Skyscrapers are not the solution. They deprive human kind of the sense of the limit, exasperating the sense of omnipotence. Single-family houses are the direction. Architecture with a horizontal perspective, not vertical, or we lose the trees from our view, from our landscapes of beauty.
The Cape Cod Cottage
by Thomas Allocca
1 Archetype of the American house
Experienced also unconsciously, breathing it in the air or feeling it on the skin, the spiritual essence of the American identity is everywhere in Massachusetts, but always more touchable and consciously perceivable as we move towards the southeastern lands. From Plymouth to the peninsula of Cape Cod, from the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, up to Provincetown, it was in these lands that the first settlers built up the archetypes of the houses and the towns that, only 156 years later, were not anymore just fragmented colonies serving their European motherlands, but one national mind and spirit, with its own constitution and legislative body, a new cultural and economic identity, of continental proportions, the United States of America.
And still today, it is above all in these lands that the timeless charm of the colonial architecture of the founding fathers can be perceived. Behind any corner, along any road, walking in public parks or enjoying the cozy hospitality of local people in their houses or in their pristine gardens, everywhere, in everything, in everyone, anytime, Cape Cod takes the occasion to recall to itself, and to all the rest, that it was born from the purest principles, it was born from beauty. And this is the main essence of the architecture of Cape Cod, still almost magnifically preserved above all into the cottage type, that despite any need of changing, because the unevitable process of modernization, must be preserved and kept into consideration by the architects, whatever is the request of the committments. Architects must be the first guardians of Cape Cod architecture genius.
Simple in plan and in elevation, with double sloping roof, developed on one or two floors, the Cape Cod colonial cottage is foundamentally the 17-18th centuries evolution (1620-1776) of the medieval northern European rural house, for some historical reasons also bringing with it some characters of the Viking longhouse. From the first colonies of the people of the Mayflower Compact (1620), up to the Declaration of Independence (1776), the colony style of the basic Cape Cod cottage has kept almost the same original characters. Plan, shape, distribution, windows, ceilings' height. Everything almost exactly as four centuries ago.
In accordance with modern standards of indoor quality of life, above all in terms of space distrubution, air, sunlight, for sure the most traditional Cape Cod cottages should be reinvented, also eliminating the basement, but the challenge must be to find structural, functional, and aesthetical solutions that do not delete the history, continuing to tell it, even if in a more modern and useful language. Regeneration, not substitution. Reinterpreting and better explaining the meanings, not changing them.
So, whatever the project is, it be an interior renovation, or an extended remodelling, Cape Cod will continue to represent the land of the most original spirit of the American architecture, only if we will continue to keep memory of its most original characters, of its ancestral history, of its founding meanings and identities, of its values of beauty, purity, freedom, whatever their material destiny will be.
My research on Cape Cod cottage born from these considerations, with the ambition of contributing to preserve its genius, its beauty, its lesson.
2 Worthy of UNESCO
Everything started in Massachusetts, in year 1620, with the first settlers of Plymouth and the area of Cape Cod. It was here that the history of the United States of America was born, and of its architecture. But we cannot neglect that before the first dwellers of New England, the New World was already inhabited by the Natives, and for how much the architecture of the colonial age was fundamentally based on the British building tradition, also Natives had their building tradition.
Well, for how much we can consider the Natives' houses as based essentially on tents, it was probably not exactly like that, because six centuries before the arrival of the British people, Natives had been in contact with Scandinavian explorers, bringing on the other side of the Ocean their carpenters and techniques.
So, we can suppose that Viking architecture was adopted or partially adopted by Natives during the 11-12th centuries, and we cannot exclude that at the time of the first colonies of New England, the cottages of the people of the Mayflower Compact were not so new at the eyes of the Natives, and we cannot exclude that they helped the colonists, not only in farming, as we know from many documents, but also in building, knowing already the timber framing building techniques.
If my theory is right, we can suppose that also the Cape Cod colonial cottage is not so much British, but it identifies an its own unique style, a mix of British-Native, since almost the biginning of its history. Considering then that also the Native style, at that time, could be not anymore so pure, but Native-Viking, we can deduce that the Cape Cod colonial cottage represents a very unique style, not just relevant for being the archetype of the American house, but the evolution of three combined archetypes. Absolutely a world architecture history living document, not just of the American one, but deserving to be elected as a world treasure by UNESCO.
3 Natives' role in the Cape Cod cottage borning
When the first British colonists of the Mayflower ship arrived in the New World it was the 16th November 1620, and they were late of three months on travel plans. Tired and almost without food, timber was finished and they had started to burn pieces of the ship to keep warm children and wemen, while many men were already dead, and the great part of the surviving were badly sick.
At these conditions they never could have survived without a miracle. And the miracle did, but it didn't come from angels of the sky, but from humans, from the land, from the same land and the same people that later the descendants of the first colonists betrayed, writing some of the most cruel and dishonorable pages of the American history, emarginating, putting in slavery, killing.
Without any doubt, it was thanks to the Natives that the founder fathers of the American history were capable to survive to their first long and harsh of the northeastern Atlantic winter, and it is very noteworthy, and reason of pride, to see that finally, after four centuries, the American culture is starting to take care in the right way of the Natives' rights, and to their history's rehabilitation.
Back to the Mayflower's passengers, the plans of arriving in Summer failed, and it is known that the Natives were friendly and generouse since the first days, rescuing the colonist and supporting them with food, dry wood for fire, and lumber for building the first shelters. And the help lasted till Spring, when they helped the strangers to prepare the first farmlands, giving them also seeds and labor. First cereals and vegetables were harvested since the first year, from which the establishment of the Thanksgiving Day was created, the most important holiday in American culture, much more important than the Independence Day, that considering the help of Natives, it would have been more honest to name it the Natives Thanksgiving.
Without any historical interpretation, it is therefore a fact that the amazing history of the American people was started with migrants from Europe, but helped by Natives since the first day, without whose support, today we were telling another story. So, the same history of integration can be supposed also for the origin of the American architecture history, and this is why it is not so difficult to deduce that the Cape Cod cottage, in its colonial age characters, can be considered as the most ancient depositary of the characters of the first American house, built with the help of Natives, using their lumber, and very probably also supported by their tools and building knowledge.
4 The cottage of resilience
Governments and international research organizations have started to encourage the usage of the only alternative and less pollutant material we can have, timber, but until wooden architecture will be not considered as the only one admitted, by law, the problem will keep going, irreparably.
It is in this context that the most traditional architecture of Cape Cod, the colonial style cottage, could have a really important role, becoming an emblem of environment friendly architecture. Its modern restoration could be also the occasion for promoting a new need, a new way of conceiving the house: the house of resilience. Keeping the timber-based building systems, as in the oldest tradition, completely eliminating the brick walls, steel beams and pillars added in the last century, and above all the concrete basements, the renewing of the interiors with a more comfortable and healthy space distribution, will be already enough to elect the new Cape Cod cottage as an American proudness.
Tradition and innovation in perfect balance, continuing to tell the story, but using the new language of the challenge against global warming and carbon dioxide emissions. Despite the image of the United States as frentic runners towards hyper-technology and limitless economical power, the renovation of the archetype of the American house would make of it also the archetype of the American architecture of resilience, and the consequent election of Massachusetts, again as the land of the founding fathers. This time, the fathers of the age of resilience.
TK Estate, Centerville
Renovation of a luxury one-family house in Centerville, located in one of the most prestigious neighborhoods around Long Pond. We have designed the renovation of the first floor, transformed into an independent apartment, with two bedrooms, relax area, kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and new larger windows for higher standards of air and sunlight. Both the new interior walls and the counter-walls along the perimetral ones, have been built using the traditional timber framing system.
Design 2022.09 | Construction 2022.10 - 2023.03 | Cost 60,000 $