A New Language for North Carolina

General / Places / September 29, 2010

With the East Coast’s first AIA-sponsored tour of homes scheduled for October 2, the AIA Triangle Chapter is about to make a serious statement on the nature and value of North Carolina’s special twist on traditional vernacular design.

For centuries, the foundation of that design was largely agrarian.  But a revolution of sorts came about in the 1940s when Henry Kamphoefner and his stripped-down sidekicks set up the Bauhaus-modeled School of Design at N.C. State in Raleigh.  That particular collision – of rural farmhouse and urban modernism – has evolved into a carefully articulated language common to Carolina alone.

“It’s a regional vernacular,” said Phil Kiester, president of the AIA Triangle chapter, which with 800 members, covers Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh.

“The methods of building here initially were probably different from other areas.  It’s not the Florida Cracker Vernacular – it’s more of a mill house language, with simple houses that support the form specific to the area.”

Today it’s still site specific, using native pine, cedar and cypress.  Windows are double-hung.  Roofs are pressed sheets of tin.  Gables are indented.  And there is, of course, the ubiquitous front porch.

“It’s traditional design, with an update,” Phil said.

Ten residences will be on this year’s inaugural tour, ranging from John Reese’s converted and restored 1917 Nordon Grocery & Mart in Raleigh to the Strickland Ferris residence, also in Raleigh, raised off the ground by Frank Harmon to accommodate a steep slope.

“We wanted to present the value that architects bring to the residential design table,” Phil said.  “Architects may be known as design leaders, but we are problem-solvers too, particularly with the integration of new systems and technology for sustainability.  We bring tactical skills and components to the table – much more than a standard residence.”

Tickets are $20 per person ($25 the day of the event), available through the AIA Triangle Chapter, the Triangle Homes Tour web site,  select Harris-Teeter locations or www.dwell.com.

For more information, go to http://www.trianglehomestour.com

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Michael Welton

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