Curving Things can be Difficult--but not Necessarily

Masons laying a simple curved wall in concrete block at a new home in Mt. Pleasant

In my time as an adolescent and younger man as the son of a contractor and, later, as an architecture student, I was thrown into a lot of construction and fabrication tasks.  Between framing houses in wood and steel, running trim work, installing tile, felting roofs, building basswood models, slicing and reforming 2x4s, and hanging sheetrock in a GNC distribution plant in Pendleton, SC, I came to understand a couple of things.  First, contractors typically detest the burden of creating curves in architecture, though will do it happily for a premium price. Secondly, and related to the first point, some materials are easy to curve, and others must be willed to curve at more significant cost of time and application of expertise.

When creating the design for a new home in Mt. Pleasant, I was needed to strike a careful balance between an architecture subtly curving shingle style details that my clients were drawn toward and a reasonable budget for a growing family.  Shingle style houses can use a well placed curve to even things out, but I knew that we didn't have the budget for curving rafter tails or large expanses of framed walls.  Or even large expanses of shingles, for that matter--but I'll save that for another post.

However, masonry is made from small, identical units.  They have to built up methodically, block by block (or brick by brick, as the case may be).  Making then curve reasonably takes a bit more planning and a more highly skilled mason, but it is scarcely much different of more time and material consuming that building a more typical straight wall.

The masons set up a simple guide to form the concrete block radius--a 2x4 set in the ground with a piece of rebar in the center point.

So, we designed the house with (nearly) all straight walls and roof planes, organized in two wings that have a knuckle, or inflection point, near the center of the building.  And mediating between these two wings in the front as the first element that guests touch when they arrive and last when they leave, is a simple, round porch masonry porch with a brick stair that wraps around it. And, seeing it mostly laid this morning, I believe that it will work to impart a sense of the well-made craft by which shingle style architecture is marked.