Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Sunday, October 21, 2012

This is NOT an eaves return

No Mr. Property Developer, this is NOT an eaves return.

Shannon Kyles first drew my attention to the appalling misuse of historical architectural elements in today's over-the-top residential developments. Although it is not in my nature to mock, I admit to cringing at the sight of a lintel with three, count 'em three, keystones along its length  in an expensive-enough-to-know better executive enclave north of Richmond Hill. And that was just one of the oddities I observed, as I waited for my fella to come out of a meeting.

I'll grant that the misuse might be based in some sort of homage to early building, or at least the bit that sells.
Shannon insists that it's because most students are not taught to see or to draw, nor of course, are most of them taught any architectural history. It's unlikely they come to love old structures, or they wouldn't hurt them so.

What's not to love about eaves returns? I must say, of all the alluring bits of an early building, the part that catches my eye first is that subtle fold just below the roof. An architectural feminine principle at work ...sinuous, secretive, protective, strong, elegant, multi-layered and complex, and in the case of the 'Aultsville cornice' honoured by PJS, curvy. Eve returns?

'Village store', Upper Canada Village
What are eaves returns?

Quite simply, they are how builders transition from a wall to a roof, providing weather protection and decorative possibilities in the process. It seems those decorative aspects appeared endless to the builders of the Greek Revival (heyday in the 1840's ) whose bold detail of layered mouldings is so appealing.

Cabinet-maker's shop (c.1850, Williamsburg  twp), UCV

I resort to quoting a definition by PJ Stokes, avoiding the foolish urge to say it better than he. "Eaves return: the extension of the eaves around the corner at the gable ends forming a return of the cornice". With his delightful twinkle he continues "..and with a flat top sometimes used by birds for a nesting place; hence the carpenter's term of 'birdhouses' for such features."

Lutheran Pastor's home (1842-44, Riverside), UCV

(that definition from the glossary of Rogues' Hollow, his fine collaboration with Tom Cruikshank on the village of  Newburgh)
Physician's home (1840's, Aultsville), UCV
The 'Aultsville cornice' was noted by PJS, and named for the area (one of the villages lost in flooding for the St. Lawrence Seaway) where it was often seen. It too is a very feminine thing: curvaceous, flexible and diplomatic, a bevelled board creating an effective and beautiful compromise between the horizontal and vertical planes of the roof's construction.

the significant Peter Demill house c.1835,  Northport
Now, make that garage look like this, and I might consider, actually, I couldn't.

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