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Vernacular 215 14th St.

This home at 215 14th Street was built in 1885 with local materials, methods of construction and along the lines of local traditions to address local needs. It is an elegantly simple balloon framed wood structure, perfectly appropriate to its western Pennsylvania location, because it is a vernacular structure, built without an architect.
Its roof slopes deeply to shed snow easily and has moderately overhanging eaves, wide enough to carry rain away from the sides of the structure, but not deep enough to protect interior spaces from hot sun, because that’s not necessary here. In that way it’s different from Italianate structures common to this area, that have low hip roofs and wide overhanging eaves.

The Italianate style is part of the vernacular of the sunnier Italian countryside, but that style was not brought or built here by immigrant Italians. It is a Victorian Revival that was imported to this area, because it was thought to be beautiful - and it is - but it’s not as useful as this steep gable roof with moderate eaves, because this roof was built to shed snow and allow light into rooms, rather than keep it out. This house at 215 14th Street was built for this particular climate by people who learned what is needed, from experience, right here.

The upstairs windows were simply set between the studs. There was no fancy joinery used to make room for larger windows that didn’t fit the space available. The windows were not “designed”, rather, they came about as a response to the available space within the confines of the balloon frame structure.

The additive porch protects its owners from wind and sun, rain and snow and provides a gentle welcoming embrace for the visitor. Its columns are simple long boxes that support the roof, rather than references to Greek or Roman times. The building is placed on the lot according to the English model that gives us space between the house and the sidewalk for gardens, rather than the French model which brings the structure right up to the sidewalk, because our population here in western Pennsylvania at the time it was built, was more English than French. This building fits its materials, its climate and its heritage.

215 14th Street is not pretentious and doesn’t have the historic referential details of a building that was designed by an architect to express some other place, time or idea, but what it does have is an utter simplicity and unadorned purity, that gives it great strength and character all its own.