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Ward House Architecture Essay

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Updated: Mar 16th, 2020


Ward House was constructed between 1873 and 1875. The building is located in Rye Brook in New York. It was constructed and owned by William Ward. Ward House is a significant historical site since it is the oldest concrete building in the US. Ward House was constructed using reinforced concrete rather than modern building materials such as bricks and glass.

The building consists of four floors, which have a total of 17 spacious rooms. Undoubtedly, different materials would be used to construct the building if it were to be built today. These include steel, glass, and molding materials. Also, modern construction equipment such as cranes would be used at the construction site.


Ward House is one of the most important landmarks in New York, USA. The building was the first to be built in the US using reinforced concrete. The successful completion of Ward House brought revolutionary changes in the US construction industry since it led to the use of concrete rather than wood as the main building material.

Currently, Ward House is used as a recreational facility that attracts thousands of tourists annually. This paper will focus on the construction of Ward House. It will highlight the materials, methods, tools, and equipment that were used to construct the building.

When, Where, and Size

Ward House is located in Rye Brook in New York. The building was constructed in a residential area at the border between New York and Connecticut (ASCE). The compound is located off Comly Avenue and can easily be accessed by road. Although the building is considered to be in New York, part of its 8-acre compound is located in Connecticut (Spielvogel 123).

Ward House is held in high esteem in the US due to the architectural breakthrough that was achieved during its construction. As the first concrete building in the US, Ward House is a symbol of the country’s civilization and engineering prowess.

The construction of Ward House began in 1873 and ended in 1875 (ASCE). The building was designed by Robert Mook and constructed by William Ward, who was the owner. Thus, the building was named after its owner. William Ward was a renowned mechanical engineer and a businessman.

His main objective of constructing the building was to experiment to determine whether reinforced concrete could be used successfully to build a house (Spielvogel 124). William Ward conceived the idea of constructing the concrete building in 1870. However, he had to conduct a series of tests and experiments to determine the viability of the project before starting construction work in 1873.

Following its completion in 1875, William Ward used the building as a residence for his family up to 1976 “when it was listed on the National Register of Historical Places” (Spielvogel 126). In 1977, the building was sold to Mort Walker who was a comedian.

One of the main features of Ward House is its large size as can be seen in figure 1. The building consists of an octagonal tower with four floors that have several rooms and spacious halls (ASCE). It also has a square tower that houses several tanks that are used to keep water for fighting the fire.

The first floor of the building consists of a huge hallway, dining area, and reception room (Spielvogel 127). The second floor has three bedrooms and a spacious library. Similarly, the third and fourth floors consist of bedrooms and storage rooms. Overall, the building has seventeen spacious rooms.

Civilization and Culture

The building was constructed towards the end of the 19th century when the Industrial Revolution was the main civilization in the US (Schumaker and Wajda 68). The citizens were experiencing a culture change as new immigrants entered the US as businessmen and laborers. The culture of the US was significantly influenced by European culture.

Modernity was highly regarded in nearly all parts of the country. Traditional methods of production, organization of cities, and lifestyles were rapidly being abandoned as the country embraced modernity (Schumaker and Wajda 74). Industrialization led to significant improvement in the standards of living, thereby increasing the population of the country.

As a result, the demand for housing increased, especially, in industrial centers. Architects and city planners had to find effective solutions to the housing problem by developing cheap methods of constructing houses. People preferred to live in modern houses that were built using European architectural designs and durable building materials.

Improved distribution of wealth and the increase in the popularity of modern lifestyles led to the adoption of Gothic Revival and the Second Empire architectural designs in the US. Gothic Revival was popular between 1830 and 1870, whereas the Second Empire style was mainly used from 1850 to 1885 (Poppeliers and Chambers 68).

Gothic Revival style was characterized by the design of houses that had complex and irregular shapes that fitted the natural landscape in rural areas. Consequently, it was mainly used to design country homes such as Ward House, as well as buildings in small towns (Poppeliers and Chambers 71). Apart from country homes, Gothic Revival was commonly used to construct churches, which had huge castle-like towers and windows.

The Second Empire style was developed in France and became popular in the US in the mid 19th century. The Second Empire style was a symbol of high social status and permanence (Poppeliers and Chambers 75).

Homeowners who used the style were mainly the affluent who were interested in large permanent houses. In the US, the Second Empire style was considered as a symbol of modernity. Most residents of urban areas rapidly adopted the style by renovating their homes.

The design and construction of Ward House were heavily influenced by both Gothic Revival and the Second Empire styles. The design of the building’s roof, windows, and towers were based on the Gothic Revival style, which was popular in New York (Spielvogel 91). The design of the building’s interior was mainly informed by the Second Empire style, which favored large rooms with stylish decorations.

By combining the elements of Gothic Revival and the Second Empire styles, William Ward managed to construct a building that reflected the features of modern architecture and the culture of the US society in the 19th century.

Construction of Ward House


Ward House was constructed using basic civil engineering techniques due to the limited access to advanced construction technologies in the 19th century. Since no house had been built in the US using only reinforced concrete, William Ward had to develop his own techniques to construct the building. The building was designed through manual drawings and measurements.

The drawings were done using watercolor papers and pencils. The use of pencil made it easy to erase the drawings in order to make corrections or adjustments. After designing the house, Robert Mook emphasized the possibility of constructing it using concrete.

However, he did not identify the type of concrete that was required to build it. As a result, William Ward decided to conduct several deflection tests to determine the level of reinforcement that was required to construct a stable concrete building. The experiments revealed that iron reinforcements were required to improve the stability of the building (Spielvogel 92).

By 1873, William Ward had concluded his experiments and acquired the building materials that were required to construct the house. The construction process began with the excavation of the ground to facilitate the construction of the foundation that supports the building. The excavations were approximately six feet deep and were filled with reinforced concrete to create the slab on which walls and pillars were to be erected (Onderdonk 53).

Following the completion of the foundation, the walls of the ground floor were constructed in approximately six weeks. However, construction of the subsequent floors took longer because the construction team faced difficulties in erecting tall pillars to support the building.

After the completion of the construction process in 1875, William Ward performed several quality tests before moving into the house (ASCE). Specifically, he tested the stability of the house by placing a weight of 26 tons on the upper floor of the house. The beams deflected by 0.3 mm, thereby confirming the stability of the building (ASCE).

Interior and Exterior Design

The internal part of the house is characterized by colorful wall finishes. The walls were decorated according to the Second Empire style using a variety of paints (Spielvogel 122). The walls and floors have open spaces that are linked to the fireplace. This provides a central heating place that keeps the house warm during the cold season.

The external part of the house is characterized by smooth concrete finishes. It has a mansard roof with several concrete chimneys. The house has large gabled dormer windows on every panel of the octagonal tower. The windows improve the aesthetic appeal of the house. They also provide ventilation and allow sunlight to light the house during the day.


Concrete was the main material that was used to construct the house. The concrete was prepared using 4,000 barrels of high-quality Portland cement (ASCE). The cement was mixed with 8,000 barrels of sand. Also, 12,000 barrels of bluestones and over 10,000 barrels of white beach pebbles were used in the construction process (ASCE). The bluestones and pebbles were mainly used in the construction of the building’s foundation.

The concrete was mixed at the construction site to ensure its consistency and strength. Iron rods of varying sizes were used to reinforce the concrete. Specifically, William Ward relied on lightweight iron rods whose diameters were approximately 1 cm.

The process of preparing the concrete was based on the technique that had been developed in France by Francois Coignet. The technique involved drying the iron-reinforced concrete before using it to construct the walls of the building. The doors and windows of the building were made of timber.

Tools and Equipment

Ward House was constructed using simple tools and equipment. Industrial development had led to the production of various construction tools and equipment in most parts of the US. These included hammers, shovels, wheelbarrows, plumb bobs, handsaws, mattocks, and trowels (Spielvogel 142). Mattocks was used to excavating the ground during the construction of the building’s foundation.

Shovels were used to move gravel during the excavation process. They were also used to mix concrete at the site. Trowels were used to spread plaster on the walls during the construction process.

Doors and window frames were made at the site using handsaws, hammers, nails, and manual measuring tapes. Plumb bobs played an integral role during the construction and testing process. They were used to assess the extent to which the walls of the building were truly vertical.

Transportation of building materials was done manually. Wheelbarrows were used to transport building materials within the construction site. Gravel and heavy materials such as pebbles were transported using horse-drawn carts (Spielvogel 139).

Building materials were lifted from the ground to various floors in the building using simple pulley systems. Building materials were also carried by the construction team from the ground to various floors in the house.


The construction work was supervised by William Ward. Since the building was being constructed as an experiment, William Ward hired only a few skilled laborers to assist with the construction work (ASCE). William Ward focused on providing technical advice to the construction team and monitoring their activities. He was also in charge of quality tests and authorization of alterations that had to be made during the construction process.

The laborers, on the other hand, were in charge of activities such as mixing concrete, moving building materials and assembling components such as door frames. The rationale of using a small workforce was based on the fact that the building was not very large. Also, a small workforce was easy to manage and to train.

If it were to be Built Today


Different materials, technologies, and tools would be used if Ward House were to be built today. The design of the house would be based on modern styles rather than Gothic Revival and the Second Empire styles (Onderdonk 46). This perspective is based on the fact that both Gothic Revival and the Second Empire styles have lost their popularity because of their reliance on heavy and expensive building materials.

Besides, they do not reflect the city lifestyle that characterizes the 21st century. The construction process would not require deflection tests since there are engineers and architects with adequate experience in constructing large concrete buildings. Green technologies would be incorporated in the design and construction of Ward House if it were to be built today (Onderdonk 56).

For instance, it would have large glass windows to enable sunlight to pour into the building, thereby reducing dependence on electricity.

The building would have solar-powered water heating systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, the water tower would be replaced with powder or liquid chemical firefighting equipment to conserve water. Since Ward House has four floors, it would be fitted with high-speed elevators to enhance movement.


A wide range of materials would be used if Ward House were to be constructed today. The use of concrete would be limited to the construction of the floors and pillars. A large portion of the walls would be built using bricks and glass to reduce the cost of construction.

This perspective is based on the fact that glass is relatively cheaper than concrete. The roof of the building would be constructed using polymer roof tiles (Harvey 89). Polymer tiles weigh less and are cheaper than concrete. Also, they have better cooling capabilities than reinforced concrete.

Portland cement would still be used to construct Ward House if it were to be built today. However, the Portland cement that would be used today is likely to have a better quality than those that were used in the 1800s (Harvey 92). The concrete would be reinforced using steel rather than iron rods. Empirical studies reveal that steel has a higher tensile strength than iron.

Thus, it can provide better reinforcement to concrete than iron rods. The windows and doors would be made of steel and glass panels rather than wood. The durability of steel is higher than that of wood. Also, glass panels would improve the aesthetic appeal of the windows.

The bench-tops in the Kitchen would be finished using engineered stone or high-pressure laminate rather than pure concrete. The engineered store is made using small pieces of stones that are bound together using resign. Engineered stone is a popular finishing for modern kitchens due to its durability and stain resistance (Harvey 96).

Also, it enables the homeowner to choose a variety of modern colors and edge profiles for her kitchen. High-pressure laminate, on the other hand, is popular because of its stylish and contemporary looks (Harvey 97). Other interior parts of the house would be decorated using stylish molding materials and modern paints.

Tools and Equipment

Modern tools and equipment would be used if Ward House were to be built today. Hammers would be replaced with nail guns, which require little energy to use. Also, the use of nail guns is associated with fewer injuries than traditional metallic hammers. Shovels and trowels would still be used to mix small quantities of concrete at the construction site.

The construction team would use high-pressure concrete mixers to prepare the concrete and to pump it to various floors in the building. Unlike shovels, concrete mixers are mechanical machines that improve the consistency of concrete and reduce the time required to prepare and to lift it to various floors of the building that is being constructed (Onderdonk 115).

Heavy building materials such as bricks would be lifted using high capacity cranes rather than pulleys at the construction site. Gravel and sand would be transported using modern trucks (vehicles) rather than horse-drawn carts. Undoubtedly, vehicles would significantly reduce the amount of time required to transport the building materials.


Fewer workers would be required if Ward House were to be constructed today. Given the increased use of machines such as cranes and mechanical concrete mixers, most modern buildings require only a small workforce to undertake the construction work. William Ward would be replaced with an independent consultant to supervise the construction process. The use of external consultants is commonplace in modern construction projects since it helps in improving the quality of buildings (Harvey 141).

In addition, the construction process would be led by a qualified civil or structural engineer rather than William Ward who was a mechanical engineer. Regulation in the modern construction industry requires property owners to hire qualified civil engineers and consultants to undertake construction projects.


Ward House will continue to be a significant landmark and a valuable historical site in New York. The building will remain important in the history of the construction industry in the US since it was the first to be built using reinforced concrete.

If the house were to be built today, significant changes would be made in its design and construction method. Also, different building materials would be used for its construction. The changes would make the building to be more durable and attractive to the modern homeowner.

Works Cited

ASCE. Ward House 2013. Web. 13 Apr. 2014. <http://www.ascemetsection.org/content/view/331/864>.

Harvey, Ken. Fundamental Building Materials, Florida: Boca Raton, 2009. Print.

Onderdonk, Francis. The Ferro-Concrate Style, London: Sage, 2012. Print.

Poppeliers, John, and A. Chambers. What Style is it: A Guide to American Architecture, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. Print.

Scheumaker, Helen, and S. Wajda. Material Culture in America, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2008. Print.

Spielvogel, Barbaralee. The Landmarks of New York, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print.

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