Now, Harriet Irwin's contribution to architecture was relatively minor but still quite interesting and unique.
She designed a house with a hexagonal shape. Josh?
Student: A house with six sides?
Instead of the standard, you know, four-sided home?
Professor: Yeah. The rooms inside the house were also hexagonal, six-sided.
So one important thing was that the rooms were arranged around a chimney in the center of the house, which could provide heat for the whole house through flues, uh, small air passageways into each room, as opposed to having a fireplace in every room, which would require more cleaning and make the air inside the house dirtier.
The house's shape also allowed for more windows.
Each room had a large wall that could fit a couple of big windows, giving every room a nice view of the outdoors.
Student: Plus there would be good airflow through the house.
Professor: Yes. In warm weather when you can open all the windows. Good.
The doors to the house as well...uh...the house didn't have a main entrance or any hallways.
So there could be a couple of entry doors in different places, which like the windows, provided ready access to the outdoors.
So, what other advantages might there be to hexagonal rooms?
OK. Think about cleaning.
What part of a room is usually the hardest to clean?
Like...to sweep with a broom.
Student: Oh! The corners.
Because in square or rectangular rooms, the corners are at 90 degree angles.
It's hard to reach all the dust that gathers in the corners.
But if Irwin's rooms were closer to a circle than a square, it would be easier to reach all the dust and dirt with a broom. Right?
Professor: Exactly. Now, um...biographers who wrote about Irwin in the 19th century, I feel, sort of downplayed the ingenuity of her design.
But I think if she had designed this house today, the same biographers would praise her for coming up with a floor plan that emphasized function, efficient function of a house, as well as a design that's creative and unique.
In any case, three houses were built in Irwin's time that used her hexagonal design.
And in 1869, when she was 41, Irwin became the first woman in the United States to receive a patent for an architectural design. And that speaks volumes if you ask me.