Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Square House

A previous post mentioned the preponderance of flat-topped hipped roof structures in Kansas. They could be found on farms, in rural towns and urban centers. By the 1930s, property owners hoping to modernize these simple frame buildings sought advice from Kansas State College's Engineering Experiment Station.

Architecture professor Henry Evert Wichers (1898-1963) gathered data pertaining to regional house typologies and then proposed economical solutions aimed at thoughtful modification. Using perspective drawings by Luis Cortés Silva (a Spanish exile and 1932 K-State graduate who later established a career in Bogota, Colombia*), Wichers developed six modernization schemes for what he referred to as the "one-story square house."
Henry Evert Wichers (1923)
Luis A. Cortes Silva (1932)

Wichers cautioned would-be-renovators that the one-story square type was especially difficult to modify. He stressed that such buildings were typically poorly built, provided little illumination and hunkered too close to the ground. The four-room configuration allowed minimal flexibility for storage and water closets and the built-up eaves trough resulted in leaks.
Conservative interventions left the exterior walls intact, increased the fenestration, replaced foundations and chimneys, but  reduced the number of sleeping rooms for the sake of kitchen and bath. More dramatic solutions required lengthening the house towards the rear or sides, adding porches and possibly changing the roof. The square type could thus be reconfigured as a bungalow or as a colonial revival house. 

Wichers also advocated site-specific design:

"We should remember that Kansas is a large state, and within its borders there are considerable variations in rainfall and quality of soil. Kansas has swamp land and extremely dry areas, fertile land and poor land, in all degrees and combinations."(1)

He cautioned the state's farmers against adopting catalog home plans geared towards city dwellers:

"The chief difference between the farmhouse and the city house is that the former is a more independent and self-sufficient unit than the city house. . . The farmhouse must, therefore, be proportionately larger than the city house."(2)

Although his modifications of the square house varied considerably, he encouraged farmers to consider more rambling forms suited to the needs of the family home and business.

*Beatriz García Moreno. Arturo Robledo: La arquitectura como moda de vida. Bogota: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2010, p. 42.

(1-2)H.E. Wichers. "Better Homes for Kansas Farms." Kansas State College Bulletin No. 43.  Engineering Experiment Station. Volume XXVI: Number 5. Manhattan, KS: The College, 1 June 1942.

Images above:  One-Story Square House, plan and photograph from: H.E. Wichers. "Modernizing the Kansas Home." Kansas State College Bulletin No. 32.  Engineering Experiment Station. Volume XVIII: Number 5. Manhattan, KS: The College, 1 June 1934.

Wichers (1923) from the K-State Royal Purple; Cortes (1932) from the K-State Royal Purple. All available through K-State Libraries.

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