Same Topology, Completely Different

Row of Brick Bungalows c.1925

If you grew up in the 1970s or 1980s, you can probably still sing the Sesame Street song “One of These Things (Is Not Like the Other).” Maybe you remember how the exercise they repeated on the show taught you to look carefully at the items on the TV screen to pick out the one that was different.

That’s exactly what you’ll be doing when you look at the photographs of these pairs (and rows) of Gladstone Park houses. You will see side-by-side structures that are similar in topology, a fancy word architects use to describe their physical characteristics. If you want to get technical, you’ll be looking from one structure to its near twin for “the mutation of form, structure, context…of interwoven patterns and complex dynamics,” according to All About Architecture on Medium.

The reason the author felt it was important to mount these photographs was to counter any possible thought that Gladstone Park’s subdivisions were anything like the infamous post-WWII housing developments of Levittown, each house a carbon copy of the one before it as if they’d been produced on an assembly line. So egregious was the conformity there that Malvina Reynolds felt compelled to write the folk tune “Little Boxes” to protest them in the 1960s, beginning:

Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes all the same.

The beauty of Gladstone Park’s vintage homes is exactly the opposite. No dwellings were built exactly the same even if they initially assumed nearly identical exterior shapes. They later diversified even more through years of personalization by their inhabitants.

The fact that the neighborhood ended up with such a varied and interesting housing stock was probably due more to the luck of timing than anything. When bungalows were being built in Gladstone Park between 1910 and 1920, the Arts and Crafts movement was all the rage. So while developers were making every effort to keep construction costs low and homes affordable by relying on factories to turn out newly-standardized high-quality building materials, they kept local craftsmen on hand for the finishing touches. The English Tudor homes that came into vogue during the 1930s and 1940s required further handcrafting to apply the flourishes that the more ornate style demanded.

The practically unending number of colors, textures, and combinations of brickwork and stone gave masons the ability to individualize each house. Shapes and sizes of windows and doors were all over the map, and many choices were available concerning the types of porch pilasters, stair caps, and even the through-the-brick mailbox slots. The result was that each house was unique enough that nobody made the mistake of going into the wrong house because s/he couldn’t distinguish one from the other.

As you look at these photographs, see how many differences you can find between houses that, at first glance, may look alike. Think topology and size, shape, form, color, and pattern. Contemplate the craftsmanship and how it all works together. Notice the presumed modifications made over the years. And then put your new-found knowledge together and you should be able to appreciate the “completely different” aspect of Gladstone Park’s houses all the more.

For more on how Gladstone Park’s standout stock of homes were built and serve to enhance residential life in the neighborhood, see Development and Vintage Home Living.

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