Victorian Dreams

Exterior rendering of library for the Mexican War Streets historic district.

Exterior rendering of library for the Mexican War Streets historic district

Encompassing the period from about 1840-1900, Victorian architecture is characterized by a wide range of interpretations and re-combinations of distinctly different historical traditions. The evolution of Victorian architecture was spurred by many factors including the desire of building owners to create associations with past cultures and times, the role of builders (carpenters, masons, cabinetmakers, etc.) as designers, and the newly emergent technological capacities of industrial mass production.  



Gwyneth Harris, Marissa Hayden, Michael Hoover



ARC 544
Spring 2020



This combination of forces generated such unique styles as Italianate, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Shingle Style, Stick Style, and Richardsonian Romanesque. Also integral to the design and construction of buildings at this time was the widespread publication and popularization of architectural plan books, pattern books and catalogs. These books were wide ranging in scope; however most were intended as substitutes for the role of the architect, a profession that was fairly uncommon in the U.S. until the late 19th century. Some of these books were more aspirational than instructional in nature, while others provided the information to precisely replicate designs through well-drawn components as well as plans, façades and perspectives. The dissemination of plan books, pattern books and catalogs – and the implementation of their designs – resulted in a period of architectural production that was astoundingly diverse while remaining, at the same time, typologically consistent. 

The city of Buffalo is often recognized as having some of the best-preserved housing stock from this time period. Buffalo’s Victorian-era houses are a testament not only to the influences of the pattern books but also to the creation of a city-defining vernacular tradition that demonstrates the combinative possibilities of Victorian-era elements. This course examines conceptual and constructive possibilities of Victorian houses, exploring them through pattern books as well as through existing buildings in Buffalo. Students mined this information in order to propose new tectonic structures and typologies.

This course was devoted to exploring historical, conceptual and technical aspects of 19th century architectural plan books, pattern books and catalogs as well as Victorian houses in Buffalo. Through presentations, work sessions, and assignments, students speculated on ways of projecting their research into new possibilities for design and construction.

This process took place in four phases: historical research, a survey and collage of house parts, synthesis of ideas through drawings, and finally five proposals that articulate a new typology.

Early collages explored more fantastic combinations of parts, subtle qualities of screening and ornament, patterns of window placement, and oddities of turret and roof form. Through many iterations these studies were refined into typologies that, although still whimsical, felt quite close to being plausible, perhaps in some other culture or in some parallel history.