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Feb. 20, 2020 | Thursday
Editorials and Opinions
ArchiText: The Eclectics
An eclectic Dutch Colonial Revival design. (Brian Marshall/Special)

In order to be broadly accepted by the public, architectural designs must be reflective of the prevailing socio-economic and political attitudes of the time.

Just as society’s attitudes tend to swing on a pendulum from liberal to conservative (and back again), architecture necessarily follows suit, and the closing decade of the 19th century was a case in point.

Decades of change, driven by Victorian innovation and expansionism, created a general desire to slow down and take a breath.

As often occurs during periods such as this, there was a general longing for simpler times and more traditional ways. Architecture responded to this wave of nostalgia with the Arts & Crafts movement, Edwardian Classicism and a group of revival-based designs generally referred to as Eclectic houses.

Early Eclectic designs, beginning in the 1880s with the English neo-Georgian and the American Colonial Revival (designs taken from the Georgian colonial architecture of the Thirteen Colonies), rigidly adhered to the principles, criteria and elements of the archetypal forms.

By the early 1900s, conformity to heritage criteria had loosened up somewhat; designs staying largely true-to-form but often incorporating aspects of Arts & Crafts and/or selected elements lifted from other traditional styles.

Then, the combination of the “eyes-on” experience with actual historic houses by soldiers returning from the First World War in Europe and the advent of inexpensive photographic reproduction showing actual architectural details, forced architects back to designing largely accurate “period houses.”

The Dutch Colonial Revival home shown in the photo is a terrific example of the middle “flexible” Eclectic phase. Here, the designer has created a basic gambrel roofed Dutch Colonial reproduction complete with gambrel side gables.

However, the second floor of the end gable has been projected out over a porch appointed with a classical pediment and Tuscan columns. Further, a prominent moulding at the roof-ridges (where the pitch changes) wraps around into the gables, thereby creating the impression of pediments which effectively double-down on the classical elements.

Thanks in part to summer homes built for vacationing Americans and Niagara’s burgeoning middle-class of the period, our town is rich with Eclectic homes. So, is the old house you’re looking at a Georgian or neo-Georgian? Hmmm …