Two Centuries of Residential Development and Planning in the National Capital Area
Edited by Richard Longstreth
Hard cover, 387 pages, $49.50
Released date: July 15, 2010
This book is a collection of essays about the legacy of residential development in Washington DC, written by historians, academics and professionals. The Washington DC housing, generally been largely ignored by architectural and urban historians, who have given preference to cities like New York, Boston, and Baltimore.
This book is not focused on any given type of housing, builder, architect, developer, period - but rather it looks at a range of studies for most of the categories. The content offers wealth of information about the city's architectural and urban histories. It tells stories how urban housing development take shape in the nation's capital. Some of the houses in the book were demolished. Though, some of the houses are still in existence.
For people who are in the housing industry, this is a guidebook to neighborhoods' architecture and history.
The book is divided into two parts: Common Patterns and Reformers' Visions.The Common Patterns section is divided into stories about African American housing in Washington DC in the early 19th century, speculative builders who built the Red Brick City in the late 19th century, development of row house that took place in early 20th century, development of planned community at Bowie in Maryland and the tell tale success stories of J. Willard Marriott motor hotel development.
The second half of the book, the Reformers visions, begins with an early private-sector initiative. The contribution of Federal Housing Administration to apartment building design, to housing development in the suburb of the District of Columbia.
Now I understand why mass produced housing in this area seems to be the trend, even row houses were built in mass.
Unlike any other cities in the nation, housing in Washington DC has deep ties to the government. For DC, it has always been about the relationship between government and housing. Even from before, houses were built to satisfy the need of middle class government workers. So, row houses were products targeted for the masses. It's quick to build. It's standardized. Doesn't need to be fancy. By using a few layout patterns that can easily be copied elsewhere, these houses were built speculatively.
The two most successful builders in the last two decades of the nineteenth century got their career started as carpenter's apprentices. They're not architects! They seldom works with architects. That was the pattern. I think even today, some builders don't work with architects.
"The architecture has been shaped by numerous factors, for example the area natural environment and available building materials, its accepted house forms and traditions of land use, building regulations and most profoundly is the choices made by hundreds of individual builders - men who, for the most part, trained for and started their careers working as building tradesmen."
Charles Gessford (1830-94) specialized in speculative houses in older neighborhood around the Capitol. Robert Fleming (1842-1907) catered to affluent market, custom designing as well as building row houses in Dupont Circle.
He uses two different standardized patterns that that allowed him to easily estimate what his budget needs are for labor and materials for any given project:
- 2/3 Georgian plan - two major rooms, front-to-back, a long entry and stair hall to one side that also connected to rooms in the rear ell. Standard in Georgetown and Alexandria.
- 1/3 Georgian plan - eliminated the side hall for small row and alley houses.
Gessford's trademark is the red brick houses with sharply angled 'pediments' that functioned as attic ventilators rising above chamfered bay windows. You probably have seen some of his houses in DC.
Harry Wardman (1872-1938) played critical role shaping the residential housing in the city. He built and developed over 3,000 buildings in a wide range of settings from residential to commercial real estate. The British Embassy is one of his buildings. He changed the scale of building row housing in the city. He built houses that covers a broad spectrum "from row houses in the Bloomingdale and Columbia Heights neighborhoods for middle income persons to modest, semi-detached houses for people of more modest means in his Fort Stevens Ridge development for more affluent clientele in a tract named English Village."
I admit I didn't finish reading the book. A lot of ground to cover. Something that you want to do in-depth reading. Because it covers a lot of history in the city's urban development and -- it is fascinating.
Housing Washington is a book that you want to spend time reading it...
Who is this book for: housing professionals, architects, urban planners and history buffs.
Disclosure: I am sent this book to review. And I am an affiliate of Amazon.com.