Take a walk with me. We are walking up a San Francisco street so steep you think it might be easier to crawl. You feel that if you were to extend your arms straight out you could touch the very ground you tread. Feel your calves burning? Good, now look up. Look at the homes lining the street. Rows of Victorian style homes are filed together almost resembling an untouched, tightly packed bookshelf. The architectural style is Victorian through and through. Over-the-top decorative trim, columns, turrets, bay windows, and shingles give the houses the feel of glorified, human-scaled dollhouse. Questionable color choices have been made: deep purples, lime greens, and pale yellows, with highlights of fluorescent pink. Some are subtler than others, while most are flamboyant for the sake of flamboyance.
We continue walking through the land of old Victorian women wearing lace, velvet, and feathered hats, and notice a disruption in the rhythm. This house is the same height and same width, but its façade is composed of clean lines, steel, muted tones, and large glass windows. It is a modern home placed in between those of an 18th century style. The sight is somewhat amusing. The modern home becomes out of place in the presence of extravagant dollhouses.
In response to strict zoning laws and limited empty lots, designers and home buyers are turning to refurbishing the old shells of Victorian residences into modern vehicles for living. The typical Victorian home renovation usually lies along the spectrum of preservation. Now, however, homes are trading their fluorescent trim, bay windows, and shingles for clean lines, panoramic views, and corrugated metal. This is creating an interesting juxtaposition of architectural style, with the new sandwich between the old.
Most of these architectural face-lifts are executed with their surroundings in mind. Take, for example, the San Francisco “Flip House” by Fougeron Architecture. The intent was to capture the surroundings of the house by bringing the outside in with large folding windows extending the height of the house. Floor to ceiling steel and glass may not be the most ideal gesture of visual respect for the long established Victorian homes, but it is definitely redefining the house typology of San Francisco. Popping up all around the city, dollhouses stand shoulder to shoulder with the hard edges of glass and steel. These types of houses are becoming the new aesthetic and trend for people looking for a contemporary, urban way of living without resorting to the high-rise.
While some see the modern face-lift as a unique, alternative form of housing, some are concerned about the longevity of San Francisco’s Victorian charm. 20th century photographers Hilla and Bernd Becher are known for their typologies documenting and classifying “endangered architecture” (i.e. industrial structures, water tanks, warehouses). The images of this post are presented with a similar intent in typology; to act as a comparative document in style. The Victorian home is by no means “endangered” in San Francisco, but more and more modern homes are emerging from the bones of the traditional style. The future of San Francisco’s housing typology may change more than we think, and someday, it may be that a photograph will be the only thing left of the city’s Victorian icons.
Should the modernization of these homes be embraced over preservation? Could the Victorian style houses become a relic?
Credits: Images by Lauren Golightly. Data link to sources.