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Three Historical Architectural and Engineering Responses to Practical Problems

At their roots, both civil engineers and architects exist to create a physical environment in which people can live and enjoy; but architecture is more than just the design and appearance of our built environment. It is a representation of our ability to adapt and overcome practical issues, principally expressed through innovative demonstrations of design which have bettered people’s lives. At Blue Willow Heritage, our specialism in the research, management and protection of the historic built environment means that we frequently come across historic architectural responses in our manmade environments created to solve practical issues.

1. Tudor Jetties

One of the most distinctive historic architectural features, Tudor jetties are a building technique predominantly employed within the late medieval period that generally formed part of distinctive timber-framed buildings, supporting upper storeys which overhang the footprint of the lower storey.

Primarily, jetties were designed to gain space as they became a widespread solution to the densely populated urban conditions seen within medieval cities. The jettied wall is unique as it works by counteracting forces in the joists and wall together and only required shorter timbers which were easier to manoeuvre around the cramped city streets.

Additionally, jettied houses also afforded shelter for the lower walls of the house from the weather, creating an insulting and weather-resistant design for the ground floor.

Although not an intended part of the design, jetties became most commonly known for their use within medieval waste disposal. People would throw their rubbish and waste into the street, and the jetties allowed people to dispose of their waste clear of the ground floor of their houses.

2. Ha-Ha

Initially, the ha-ha was introduced into formal French gardens of the early 18th century as it was first described in print in 1709 by gardening enthusiast, Dezallier d'Argenville, in his La Theorie et la Practique du Jardinage.

A ha-ha is a recessed wall that forms a vertical barrier which is either cut out of the earth or built up against one side. This design was to control cattle, preventing them from reaching the more formal areas of the parkland garden, whilst providing the illusion of large areas of open space with no hard boundaries when viewed from the country house.

They became widely employed within landscaped gardens belonging to country houses throughout Britain between the 17th and 19th centuries, where there was an importance placed on ‘borrowing’ views from extensive areas of land in order to demonstrate opulence and wealth.

3. Oriel Windows

An oriel is a window projects out from a building but does not reach to the ground (unlike bay windows). The oriel bay began to appear on the houses of British elite in the 17th and 18th centuries as they formed an architectural response to the need to introduce natural light into stringently dark late medieval buildings.

Subsequently, oriel windows became used for cosmetic purposes also, as their ability to offer wide views of the outdoors facilitated long-ranging views, becoming a key feature within these rooms.


Blue Willow Heritage offers expert advice on the Historic Environment. If you need help managing your heritage assets, Blue Willow Heritage can help. If you would like to discuss your project or simply need some impartial, no-obligation advice, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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