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Picturesque Building Style

The first serious challenge to the Classical architectural tradition in Utah was mounted by the

Gothic Revival 1865-1880
Italianate 1870-1895
Second Empire 1870-1900

Picturesque styles during the 1860s and 1870s. The Picturesque aesthetic, based upon irregularity of composition and embodied in such styles as the Gothic Revival and Italianate, was the architectural manifestation of American romanticism, which stressed spontaneity and emotion over control and reason.

As the prevailing Classicism came to be considered artificial and unnatural, it was replaced by forms thought to be natural and therefore somehow more honest. Picturesque styles used building materials in ways that emphasized their textures and forms and that seemingly reduced the artifice of the builder. Designers stressed the aesthetic appeal of asymmetrical massing, verticality, the use of rich colors, and the application of complicated and often exaggerated decorative schemes.

Harmony was not itself shunned, but the Picturesque concept of architecture was based upon an active tension between competing building elements rather than a simple order based upon Picturesque1_largeproportion and symmetry.

Many architectural stylebooks that surfaced during the 1840s and 1850s set forth Picturesque design principles. Books such as Andrew Jackson Downing’s Cottage Residences (1842), William Ranlett’s The Architect (1847), and Gervase Wheeler’s Rural Homes (1851), which contained both essays on the advantages of Picturesque design and romanticized line sketches of cottages and houses, added an important new dimension to the builder’s repertoire.

The style most commonly associated with this period is the Gothic Revival, a vertically oriented architecture imported from England characterized by pointed arches, steeply pitched roofs, and the elaborate saw-cut ornament often called “gingerbread” today. The Italianate, another important Picturesque style, introduced the broad flat roof with bracketed eaves into American architecture. The Second Empire style, while not strictly Picturesque given its heavy reliance on formal and Classical details, is included here because it still represented a break from the restraint of the Classical tradition. In Utah it is most commonly and distinctively encountered in the form of a mansard roof placed upon one of the Picturesque-era house types.

Although style book writers continued to use the older, more traditional house types such as the central- and side-passages forms, they may also be credited with introducing and popularizing the cross-wing design. Based loosely on a medieval English house form, the cross-wing’s forward-projecting wing, contrasted to the horizontal side wing, is the minimal statement of the Picturesque quest for asymmetry. It became the principal house type in Utah during the late 19th century and is found with Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, and Victorian decorative appointments.

In Utah, as in many other parts of the country, the reaction to the Picturesque was mixed. Picturesque ideas had their most direct impact on the state’s architecture as decorative elements applied to the exteriors of older Classical and traditional forms. Buildings during this period rarely fall into a single stylistic category, but instead mix elements of several styles in an eclecticism that became a hallmark of the 19th century. The archetypal Picturesque house in Utah, then, is a symmetrical house with a central gable or wall dormers, with or without bargeboards, finials, scrollwork, and other decorative detailing commonly associated with these styles.

The Gothic Revival enjoyed its greatest popularity in Utah during the 1870s. It is easily recognized by its steeply pitched gable roofs, gabled dormers with finials, and scroll-cut decorative woodwork alonggothic-rev1_large the gables and eaves. Traditional house types such as the hall-parlor and central passage were commonly built during this period with Gothic Revival dormers or a centrally placed cross gable. The cross-wing house gained ascendancy during this time, as did smaller variants of the side-passage form. The effects of such style books as A. J. Downing’s The Architecture of Country Houses were certainly evident, but older patterns still persisted and direct copies of stylebook designs were rare. Midway, in Summit County, and Willard, in Box Elder County, are particularly rich in Gothic Revival buildings.

–asymmetrical plan and/or façade
–vertical emphasis
–multiplication of gables and chimneys
–high, steeply pitched roof
–central cross gable
–wall dormers
–bargeboards on gables and dormers
–lancet windows
–finials at the apex of gables and dormers
–wall buttresses
–bay windows
–polychromatic treatment of materials

italianate1_largeThe Italianate was a second architectural style championed by architects and builders of the antebellum period that did not become poplar in Utah until after the Civil War. Italianate houses were constructed in Salt Lake City as early as the 1870s, but they did not become common in outlying communities until the 1880s. Two varieties of Italianate houses are regularly encountered: the first a substantial two-story, box-like residence with a side-passage plan, the second in the form of the ubiquitous cross wing. Both forms are characterized by a low-pitched hip roof, overhanging eaves, bracketed cornices, and tall windows capped by slightly arched and sometimes hooded window heads.

–asymmetrical plan and/or façade
–multiplication of openings and chimneys
–projecting bays
–low hipped roof
–bracketed cornice or eaves
–segmented or arched window heads

The Second Empire style in Utah is chiefly identified by the presence of a “curvilinear” or mansard roof. While popular in Salt Lake City in its complete form during the 1870s, the manifestations of this style are largely confined to decorative trim added to typical 19th-century house forms. Probably the most common of these forms is the cross-wing house with mansard roof.second-empire1_large

–square or rectangular massing
–mansard roof (straight or concave)
–roof dormers
–roof cresting
–wide eaves, occasionally bracketed in a manner similar to the Italianate style
–segmented or arched windows
–Classical ornamentation