Original Construction and Later Changes

The Old House Web

Articles in this series: Determining the Purpose of Investigation  | Investigators and Investigative Skills | Studying the Fabric of the Historic Building | Looking More Closely  | Conducting the Architectural Investigation | After Weighing the Evidence | Keeping a Responsible Record  | Conclusion


Original Construction and Later Changes. Research prior to investigation may have indicated the architect, builder or a building's date of construction. In the absence of such information, architectural histories and field guides to architectural style can help identify a structure's age through its form and style.

Any preliminary date, however, has to be corroborated with other physical or documentary facts. Dates given for stylistic periods are general and tend to be somewhat arbitrary, with numerous local variations. Overall form and style can also be misleading due to subsequent additions and alterations. When the basic form seems in conflict with the details, it may indicate a transition between styles or that a style was simply upgraded through new work.

The architectural investigation usually determines original construction details, the chronology of later alterations, and the physical condition of a structure. Most structures over fifty years old have been altered, even if only by natural forces. People living in a house or using a building for any length of time leave some physical record of their time there, however subtle.

A longer period of occupancy generally counts for greater physical change. Buildings acquire a "historic character" as changes are made over time.

Changes to architectural form over time are generally attributable to material durability, improvement in convenience systems, and aesthetics. First, the durability of building materials is affected by weathering, temperature and humidity, by disasters such as storms, floods or fire, or by air pollution from automobiles and industry. Second, changes in architectural form have always been made for convenience' sake-fueled by technological innovations-as people embrace better lighting, plumbing, heating, sanitation, and communication. People alter living spaces to meet changing family needs. Finally, people make changes to architectural form, features, and detailing to conform to current taste and style.

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