Additions: Entrances

Buildings change over time, whether in appearance or function and one often affects the other. Sometimes changes are for access, protection from the elements, modernization, energy efficiency or maybe someone just wanted a change. Consider these entrance alterations as examples. Some entrances are seasonal, but others are meant to stay.

Burlington, VT

Burlington, VT

This example is shows the entrance to a restaurant (not shown in the photo is a small (obviously fake) chimney on the longer slope of the roofline of the entrance – like a cottage style). The building itself is the Hotel Vermont – historic image below.

Source: Boston Public Library.

Source: Boston Public Library.

As you can see, the entrance doesn’t exactly match the building. But it is located on the side, and not the front. What do you think?

Next, consider this shed roof front entrance addition in Johnson, VT. This entrance is likely for weather protection, and it appears that there was some attempt to blend it to the building. But the red clapboard, the shed roof, the obvious white gutter (which is only pouring water directly to the foundation), and the vinyl door… well, it leaves much to be desired. The historic integrity of this facade is obscured, as well as the streetscape.


Johnson, VT – located on the main thoroughfare

Both of these examples are obvious additions. Do you find one more obtrusive than the other? In terms of streetscape and architectural integrity, I’d say the Johnson example is incompatible whereas the Burlington example is acceptable. Often this determination is dependent on which facade has the addition.

What do you think? And for either one, how would you improve it?


Facade Additions

Additions to historic buildings are required, by the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, to be sympathetic to and compatible with the existing building. Standard #9 is written as such:

New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction will not destroy historic materials, features, and spatial relationships that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and will be compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment.

Standard #10 is written as such:

New additions and adjacent or related new construction will be undertaken in a such a manner that, if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment would be unimpaired.

With proper consideration and consultation, a good addition is usually possible. However, sometimes, you’ll come across a building that completely violates all forms and any thoughts of a good addition. Often, this will be an addition on the facade (the front of a building). Sometimes you won’t even realize that there is another building behind it. Take these examples:

Barre Street in Montpelier, VT.

Barre Street in Montpelier, VT. There is an Italianate building behind that storefront addition.

Main Street in Montpelier, VT.

Main Street in Montpelier, VT. There is a small house behind that long front addition.

What do you think? Are facade additions ever appropriate? Considering how much of survey & determination of eligibility is based on the appearance of the street facade, it’s hard to imagine a good facade addition.

The Rear of a Building

Have you ever thought that the rear elevations of buildings are often neglected, sacrificed, or overlooked? This unfolds in a myriad of ways:

First, alterations are mostly made to the streetscape, since people want the public to see their style, updates, etc. The back of the house or the building always seems to be next on the list, and if it is the current project, it will receive less attention than the front of the house. This leaves the back of a building with a story to tell. Perhaps the windows or siding is original. Or in city blocks, alleys give hints as to the former arrangement and alterations of doorways, shed roofs, and coats of paint. This is where you can learn the most about a building (according to Prof. Gary Stanton of UMW during vernacular architecture field trip in downtown Fredericksburg).

Second, consider that the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation (#9 and #10) often relegate additions to the back of a building in order to preserve the streetscape, massing, feeling, and historic architecture. Suddenly, the rear doesn’t seem to matter too much. An addition will block the original wall and sometimes, especially on city lots, goes on and on until it is larger than the original historic structure; a view from the side elevation loses all perspective in size. The rear of the house has been sacrificed.

Third, the majority of architectural surveys occurs from the street or public right-of-way, so the back of a building is just left out. Those stories from the back are ignored.

I don’t mean to say that additions should be in the front of the building or that additions should be outlawed or that we should all start traipsing across private property just to get a good luck at the building. After all, architectural history centers on buildings facades; the facades are how we read the styles, generally speaking.  Rather, I’m just suggesting that we shouldn’t forget about the rear elevations of our historic buildings, in terms of research and in terms of rehabilitation, maintenance, or repair. And we should give them more thought. Why should the front get all of the attention? Many of us spend a lot of time in the backyard.

What do you think? Do additions need to be even more sensitive? Or is this something we just have to deal with as the needs of houses and buildings changes? Do you think that more than the streetscape matters?