The Patina of Place: The Cultural Weathering of a New England Industrial Landscape
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the booming textile industry turned many New England towns and villages into industrialized urban centers. This rapid urbanization transformed the built environment of communities such as New Bedford, Massachusetts, as new housing styles emerged to accommodate the largely immigrant workforce of the mills. In particular, the wood-frame "three-decker" became the region's multifamily housing design of choice in urban areas and is widely acknowledged as a unique architectural form that is characteristic of New England. In The Patina of Place, Kingston Heath offers the first book-length analysis of the three-decker and its cultural significance, revealing New Bedford's evolving regional identity within New England.
The Patina of Place offers a multidisciplinary analysis of workers' housing as an index to social change and cultural identity in New Bedford from 1848 to 1925. Heath discusses both the city's company-owned mill housing and the subsequent transition to a speculative building market that established the three-decker rental flat as the city's most common housing form for industrial workers.
Using the concept of "cultural weathering" to explore the cultural imprints left by inhabitants on their built environment, Heath considers whether the three-decker is a generic "type" that could be transferred elsewhere. He concludes that the ethnic, economic, and geographic conditions of a locale serve as filters that reshape the meaning, utility, and character of a building form, thereby making it an integral part of its particular community. Specifically, he shows how the three-decker was lived in, and used by, its original inhabitants and illustrates its transformation by later generations of residents following the collapse of the textile industry in the mid-1920s.
The Patina of Place focuses on the three-decker in New Bedford, but its overarching theme concerns the cultural, economic, and social complexities of place-making and the creation of regional identity. Heath offers a broad investigation of the forces that drive the production and consumption of architecture, at the same time providing an economic and cultural context for the emergence of a particular architectural form.
The Author: Kingston Heath is associate professor in the college of architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His articles have appeared in The Encyclopedia of Architecture and Old-Time New England, among other publications.
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As a recent transplant to SoCo, New Bedford in particular, I have found this book invaluable. "Patina of Place" has helped me identify the buildings around me, the neighbors, their neighborhoods, and share in their architectural history.
While difficult to find and somewhat pricey, "Patina of Place" is definitely worth the time and money to everyone with ties to this part of the world. It tells the story of "the rest of us." I use the google version as a resource while driving around the city and keep a print copy handy at home.
Thank you for writing this great book Mr. Heath. Now that the piazzas are being added back to many homes and more people are moving into the area, I invite you back to document the story of the city's renewel. I'm sure Al and Suzanne would love to have you and I will gladly buy you an adult beverage at your choice of down town hot spots.