Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Rest of The Story

Here is a photo that supports my theory of the cause of the half-inch jog in the line of the trim running along the bottom of the south side tympanum. The red arrow points to the location of the jog, pictured previously; it is clear that to the right of the jog (towards the foreground here), the trim inclines upward, whereas on the other side of the jog the trim is more or less level. The fact that the settling at the foundation traveled so far up the structure indicates an alarming corruption of the integrity of the house's structure.

Victorian architectural precepts dictated that a structure of this type be light and stiff. The Farm House has relatively small rooms, and all the interior walls are load-bearing; this allowed the builder to use smaller, lighter framing members than houses built later typically had. This light, cellular structure gave the Farm House the rigidity it needed to ride out 126 years of earthquakes and stiff winds, but it obviously was not enough to avoid significant injury completely.

That is why it is absolutely essential, when undertaking the restoration of any old house, to secure the services of a good building engineer, one who is fluent in the language that old houses speak. Ours clearly read this situation as easily as you are reading this, allowing us to avoid a lot of misery down the road. Of course, here in California the employment of a building engineer confers another significant benefit: it allows one to renovate the existing structure under the State Historical Building Code. Simply put, this allows the specific prescriptions of a licensed building engineer to override the codes that would otherwise apply, as long as the engineer makes the case that his prescriptions will result in a structure that meets current safety standards.

That's crucial with a Victorian structure, for it allows remedial construction to be done in a manner congruent with the way it was built, thus avoiding character-destroying alterations that would otherwise be required. In this case, it allowed the installation of a light steel cage to restore rigidity, rather than wholesale replacement of framing members with larger, heavier ones that would have necessitated extensive replacement of the exterior cladding, as well as heavy alteration of the window and door casings.

On the other hand, it also leaves the scars of the original injury on the exterior, diminishing in a small degree the house's beauty of form and of fitness [see Journal]. Then again, perhaps this is only proper. A fine old house such as the Farm House should be allowed to bear its signs of age with dignity; it should be allowed to continue to tell its stories for us to learn.

1 comment:

  1. It is completely inappropriate to ask an old lady, such as the Farm House, to suffer the indignity of having to submit to the ravages of a whippersnapper new doctor who has no appreciation for her true beauty.


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