Thursday, November 29, 2012

More on DC Architecture: Row houses near U Street NW

When you think of typical DC architecture the neo-classical White House, Capitol, & Memorials come to mind. And these of course are remarkable and beautiful buildings, but the reality of DC is that they represent just a small albeit much more famous side of DC architecture.
The building type you’ll actually see more of in the neighborhoods of the city is the row house. These are the small city houses found in most east coast American cities and of course throughout Europe. The blocks of the city are divided into lots which when developed usually had a small or no front yard, a narrow 2-3 story residence and usually a larger back yard. These houses would share side walls with the neighboring houses. They are some of the city’s first housing, especially the famous colonial and federal style ones found in Georgetown and Alexandria, VA. When we lived in the city my son attended school in Northwest DC in a neighborhood called “U” Street.
The school was housed in a former laundry- a gem of a streamlined moderne building. And it was surrounded by a neighborhood of mostly Victorian row houses. The city experienced phenomenal growth in the years after the Civil War and most of the classic DC row houses are of this vintage.
Victorian architecture is famous for turrets and bay windows but what comes to mind more often are the freestanding wooden “stick style” Victorian houses. It’s quite something to see that language rendered in brick and shoulder to shoulder with other similar style houses.
There are also much simpler houses that integrate a front porch, usually with Tuscan columns; these houses were from more of the turn of the 20th century and the years after. The DC variety have a particular scale to them not found say in Baltimore or Philadelphia, or say the brownstones of New York City. They also seem to have more whimsy and more protrusions and details, those other cities tend to have flat fronted row houses, but of course DC has its share of those, mostly “Federal” in style.
Many of these row houses have been restored, and are often painted in interesting ways. Now they are often converted into apartments and condominiums, with even the basements being turned into individual units.
There are also a few interesting new modernist condominium buildings that have been built in this neighborhood alongside the historic houses. The modern building pictured has a glass wall that looks similiar to the glass facade of the laundry that housed my son's school. But most probably find the old houses much more charming to look at and they make up much more of DC’s streetscape then the memorials and government buildings the city is famous for.

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