Flat Roofs

There is obviously continuity in the physical landscape as you leave New England (in either Vermont, Massachusetts or Connecticut) and enter New York but almost immediate contrast in the built environment. The older houses look different, and this difference becomes more pronounced as soon as you get into some towns. There are some universal styles (Greek Revival, High Victorian, all those post 1945 “capes”), but the New England colonial and federal styles do not seem to have penetrated New York, where you see far more center gables, little second-floor windows, board and batten, and most especially flat roofs. New York State really embraced the Italianate in the mid-nineteenth century, in a variety of forms: from the whimsical gothic and picturesque to the more straightforward and streamlined flat-roofed buildings–built of both brick and wood–that have always represented “New York” to me, because you just don’t see them in New England. Inspired by the rural villas of Renaissance Italy, these houses represent a more democratic diffusion of a style that seems to have spread everywhere in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This past weekend in Saratoga, when I was walking up Broadway (renown for its High Victorian mansions but obviously experiencing some McMansionization) it was these houses that captured my attention, and then I ran around the city looking for more.

Renaissance Villa

Flat Roofed Italianate House Saratoga

Flat Roof 13

Flat Roof 9

Flat Roof 3

Flat Roof 11

Flat roof6

Flat Roof 5

Flat Roof 4

Flat roof

Flat Roof 12

The Inspiration: View of the Villa La Petraia: From Vedute delle ville, e d’altri luoghi della Toscana (plate 33), 1744, Filippo Morghen (Italian, 1730–after 1807), after a drawing by Giuseppe Zocchi (Italian, 1711/17–1767), Metropolitan Museum of Art, and flat-roofed houses in Saratoga Springs.

6 responses to “Flat Roofs

  • Stephanie

    I travel between Maine and Central New York several times a year and I’m always struck by the different architecture. I’d been wondering what it was so thanks for this explanation.

  • 1EarthUnited

    Lovely classic architecture!

  • jane

    let’s see:

    different immigration patterns – large settlements of Dutch, German, French, as well as English immigrants. Therefore different cultural ideas about how to design and build.

    emphasis on the height and facade of the house – which is also evident in the balustrades at the eaves of Salem houses c. 1810+ . Boston also has many houses of the same period with impressive facades and eave embellishments, and invisible roofs.

    The importance of the Erie Canal, railroads, mills while eastern NE is still reeling from the War of 1812, the Embargo and then the 1837 panic.
    New technologies which allowed for flatter roofs: mainly tin plates – with the metals easily transported up the Hudson River.
    Such things as cast iron stoves which were not commonly used in eastern New England before 1930 are widely manufactured in the Hudson River watershed by 1820.

    Eastern New England is not fashionable in the pre-Civil War period. It gets stuck in Neo-Classical design, with high style Greek Revival and Italianate only for the rich… New Englanders somehow do not want to be flamboyant.

  • jane

    dates: ‘1830’ not ‘1930’ –
    and I should add presence of bog iron and coal in the Hudson River watershed, which had to come by boat under sail to the NE seacoast.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: