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Open Access Thesis
Master of Architecture (M.Arch.)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
The thesis begins with an analysis of the Victorian Era architectural style through the single-family residence and translates certain design elements into a contemporary architectural climate. It is my personal view that modern residential architecture does not have the same level of visual intrigue as the homes from the Modernist movement from the 1900s, particularly in light of Postmodern architecture from the 1970s to now. I set out with the intention of creating a spatially and formally interesting residential home design which strikes a balance between the pre-modern period of dense ornamentation and more modern minimalist approaches to design.
Modern architecture, which began as early as the 1900s and gained major traction in the 1940s and 50s following the end of World War II, focuses on the massing, rather than the detail, of a building. In Modernist homes, the interior experience and exterior experience are not congruent. While this creates a clean and uncluttered atmosphere, both inside and out, the end product may become sterilized to the point that it looks as though it is not meant for the intended inhabitants. As a continuation of this modern approach, contemporary architecture may focus aesthetic ideals on the exterior of the building, but the implied complexity of the design and intended experience of a space within is not carried throughout the building and into the interior spaces.
Victorian design ideals, on the other hand, attempt to evoke personified elements, which appeal to the viewer and are much more tailored to the human scale and experience. Victorian design is highly detail-oriented and routinely references the human scale. Attention to decoration is put into fine detail, often with natural or anthropomorphic qualities. Victorian architecture is colorful and purposeful, with outside facades pulling together context clues and informing the viewer of interior spaces. It uses color palettes that might be seen as unorthodox by other designers. However, these houses employed color to bring out detail and design in the facade, becoming enhanced by the color variety and their effective application. They are full of character and interest, inside and out. These buildings also use elaborate woodwork designs to add unique visual flair. This added uniqueness makes these homes more personable, reflecting personal tastes and expression. While the façade and each room can be entirely unique with its purpose and experience, there is an underlying design vocabulary that acts as a foundation for each space and ensures cohesion with the interior and exterior.
As residential home design has evolved from American Colonial, to Neoclassical, to Victorian, to Craftsman, the Modernist Movement marked the separation point in architecture design in the 1930s and 40s. This movement, led by Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, were the spark that changed architecture for all types of construction. This style also would have a profound effect on residential design, and it was not until the 1930s when the modern age of home design manifested. Since the era of Gropius and the Bauhaus movement, home design has become stagnant in some areas. Designers have adhered to 1920s Modernist philosophy for so long, it feels as if it has plateaued. It is my perspective that contemporary residential designs now have a cookie cutter quality. There is little differentiation between individual expression of modern home design. In addition, there are certain visual aspects of modern design that imply a complex interior that are not carried through to the interior.
Similar to the false fronts of the 1860s, contrasting material choices, greater accentuation and detail were selectively used in the front of the building but are missing on the other sides of the exterior. This can be related to the false front buildings. These false fronts first appeared in 1849 following the California Gold Rush. They were used by merchants to make their shops and buildings look larger and more important as opposed to their simple shed and gable roof buildings. This concept of putting more effort into the experience of the front of a building continues to be used today.
Designers put this effort into the front façade because it is the first thing people will see when experiencing a house or building and here it is possible to make a good first impression. This also results in the other sides of a home receiving less attention and feeling less important than the front. In modern home design the detail might still be emphasized on the front but is much more subdued as without overt ornamentation the distinction between each side and whether or not it is the “front” can be difficult to tell.
In the modern era of home design, the open floor plan reigns supreme. Materials and mechanical systems have advanced focusing on energy retention and economically efficient properties. However, one major area where home design has fallen stagnant has to do with individual room identity. While the open floor plan can be pleasant and convenient, it inevitably results in rooms that are connected but have less inherent identity. In Victorian homes, rooms are separated from one another, and each of these spaces has distinction and purpose.
After completing this research on the relative differences between Victorian, Modernist, and contemporary residential approaches, I applied these findings to a design project. The goal of this exercise was to design a contemporary single-family home that incorporates the Victorian aesthetic, with a blend of modern and Victorian characteristics throughout. I incorporated energy efficient and environmentally friendly materials, to bring the image and ideals of Victorian Era design into the present environmental moment.
In keeping with the needs and desires of families in the US residential market, this design offers a refreshing refinery of Victorian style fit for modern day living. Upon finishing the research and design phases, I developed a set of findings intended to assist other designers with the application of Victorian design principles to contemporary use. These recommendations might be applied to a dwelling or a room, or any design project in which the balance of contemporary needs, and design aesthetics, are in play.
 Walker, Lester. American Shelter. Overlook Press, 1981.
 Walker, Lester. American Shelter. Overlook Press, 1981.
L. Carl Fiocchi
Marcil, Richard J., "Refreshing Refinery: An Analysis of Victorian Architecture and How to Translate its Elements for Contemporary Architecture" (2023). Masters Theses. 1298.