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Historical Integrity

By Roger Bartels


Only 5 percent of single-family houses are designed by architects. Therefore, according to Kouzmanoff, 95 percent of our residential environment is generated by those not trained or educated to do the job. (There are some very talented exceptions, of course.) Add to this the fact that most architects are hired by builders, developers, and homeowners to prepare drawings that address Commodity and Utility issues alone, with no serious consideration of the necessity of Delight. No wonder most architecture is bad.


Residents of waterfront communities in Fairfield County are currently frustrated with the large houses being developed on the small lots of their towns. Size is market-driven, but is an issue that can be mediated by architecture. What these frustrated residents are really experiencing is too much bad architecture.


The national mindset for residential utopia is suburbia. The credo is, “Build houses on one-acre lots; this will ensure separation, privacy, and isolation.” The culture shapes these qualities, but they are alien in this locale. Suburban development doesn’t respect the history and reality of, or the requirements for future living on, the Connecticut shore.


When you next visit waterfront towns like Stonington, Essex, Newport, Savannah, Charleston, Marblehead, and Nantucket, notice that they are not suburban. They are dense, varied, and busy. Their streets are filled with pedestrians and impossible to park in. Their houses have modest architectural style, no side yards, and stingy front yards. Their scale is human and intimate, yet the houses fill their lots and crowd the streets. Why do we love these towns? Because the architecture by professionals and amateurs is great!  Ironically, we return home and apply overblown Colonial styling onto our spread-out suburban developments and name the house models after them.


We are building in a waterfront village fabric that is older than America. It needs respect, acknowledgement, and protection from these suburban influences. Our responsibility is to provide Delight as well as Commodity and Utility. Going forward with today’s market-tested look, a style born of an unhappy marriage of the competing styles of the 1890s, won’t work in untrained hands. We must go back to the basics that generate Delight and express ourselves with integrity in our own style–one that is truly timeless.


Roger Bartels is the founder of Bartels-Pagliaro Architects, LLC, a South Norwalk firm, established in 1974, whose aim is to design houses that are “exceptionally livable.” Roger can be reached at 203.838.5517.

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