tudor Revival, probably in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s.  If it weren’t for the few surviving identifying characteristics typical of the style (projecting gabled brick entry with arched door and first story diamond-paned sash) it would be impossible to tell that the house had ever… Continue Reading

Waterproofing and Insulation

Waterproofing and Insulation

With the ceiling cleaned up and the new windows installed, it’s time to work on the walls.   The basement has had a history of dampness, and the problem spots became rather apparent once the wainscot was removed.  The lower part of the foundation wall is of poured concrete while the upper part was laid in… Continue Reading

Row Houses on the Prairie

Row Houses on the Prairie

One doesn’t expect to see Victorian-era row houses anywhere in Kansas, but especially not in the less-populated western half.  There just wasn’t much need for a dense, urban, housing type on the wide-open prairie.  Imagine my surprise when, 15 or 20 years ago, I ran across an intact row of identical attached houses in the town of Stockton.… Continue Reading

Swallowed Alive

Swallowed Alive

The passage of time manifests itself differently on some buildings than on others.  This place really intrigues me and, because it’s still standing, there is still hope.  One of Stockton, Kansas’ most architecturally significant early houses, this Second Empire diamond-in-the-very-rough has endured a lot throughout its lifespan.  Dating to the 1870’s or early 1880’s, this native limestone… Continue Reading

Moral Dilemmas

Moral Dilemmas

I hate this part.  You know – the moral quandaries that are an inherent part of any renovation project.  This post will cover two recent dilemmas – one involving a built-in and one involving basement windows. Dilemma 1: The former living/dining area was originally equipped with a gas heater ensconced in a concrete block niche… Continue Reading

Fake History Removed!

Fake History Removed!

I’m so used to seeing real history destroyed or covered up that it kind of shocks me when I see the reverse happen.  This stone storefront is a good example.  When I first noticed this building in Hays, Kansas, I was puzzled by the clapboard fake front (complete with fake shuttered windows) and wondered why… Continue Reading

Pretty in Pink

Pretty in Pink

Every once in a while I run across one of those increasingly rare houses which still maintains a true-to-the-period or original paint scheme.  When I do, I have to photograph it because I know that at some point in the future that particular look will not be valued.  Such was the case with this delightfully… Continue Reading

Self-defeating Quoins

Self-defeating Quoins

The insanity never ends…  these fake quoins go one step further than most in demonstrating their superficiality.  Originally a wood-frame house of conventional construction, this place was given a makeover in an effort to elevate its common origins, including a slathering of synthetic stucco (at least on the front portion). These particular quoins were most… Continue Reading

Removing the Insulation

Removing the Insulation

As you last remember, the basement had been gutted.  When the ceiling came down, batts of “Balsam-Wool” – a type of cellulose insulation – were revealed.  The product had a very handsome label:   There was a similar label in green, and I saved all that were in decent shape.  OK; let’s start start pulling down… Continue Reading

Super-size my McHistory!

Super-size my McHistory!

While it’s fair to say that there is more awareness and appreciation of historic styles than there was forty years ago, it’s also fair to say that there is room for improvement – especially where issues of scale, proportion, details and historic accuracy are concerned.  Much like the window discussed here yesterday, some new buildings – those which are ostensibly designed… Continue Reading

Revisiting Virtually

Revisiting Virtually

I’ve been digging through a lot of old photographs recently and became curious about what had happened to some of the places I had photographed years ago.  This photo, for example, was taken in downtown Cherokee, Iowa about ten years ago.  At the time I was struck by the overwhelming and smothering blandness of the… Continue Reading

Preservation Dilemma

Preservation Dilemma

Sometimes the choices made in historic preservation efforts aren’t always clear-cut.  Increasingly, there is debate over what is worthy of preservation and what is not.  Many years ago I photographed this vibrant 1960’s-vintage metal facade which spanned across two adjacent storefronts in Hays, Kansas.  At the time, I admired it for its classic aqua panels,… Continue Reading

Trying Too Hard

Trying Too Hard

Sometimes people get it wrong in their eagerness to “get it right”.  This small addition to a late Victorian-era house is a good example.  Whoever designed the addition (which is made of wood) clearly wanted to “respect” the original brick house by emulating window details. What was not considered, however, was that the arched wood… Continue Reading

Wishful Thinking

Wishful Thinking

Here is a house which is a nominal example of Drag Queen Architecture.  Aside from the decorative flourishes atop two windows, the only alterations to the character of this house were made with color.  As a Colonial Revival style house – likely built in the 1920’s – this house was intended to have a rather… Continue Reading

Scary Mansard Roofs

Scary Mansard Roofs

In keeping with today’s Halloween theme, here are a few “mansard” roofs which should be enough to make even the most hardened Trick-or-Treater think twice before knocking:         The following mansard-like roofs were grafted onto commercial structures rather than houses, but that doesn’t make them any less scary!  Sorry about the poor image… Continue Reading

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

While every day can be architecturally frightening at the Architectural Observer, it seems fitting to commemorate our very first Halloween with some appropriate imagery:             Continue Reading

Counterfeit Quoins

Counterfeit Quoins

Architectural illiteracy is increasingly evident – sometimes to the point of the absurd.  Take quoins for example.  Quoins are the big corner blocks you see on old brick and stone buildings.   Their purpose is structural, not decorative, though they typically are shaped to be attractive. Quoins in masonry construction serve to strengthen corners and… Continue Reading

Vinyl Siding

Vinyl Siding

Regarding exterior maintenance, many homeowners are convinced that “vinyl is final!” despite the fact that there is no such thing as a maintenance-free exterior.  They all need upkeep.  Regardless, vinyl siding remains a popular option for many.  Personally, I only have a problem with it as a replacement siding for historic buildings.  I think it… Continue Reading

Demo Time!

Demo Time!

Before we get into the demolition, I would like to point out that I have been an ardent preservationist for my entire life (starting at age 5 when I retrieved from the trash barrel original hardware and lighting fixtures which my father had just discarded from our 1927 Dutch Colonial Revival).  So what you are… Continue Reading

Shattered Dreams

Shattered Dreams

Prior to deciding to tackle the Tragic Tri-level, I was searching in earnest for the perfect small town to relocate to.  You know; perfect.  Perfect as in a small town with lots of intact historic architecture which was still affordable.  The kind of town with lots of character but not blighted by gentrification and misguided… Continue Reading

A Peek Inside…

A Peek Inside…

And now for a quick tour of my new project.  It’s not pretty, but with a little elbow grease it will become comfortable.  We’ll start at the front door…                         And that concludes our brief tour of the hapless 1960’s tri-level which is soon… Continue Reading

Porch Enclosure

Porch Enclosure

Enclosed porches are rarely done well – especially when the porch is on the front of a house. This example has all the domestic warmth of a retail establishment. The brick columns which originally framed an open porch have lost their intended dominance; they have been painted into oblivion and upstaged by four multi-paned doors… Continue Reading

What a Drag!

What a Drag!

For whatever reason, lots of old houses and buildings have been “re-styled” to suit their owner’s aesthetic preferences – often resulting in awkward appearances that are as cringe-worthy as drag queens competing on Amateur Night.  One of the most common types of house to fall victim to such architectural indifference is the Arts and Crafts… Continue Reading

In the Beginning…

In the Beginning…

Since childhood I’ve been obsessed with old (19th century and earlier) houses and was fairly certain that one day I would find the right one.  Imagine my internal anguish when, after buying, living in, renovating, and selling several Victorian-era houses, I found myself tackling a decrepit mid-1960’s tri-level utterly void of architectural distinction. Surprisingly, I’ve found that it’s just as much fun… Continue Reading

Shutters or Shudders???

Shutters or Shudders???

Shutters (and blinds which are erroneously, but commonly, called shutters) are very misunderstood. Long ago, they were practical and functional. Hanging from hinges on each side of a window or door, they could be closed to cover the opening for protection from weather or unwanted visitors.   Since the mid-20th century, they have devolved into… Continue Reading

School Daze

School Daze

Public school buildings frequently fall victim to unfortunate alterations – often in the name of energy conservation or ease of maintenance. This one is no exception.  This building has been significantly altered twice since its initial construction, probably sometime in the 1920’s.  The first alteration took place in the mid-20th century when the original wood windows… Continue Reading