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.

Extreme Makeover c. 1972 “Reimagined” in 2017

Extreme Makeover c. 1972 “Reimagined” in 2017

History does repeat itself, does it not?  This hapless house has had a heckuva hellacious history.  After being stripped of its true identity in the early 70’s and given a quasi-Colonial/Second Empire identity, this tragic structure has now been “reimagined” in a manner utterly void of any stylistic influence at all (save the few surviving… Continue Reading

Vintage Drag

Vintage Drag

Not all stylistic makeovers are of recent origin – homeowners have had a penchant for remodeling for as long as there have been houses.  Here are a few “Before and After” transformations taken from vintage decorating magazines and a promotional brochure for stucco:                        … Continue Reading

Former Italianate Feigns Colonial Past

Former Italianate Feigns Colonial Past

Looking like something out of a post-war subdivision, this ostensibly Colonial Revival four-plex would have gotten away with its charade if it hadn’t been for those meddling architectural sleuths that happened upon it!  Located just a block away from the gloriously monolithic historic preservation endeavor known as the Cross House, the facade looks a bit newer… 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

From Good to Bad to Contrived

From Good to Bad to Contrived

When I first photographed this small commercial building I was smitten with its Brutalist / Modernist vibe – not something one expects to find in an obscure corner of “flyover country”.   I loved the concrete, oddball windows and corner emphasis.  I knew it was much too interesting to survive unmolested, so I took this photo to document it.  The second… Continue Reading

Erasing Character

Erasing Character

With the proliferation of television programs devoted to house renovation (designed to sell products and stimulate the economy – not to instill a passion for history and actual cultural preservation) it’s not surprising that many formerly styled houses end up resembling currently popular trends in new construction which lack specific styling. Too often renovation projects involving styled… 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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