[Tagging] building typology vs usage

Martin Koppenhoefer dieterdreist at gmail.com
Sun Sep 15 17:06:52 UTC 2019

Am Fr., 13. Sept. 2019 um 16:37 Uhr schrieb Kevin Kenny <
kevin.b.kenny at gmail.com>:

> In the part of the country where I live, the vernacular architecture
> is based on an idea of hardline Protestantism that rejected trappings.
> The older buildings tend to be symmetric boxes (albeit with
> more-or-less steeply pitched roofs; it *snows* here) that give no hint
> to their purpose.

yes, this can be part of the concept. Still, a workshop or railway station
will look different than an apartment building?

> Likewise, buildings may reveal obviously their complex history.
> Consider the Imam al-Khoei Foundation building in Jamaica, Queens, New
> York.
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imam_Al-Khoei_Benevolent_Foundation#/media/File:Imam_Al-Khoei_Foundation_8989_Van_Wyck_jeh.jpg
> https://www.flickr.com/photos/imjustwalkin/29799850223 .  It's
> obviously a converted factory - and just as obviously a mosque.

This reminded me of the "opposite" case:
A factory for tobacco (today an office building) in the style of a mosque.

> At
> what point does the former usage become obscured enough that the
> building acquires a new type?

this question has to be answered individually but in general I would say,
when the former structure isn't recognizable any more.

> The example that everyone loves to cite is 'building=church'. That
> appears to come about because people imagine very likely a building
> with a tall steeple or campanile, stained glass windows, perhaps built
> in a Gothic or Romanesque style.  But a couple of centuries ago in
> stern, Calvinist, North America, churches were plain affairs, with no
> stained glass, no iconography, not even a cross atop the steeple:
> https://www.flickr.com/photos/steveguttman/2814490383 is fairly
> typical of a church of the denomination and period. Is that obviously
> of the "church" type?  If so, can you say what features in particular
> distinguish it from
> https://www.oldhousedreams.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/10-21-Haskell.jpg
> ,
> which is pretty typical of a primary school of the same period? Many
> of these buildings also started out their lives as government
> buildings - the "meetinghouse" of a village would have been its seat
> of government as well as its church, in an era before the separation
> of church and state was a familiar idea. Meetinghouses were often even
> plainer than the examples that I've given so far.
> https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Exterior,_Sandown_Meetinghouse.jpg
> was in fact the town's meetinghouse, simultaneously its place of
> worship and seat of government, but from the exterior could just have
> easily have been a workshop, a school, or a boardinghouse.

these wooden buildings are remains of a pioneer time, when things weren't
settled, architects were rare and ressources scarce. If you build a serious
church, you will use stone to make it last ;-) (not completely serious
here, obviously). Take the greek temples as an example, they alse once were
wooden structures, but the only testimonies of actually remained buildings
are in stone.

If the same building was used as a meeting house and as a church, as seat
of government etc., then these would still all be instances of public
buildings intended to hold assemblies, and could be seen (if there are no
systematical differences), as a common type of building. Maybe orientation
comes into play? Churches traditionally are oriented east-west, with the
entrance to the west and the altar in the east.

"Church" like "residential building" is also a quite generic term, while a
common systematic approach for the distinction of church types
distinguishes them into 4 "main subtypes", according to their generic shape.

> If you have a high-Gothic building with twin campaniles, a magnificent
> rose window, and similar trappings, that's now a banquet hall or has
> been subdivided into flats, go ahead and tag it as "building=church"
> if you like. I really don't care. But don't expect that every building
> will fit an imagined typology.

no, of course not, but from what you have written above, it seems there are
clearly distinguishable/definable building types in your area as well (you
have provided excellent examples), so maybe the only missing link are
suitable tags to be able to find them?

> Frederik and others have told me
> repeatedly, "if it still looks like a church, tag it building=church,
> if it still looks like a school, tag it building=school, and so on."
> But that doesn't inform me about the historic buildings that I'm most
> interested in tagging. For the most part their history is complicated,
> and their appearance is either likewise complicated, or else
> undistinguished. What does a church, or a school, or a government
> building, look like?

it depends on culture and tradition and the circumstances of the individual
case, but if you know an area well you will very often be able to recognize
them even if you do not know the specific building.

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