New England Architecture in Pedagogy

PATRICK KONDZIOLA (M. Arch II ’17)

How do we approach and understand the vernacular architecture that is around us? For the most part I am speaking of what Vincent Scully coined the “Shingle Style.” When I arrived at Yale, this was a question I wanted to answer, as I had thought about its origins. It is difficult to spot good examples of this architecture, since mediocre versions have been so widely disseminated across the country.

Below is an example of a building many of us pass every day without noticing its value. However, whether or not we realize it, it has shaped our understanding of American architecture and culture more than most of us would think.

It is devastating to me to see this architecture becoming less relevant in architecture schools like Yale. Why do we start our education with Antiquity but don’t study the origins of American architecture with the same vigor? I believe this is because, as the new generation of architects, we are unable to see the significance of the past that is around us. We only see it in its contemporary context. With architecture, we analyze its form but rarely experience its presence as relevant to our cultural heritage.

A disturbing experience got me to write this article: only two students enrolled in New England Domestic Architecture last semester, a course taught by Kathleen James-Chakraborty, a student of Vincent Scully. Even though there are many copies of Scully’s The Shingle Style and the Stick Style (and original manuscripts), students don’t consider his work a relevant architectural source by now.

In response, I’d like to call to attention the relevance of applying the lessons of this architecture in our contemporary design studios. The Shingle Style, born out of a transitional time in our history, represents some of our most original and uniquely American works. It represents turning away from European standards while maintaining its traditional heritage, rejecting authority while accepting democratic ideals. Espousing a melting pot of cultures, it sought alternative exotic sources such as the Japanese to produce new ideas which, despite being criticized as less rigorous in its freedom of expression, led to a unique spatiality. Horizontally expansive spaces were formed by unusual and inventive combinations of traditional forms, fused together by an iconic material: the shingle. An emergent social awareness praised the modesty in the minimal ornament of the shingle, striving towards the modern far before the international style while simultaneously respecting our critically regional trades and resources.

From Charles Moore to Turner Brooks, almost all of our former and current faculty are influenced by this legacy, which starts with H. H. Richardson and is made ubiquitous by Vincent Scully. But are we now breaking this tradition in our pedagogy? In a time of increasing globalization and architectural homogeneity, I believe it is more important than ever that we attempt to produce an architecture that responds to unique local conditions. Our country has changed dramatically since the Shingle Style and calls for something entirely new. How can we call on our past to look forward to new ideals that resonate with our current cultural state?