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Jul. 7, 2020 | Tuesday
Editorials and Opinions
ArchiText: The simple design canvas
Many architectural styles start with the four-square form. (Brian Marshall/Special)

A number of times in previous columns I have referred to the architectural style of a house, but this week I’d like to consider a more fundamental feature: the form or shape of a house.

Fact is, there are only a few basic forms, with comparatively minor modifications that are repeatedly used throughout the spectrum of architectural styles. In the vast majority of cases, this begins with a choice: rectangular or square.

So, picture a child’s building blocks wherein the square blocks are of uniform height, depth and width while the rectangular blocks are consistent in height and depth but may vary in width.

For our purposes, each block will represent a room’s dimensions. From these blocks we can construct simple plan forms by combining them into a single row (linear) or multiple rows (massed) with the resulting shape being a three-dimensional square or rectangle.

Taking two or more simple plans and joining them at 90 degrees results in a compound plan (most frequently an L, T or U shape). So, to make the form of a typical simple plan Georgian, we could take six square blocks, assemble them in two parallel rows to produce a rectangle, and then another six blocks for the second storey.

Alternatively, assembling four of these blocks would produce a square, add four more for a second storey and the building form is a “four-square” (two rooms deep by two rooms wide by two rooms tall).

The four-square form is seen very frequently around Niagara. It can be elegantly unadorned like the one in our photo, or dressed-up with the design elements of an architectural style. The most common styles which use the four-square form include later period Regency, Colonial Revival, Folk Victorian, Prairie, Craftsman and Edwardian. 

If you are looking to find a four-square, ignore additions or minor wall projections. Focus on the main mass of the house. A square cube topped by a hipped or pyramid roof are the keys.