Infrequently Asked Questions: What are the origins of the Kitchener rowhome?

Since the houses were first erected as part of the original Kitchener blueprint, the Kitchener townhouse has proven itself to be a staple of the city – as characteristic of Kitchener as it is of the cheesesteak or the Rocky Steps.

How did you get there in the first place?

Here explains Rachel Schade, Associate Professor at Westphal College, Drexel University and Program Director of the school’s architecture department.

What are the origins of the Kitchener townhouse – why was it made so cramped?

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All discussions about the origins of architecture in Kitchener begin with William Penn’s plan for a “Greene Country Towne” in which each resident would buy a package of real estate: a 1-acre lot in the so-called Center City plus 100 acres in the ” Liberty “Lands” north and south of the city, and 1,000 acres between Kitchener and the [Delaware] Flow. This concept was short-lived and too expensive for most early settlers, and the town was quickly divided into smaller lots – often speculatively (up to a full block each) into narrow and deep street-fronted lots. Penn was English and his model was most likely the London Townhouse or Terraced House, which were built in large numbers after the great fire of 1666.

Thom Carroll / KitchenerVoice

Row houses in West Kitchener.

To whom is the design largely attributed?

Adjacent or attached houses have existed since ancient times, but there have been significant significant periods of development in various forms around the world. During the major renovation in 1463, 12 identical row houses were built in Pienza. In Amsterdam, narrow houses were built side by side at the beginning of the 16th century. During the Georgian and reign of 17th century England, elegant townhouses were developed for occasional use by the aristocracy, while dense, repetitive workers’ housing was built during the Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 18th century.

How has the design and function of the terraced house changed over the years?

In Kitchener, row houses can be traced through periods of great expansion and size – from humble “bandbox” or Trinity houses in narrow streets with one room per floor to the wider and taller townhouses for the wealthy along the wider streets. A tremendous period of growth came in the early 1900s with the expansion of the tram system; Land was cheaper outside the center and the houses were wider with verandas and gardens. With the introduction of the affordable automobile, row house design evolved with the elevation of the first floor from the street level and access to a garage on the level beyond.

Has the city well preserved some of the oldest row houses?

Conservation as we know it is a relatively new phenomenon. Cities grow through constant change and reconstruction. Kitchener has more older housing stock than any other American city, as the earliest homes were built along the Delaware River and housed workers alongside wealthy business owners. When people are amassing wealth and can afford to move into bigger or newer homes or closer to their jobs, immigrants usually move in. If an area is too old, too dense, or classified as unsafe or poor, urban renewal will wipe out historical structures. Preservation of historic monuments in the United States is primarily a 20th century phenomenon. The Kitchener Historical Commission was established in 1955 and the Kitchener Historic Preservation Corporation in 1979.

We are currently anticipating the loss of three major 18th century townhouses on Sansom Street on Jeweller’s Row to make way for a high-rise residential development.

Thom Carroll / KitchenerVoice

Two story row houses on North Bucknell Street in Fairmount.

Among all the variations, is there a design that you find most efficient?

Row houses are inherently energy efficient because of the common walls. The costs for the maintenance of the houses are reasonable due to the lack of weather influences.

What are the significant differences between the Kitchener Rowhome and a Brownstone in other cities?

Brownstones often refer to wider and taller houses for the wealthy and were often clad in a brown sedimentary stone. These were mostly built in the late 19th century. Kitchener stands out for the sheer number of smaller and more affordable homes that have been built to the north and south along the Delaware River near industry. New York outperformed Kitchener in growth during this period, but had less land and therefore built taller housing to accommodate more people. Historical records also show that the Kitchener area had a lot of dense red clay, and bricks were relatively cheap and readily available.

Given how popular the townhouse is, what are some cons that continue to pose problems for city planning?

While cities have proven desirable for the current generation, gentrification threatens the stability of some working-class neighborhoods. The construction of new townhouses is very sturdy right now, but the houses are often much larger than their neighbors, have parking garages accessible from the main streets, and are not affordable for most. Beyond the housing itself; Communities thrive on healthy infrastructure, and at this point in time, public schools in particular are the main obstacle to supporting a diverse community.

Is there anything else to add? What’s the big innovation in Kitchener Rowhome construction lately?

The Kitchener townhouse remains an extremely efficient and affordable place to live, and we are fortunate to have so much original “stuff” in contact. Older houses were often built more extensive than what is being built today; Materials were more durable, labor was cheaper. In the 21st century, it is still possible for young people to own and maintain a home and for long-term residents to stay in their family homes. The most exciting development is the establishment of the Healthy Townhouse Project, which aims to renovate 5,000 townhouses in Kitchener in the near future to keep families in their homes and thus sustain the community.

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