Building Types

Historic buildings can take many forms and often defy easy classification by architectural style. As discussed in the Traditional section of this style guide, vernacular or folk buildings reflect the historic cultural traditions of specific ethnic or economic groups and are often described as building types. The form of the buildings is dictated by a pragmatic concern to meet basic housing and buildling needs relying on centuries old traditions and craftsmanship. Such folk building traditions are greatly influcenced by location and ethnicity and economics, rather than era or the prevalence of popular styles. These forms change little over time and employ established constructiion techniques, despite a changing aesthetic around them. Planned use, cost of construction, the availability of certain building materials and cultural preferences all play a role in the continuing use of vernacular forms. Analysis of common traditional house forms by both architectural historians and folklorists has led to the development of terms to describe these often seen housing types. The floorplan or layout of the house often is the best identifiable feature in understanding and identifying these types of vernacular housing forms.

Since buildings are constructed to serve a great variety of purposes, of course their size, shape, form and features are designed to meet those industrial, commercial, institutional or domestic needs. Some building types have been well researched so that their history, distribution pattern and key features have been identified. Others are less well documented, making it more difficult to evaluate them as good examples of their type. Lack of research also makes it more challenging to understand the significance of such buildings - Are they unique or widespread in the region and if they were once common, how many currently remain in good condition?

Some of the most common historic building types in Pennsylvania include mills, agricultural or industrial complexes, railroad related structures, schools, churches, novelty buildings, and a wide variety of venacular domestic forms. These buildings may include details of established historic architectural styles, but their appearance is more dictated by necessity and the function they serve.