You have walls, you have a roof. In this town you get a lot of roof, with dark blue Welsh slates that shine black in the rain. At the top of the roof is the ridge, where you might see terracotta ridge tiles with patterned profiles – I like the ones with the little holes. Where it reaches down to the wall you have the eaves. Here you find the gutter, sometimes fixed to a board (fancy) or carried on little iron brackets stuck into the brick joints (not so fancy). The top courses of bricks usually reach out by a few inches at the eaves, if it’s at the front of the house they might be fancy specials with beautiful patterns. Nice details. But if you go to the end of the terrace, or the side of the house, it’s all different. The wall goes up and up into the sky all the way to the ridge – it’s not a squat little wall any more, it’s a super wall, pointing up into heaven. That’s the gable – the triangle of wall that shoots up the side of the building and supports the roof beams.
Sometimes you see gables that are very modest – mouldings or pediments only carry a little way around the corner from the street elevation (you see can see that in Malvern, where they have the brown stone) or one of my favourites, the faded painted trade sign. Paint, hardware, ironmongery. Sometimes they just stand there silently. But these are not the ones I’m here to talk about.
Some buildings have a gable front by nature. These are buildings that have narrow frontages and deep plans. The roof has to span across the narrowest width to reduce the height of the roof, the amount of roofing material and the length and outwards thrust of the rafters. These are the timbers that run from the ridge board down to the eaves and there are lots of them. Churches, Greek temples, Netherlands merchant’s houses all show serious gable. These gables are a celebration of the building, a place to put your best decoration to the street, they show status, power, money and act out the importance of the building to the community, whether the facades are open or closed.
But it is the sky profile that makes it work. The gable is up there, above the neighbours, seen from further away and cutting up into the sky. In the city of streets houses that don’t need gables take the pattern and add it to the roof to break the sky profile of the terrace. A second ridge board strikes out away from the rafters to create a new little roof – or big roof – and a street front gable springs up to reach it. It marks out the house as an individual in the row, makes it taller on the street front and adds to the status of the house. A row of little triangles makes those houses a bit more special, and when the light is right you get a saw tooth shadow cast onto the street below. I want you to look out for this.
For the big fancy houses, gables are a major feature, with black timbers over white render making V’s or grids, and big boards. If you look carefully these gables start from the ground as the brick line takes a step forward to create a deep or shallow projecting bay. This gives you a return coming back from the sides of the gable so that it casts a shadow back onto the house and so that the valley between the main roof and gable roof is away from the frontage. Surrounded by streets of horizontal volumes, these gables make a feature of tall and vertical. In Moseley village, the gables are very tall and they make the public street space special. Go down the wake green road and you will see some added on gables that are asymmetrical and run nearly down to the ground. The tall side shelters the principal windows, the low side creates the entrance porch. That’s the magic of gables.
Following the success of ask an architect, I will be available for anyone to come and see me and get a free consultation every second Sunday of the month at Cherry Reds Cafe, York Road, Kings Heath between 3 and 5 pm. As I work from home this will give people a chance to just pop in and talk about their project ideas – or anything else – and get a really amazing vegan cupcake. The next date is the 9th of December, I look forward to meeting you! If you can’t wait that long, go over to my contact page and say hello using the magic of the internet.
So, last night… well Sunday, actually. I gave out hundreds of flyers, put up posters and posted up on here, but I had no idea what to expect. Hundreds? Dozens? Nobody? I got to Cherry Reds, took out my pad, opened up my laptop and did a bit of work. Laura brought me a coffee. After a while I wondered whether this was really such a good idea. A bit more work. Then, in come a couple who live on my street, who I have never met before. Two adults, two kids, two dogs and only two bedrooms. I gave them some options, took an email address and phone number and hey presto it’s an enquiry for a real project. There we go, marketing works after all.
I will let you all know when the next one is.
Ask an architect is tomorrow! You can ask me anything!
Happy news, another client – hopefully – we are meeting tonight! Best of all he has come to me through what I hope will become a popular route: he saw my signboard and came right here, to the website. Hopefully I will be back with some good news later!
Update: he (and also she) are looking for design and specification, competitive tender and traditional contract administration. Now to write my fee proposal. So far, a success! I may even be able to talk him into a bit of cycle racing…
I have a small project of my own under construction. Very small. I have to box in our generation meter. So, off to Homebase for some wood, hinges, a magnetic catch and some screws. Well, they had half of what I needed, and nearly ten pounds lighter, I headed home. Then I went to York Supplies to see what they had. Flush hinges, 50p each, not £2 for two. Mag catch, 50p, not £2.99. Screws, from a truly comprehensive range, 3p each, not 1.50 for eight. Piece of plywood, cut to size 350 x 250 from a handy off cut for £1.50. Thank you to Johnathon and Stuart at the oldest ironmongers in Kings Heath.