Category Archives: Iconic House of the Month

ICONIC HOUSE OF THE MONTH | March 2018 | Villa Tugendhat

A sedate exterior belies the acclaim and turmoil of Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Czech Republic. Architect Mies van der Rohe, known for his “less is more” approach, designed the villa for newly-wed and industrial heirs Grete and Fritz Tugendhat.

View from the garden.

Completed in 1930, its steel-framed, glass and concrete construction expressed the budding Modern Movement through the intersection of its materials, including ebony and onyx, and textures. The interior offered the space and light that were seen as essential to modern living, and a panoramic view of the city.

The Glass Room featured walls that could retract into the floor like a car window, opening onto the gardens. Excitement over the house was short-lived, though; the Tugendhats fled the country just eight years later, shortly before the German occupation.

View toward Brno from living area with vertically retracted glass walls.

Sadly, as one of the most influential houses of the 20th century, it was not spared the ravages of war. The villa was used as a Gestapo military quarters and offices and was later damaged during combat.

In 1967, Grete Tugendhat returned to the villa with experts, aiming to renovate it; however, the Communist era intervened, and the new occupants subdivided the villa with pasteboard walls and used the garage as a stable.

View of entrance and terrace roof beyond.

The Czech Government eventually restored the building which, in the early 1990s, was the site of the signing of the document that divided the country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Onyx feature wall in living area.

 

Today, Villa Tugendhat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site open for tours. To see more images of this iconic house visit Villa Tugendhat’s photo gallery here.

Iconic House of the Month | February 2018 | Fallingwater

“Can you say when your building is complete, that the landscape is more beautiful than it was before?”

– Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater (Edgar J. Kaufmann House), 1935-38, Bear Run, Pennsylvania (photo: Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress #LC-DIG-highsm-04261)

Floating above a mountain waterfall on a forested hillside in Southwestern Pennsylvania, about a 90-minute drive from Pittsburgh, is perhaps America’s most famous private residence designed by the most famous American architect.

The Kaufmann residence was completed in 1934. Its unique design makes it look like the house stretches out over a 30ft waterfall, with no solid ground beneath it. Of course, this isn’t the case, but the innovative design demands one’s attention upon arrival. Now a national historic landmark, it was instantly iconic.

The home’s commission was a late-career milestone for the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, then sixty-seven-year-old. A notable tale to come out of the project is that the initial design was conceived in the time it took the Kaufman’s to drive the 140 miles – about two hours – from Milwaukee to Wright’s studio, after the architect procrastinated for nearly nine months.

An apprentice to Wright recalled that upon talking with the client over the phone, the architect sat down and started to draw saying, “Liliane and E.J. will have tea on the balcony…they’ll cross the bridge to walk in the woods.” The feverish tempo culminated with a bold title below a rendering of the future home. It read Fallingwater.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater (Edgar J. Kaufmann House), Mill Run, Pennsylvania, 1935, Color pencil on tracing paper, 15-3/8 x 27-1/4 inches, © The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Believing that human life was part of nature, Wright endeavored to build in ways that reflected this belief. He expressed this in the Kaufmann house in several ways.

One approach was to incorporate an existing rock outcropping projecting above the height of the living room floor into a great central hearth instead of destroying it, bringing the earth into the home.

Another approach emphasizing connection with nature was the abundant use of glass. Wright avoided using solid walls facing onto the stream and falls, offering panoramic views beyond to the forest. His creative use of “corner turning windows” without mullions dematerializes corners of the house where they’re used.

Another example of Wright’s respect for nature can be seen in the bending a trellis beam to accommodate a pre-existing tree.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater, detail with tree (Edgar J. Kaufmann House), 1937 (photo: Daderot, CC0 1.0)

Architecture historian Vincent Scully wrote that Wright’s Fallingwater reflects “an image of Modern man caught up in constant change and flow, holding on…to whatever seems solid but no longer regarding himself as the center of the world.”

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Iconic House of the Month | May 2017 | The Glass House

Philip Johnson’s Glass House was completed in 1949. The Glass House was Johnson’s first of many architectural experiments in form, material, and ideas that now dot the forty-acre landscape he called home.

With obvious inspiration taken from Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano, IL, – exterior walls of glass and no interior walls – it is considered another radical departure from contemporary residences. It is best understood as a steel, glass and brick pavilion for viewing the surrounding landscape.

 

The house is situated on a hill overlooking a pond and views of the woods in the distance. Fifty-five feet long by thirty-three feet wide, the 1,815 square foot glazed structure is accessed on each side by a centrally located glass door. The house is considered iconic for its innovative use of new materials in residential construction and its visually integrated effect with the landscape. The Glass house was but one-half of a composition conceived by Johnson. The other, The Brick House, was more solid and it’s where Johnson slept.

The floor plan of the house is actually less radical a living space. Despite the very innovative construction method, the floor plan could easily belong to a colonial era home, which Johnson himself noted as well as other historical references including the Parthenon, the English garden, the Romantic Movement, and the asymmetry of the 19th century.

While the only full-height walls are those that enclose a small circular bathroom, Johnson referred to specific areas in the rectangular volume as “rooms.” A formal entrance, living room, dining room, kitchen, and bedroom make up a continuous uninterrupted space, punctuated by the cylindrical hearth and enclosed bathroom.

Placement of furniture, the use of rugs, and built-in storage cabinets make up the architectural cues for defining the “rooms” in Johnsons house. The living room is centrally positioned, with the rest of the areas and their functions arranged around it.

The open plan and glass walls merge with the landscape in all directions. Although such floor plans are quite common today, it was highly unusual in 1949. Noting the glass walls, Johnson said it was “the only house in the world where you can see the sunset and the moonrise at the same time, standing in the same place. Because that’s an impossibility in any house; you have to walk to another room to see one or the other of those effects.” Perhaps he should have called it the Sunset Moonrise House.

What strikes me about The Glass House from my own vantage point in time and place is the associations it conjures up that aren’t so radical. Granted, for its time and location in Connecticut, it was hugely so, but for me it recalls screen porches, cooking sheds, covered carports that served as an impromptu outdoor dining area, and gazebos (interestingly, Johnson noted a similar reference to mid-western bandstands).

With so many much that close us off from our environment, the lessons and historical references of the iconic Glass House are a testament to the ability of architecture to shelter us without disconnecting us from nature. For a better experience of the house, check out this 360 degree views online here, The Glass House | 360° Views.

You can learn more about Philip Johnson, his Glass House, and other works at The Glass House.

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Iconic Building of the Month | April 2017 | e.1027

Since I missed sending out the newsletter during Women’s History Month, and since I like to take any chance to share some great architecture, the featured iconic building this month was designed by a lesser known, but no less talented, woman architect.

e.1027 is a modernist villa design by Eileen Gray (1878–1976) in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, in the Alpes-Maritimes department of France. The “L”-shaped, flat-roofed villa with floor-to-ceiling windows was designed and built from 1926-29 for herself and her lover Jean Badovici. The unique name of the house is code for something. Can you guess what it is?

She envisioned a white retreat washed in southern French sunlight, cooled by Mediterranean breezes, and furnished with practical minimalist furnishings of leisure. The two-story building was conceived as a simple rectangular box positioned parallel to the hillside and supported by pillars with the partial lower floor being tucked into the hillside. The upper rectangular volume was punctuated by at one end by a simple cube and protruding horizontal strips of dark shuttered windows.

The design of e.1027 is said to have taken shape around the furniture and the way occupants would move in the space. Gray created built-in cabinets and drawers for seasonal clothes. Guest rooms and nooks allowed retreat and privacy from open areas. Windows were positioned to afford carefully chosen views.

At the villa’s entrance, Gray painted the words Entrez lentement—enter slowly—an invitation to guests to relax and leave their worries behind. A small kitchen is located to the left, and to the right, the main living area with bi-folding glass doors that open to the deck and the sea beyond. A foldout dining table was stored in a corner for dining al fresco. A reading nook that doubles as an extra guest bedroom occupied the other corner. Gray deliberately violated Le Corbusier’s tenet of clean, straight lines through slight offsets of stacked shelves and storage spaces.

Demonstrating her obvious obsession with light and air, e.1027 also demonstrates Gray’s interest in privacy. The master bedroom and bathroom suite invites retreat, tucked away on the first floor.

 
 

Not only the designer, Gray carried building materials by wheelbarrow, building the place herself with help from local laborers. Gray and Badovici would part ways shortly after e.1027 was completed.

The architect Le Corbusier was a friend of Badovici, and while staying as a guest in the house in 1938 and 1939, he painted murals on the walls. Gray considered these actions vandalism and an intrusion onto her design. The critic Rowan Moore said that Le Corbusier’s murals were indicative of an offense “that a woman could create such a fine work of modernism” so he “asserted his dominion, like a urinating dog, over [her] territory”.

Though a modernist work, Gray departed from Le Corbusier’s assertion that “the house is a machine to live in.” Instead, she described the house as a living organism, countering that “it is not a matter of simply constructing beautiful ensembles of lines, but above all, dwellings for people.” “Formulas are nothing,” she insisted, “Life is everything.”

Any guesses on the name’s meaning? I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with the names of two people.

 
Unfortunately, Gray was slow at putting her name forward as the architect of e.1027that for many years it was assumed by journalists, and even historians, that Le Corbusier was the designer.

The French government designated it as a national cultural monument and purchased the villa in 1999. After many years of neglect and isolation, restoration work on e.1027started after 2000. The bulk of the restoration took place between 2006 and 2010 with further restoration work done in 2014.So, about the odd name for Gray’s house, any ideas? 

Well, e.1027, is code of Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici, her lover. ‘e’ stands for Eileen, ’10’ for Jean, ‘2’ for Badovici, and ‘7’ for Gray. The encoded name was Gray’s way of showing their relationship at the time the villa was completed!

You can learn more about Eileen Gray and e.1027 at Friends of e.1027.

Iconic Building of the Month | February 2017 | Herron House

Herron House, Venus, FL, 1957. 

This month’s Iconic Building is a house designed by one of the leaders of the Sarasota School of Architecture, a regional style of post-war architecture that emerged on Florida’s Central West Coast. The style was characterized by attention to climate and terrain, incorporating large sunshades, innovative ventilation systems, oversized sliding glass doors, floating staircases, and walls of jalousie windows.

The Iconic Building of the Month features a series of gluelam structural components that support an wood plank roof that spans the entire plan of the home. The gluelam components arch away from the interior of the home to provide deep overhangs to provide shading. Interior spaces requiring privacy, like bedrooms and baths are screened with patterned Brikcrete walls. Curtain walls of glass frame patios and views to the outside.

The main living and dining area of the home is partitioned off with two curving low walls of glazed brick that are punctuated with views through the home toward the front and back through glass-enclosed patios. The planked wood ceiling arches across the space, unifying the interior and disappearing behind the top of the low glazed brick wall to form lower ceilings in the surrounding rooms.

The home recently underwent an extensive renovation where every effort was made to maintain the design intent that the original architect had envisioned, complete with complimenting period furniture and and furnishings.

The end result is a remarkable rebirth of architect Victor Lundy’s (b. 1923) Herron House located in Venice, Florida, and originally constructed in 1957.

Asked if he considered himself more of and artist or an architect…

“I consider myself both,” he says. “For me, art is architecture — and architecture is art. They’re forms of creative expression in very different media, but they come from the same place.”

Iconic Building of the Month | January 2017 | Heller Residence #2

Heller Residence #2 (“Birdcage House”), Miami Beach, FL, 1949.

Colder weather here in the lowcountry has me dreaming of winter in Miami. So, this newsletter’s Iconic Building Of The Month is Igor Polevitzky’s design of the Heller Residence #2, also known as the Bird-Cage House.

Constructed in 1949, the home was considered a radical experiment in outdoor living, a house as a “volume of screened space”.

The screened home encloses a pool and tree within its split-level concrete decks, while the exterior landscaping features a lagoon and sandy beach. The building incorporated the use of new materials, including a diaphanous aluminum screen and open-web steel trusses, never seen in residential construction before.

The Heller Residence #2 was the most popular in a series of homes that Polevitzky designed between 1936 and 1949.

Referred to as Tropotype (a mash up of the words tropical and prototype), the homes were specifically designed for the South Florida environment, emphasizing health, happiness and productivity for its owners.

All the tropotypes utilized passive-energy designs in conjunction with an ambiguous envelope to encourage an indoor‐outdoor lifestyle.

Iconic Building of the Month | December 2016 | Eames House

 Eames House, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, CA, 1949.
 
 
Charles and Ray Eames were two influential designers of the 20th century, having designed several iconic pieces of furniture. They also produced films (the most famous is Powers of Ten), designed toys and games (House of Cards), and even designed multimedia installations.
 
Their house and studio, also known as Case Study House No. 8, are as influential in architecture as their chairs are in the field of furniture design. The building demonstrates how modern construction can be colorful, creative, and live-able.
 
Charles Eames described the house as unselfconscious. It was designed specifically to meet their needs, universal needs that we all share as humans. They believed in the honest use of materials and straightforward connections. The details were the product.
 
 
By nestling the house into the hillside, they intended for the house to serve as a re-orientor toward nature. The scent, the sound of birds, the shadow of the trees against the structure whether inside or out, the openness of the site—all the elements join seamlessly. Besides wanting a home that would make no demands for itself, the couple intended that the home would serve as a background for “life in work,” with nature as a “shock absorber.”
 
The house consists of two glass and steel rectangular boxes. One is the residence, the other, a working studio. The building is aligned along a central axis with a court on the ocean side of the house and a court between the two structures. At 17 feet tall, each has a mezzanine balcony overlooking a large central room.
 

The Eames used color as a strategic tool in their house just as they did in their other work, combining the transparency and translucency of the glass with painted colors and wood finishes. The facades are black-painted grids, with different-sized inserts of glass (clear, translucent, or wired), painted and unfinished cemestos panels, painted stucco, painted and natural aluminum, and specially-treated panels.Much of the homes materials are off-the-shelf components, or the new plywood and plastic materials that the Eameses developed in their furniture designs. 

 
The end result? As one visitor exclaimed in the earliest days of its building, “Oh Mr. Eames, after seeing your home, I’ll never think of Modern as cold again!”
 
The Eames House, along with the whole of their efforts, represents a couple’s approach to life and work, where the iterative process that leads to meeting the need for direct experience, the relation with nature, the importance of details, and the life in work and the work in life.

Iconic Building of the Month | November 2016 | Villa dall’Ava

Villa dall’Ava by Rem Koolhaas, Paris, France, 1985–91.
 
The Villa dall’Ava is one of Rem Koolhaas’ iconic residences. Positioned on a hilloverlooking the Seine and the city of Paris, the villa is nestled into a neighborhood of 19th century houses.
Koolhaas provided a design that satisfied the client’s requirements of having a glass house, a swimming pool on the roof with a panoramic view of Paris, and two separate apartments – one for the clients’ parents and the second for their daughter.
 
 
The home’s site is likened to an outdoor room. It’s boundaries are marked by landscaping, garden walls, and the sloping terrain. The formal composition consists of three parts: a sloping garden, the main volume of the villa, and a street-level garage.
 
 
The house is conceived as glass pavilion containing living and dining areas. The two apartments are arranged perpendicular to the living area and shifted in opposite directions to take advantage of the view. The swimming pool, positioned above the glass-enclosed concrete structure,connects the hovering volumes.

Iconic Building of the Month | October 2016 | Villa Savoye à Poissy

Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier, Poissy, France, 1931.

In honor of Le Corbusier’s birthday (October 6, 1887), this month’s Iconic Building of the Month features his Villa Savoye.

Located in the outskirts of Paris, France. Villa Savoye was by designed Le Corbusier in collaboration with Pierre Jeanneret, a cousin, and built using reinforced concrete.

In his 1923 book, Vers une Architecture, Le Corbusier outlines his Five Points for a new architecture.

  • Pilotis (it’s French for stilts) – use of columns instead of load-bearing walls as the structural system.
  • Free plan – the absence of supporting walls means the interior spaces are unrestrained.
  • Free Façade – pilotis allow for the free design of the façade.
  • Ribbon windows – allowing for even illumination and ventilation.
  • Functional Roof – serving as a garden and terrace, it reclaims the nature and land occupied by the building.

The villa is the manifestation of Le Corbusier’s five points for a new architecture, and is one of the most easily recognizable and renowned examples of the International style. While not completely alike, when I was first introduced to this house, it reminded me of the beach houses along the South Carolina coast.

The house was designed and built as a rural retreat by the Savoye family. In 1958 it became property of the French government, and after surviving several plans of demolition, it was designated as an official French historical monument in 1965 (while Le Corbusier was still living). It underwent a thorough renovated from 1985 to 1997, and is now open to visitors year-round.

Just this July, Villa Savoye and 16 other buildings by Le Corbusier were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

Iconic Building of the Month | September 2016 | Stahl House (Case Study House #22)

Stahl House by Pierre Koenig, Los Angeles, 1960.

Image: Julius Shulman

The Stahl house was part of the Case Study Houses, a program sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine, which commissioned architects of the day to design and build inexpensive and efficient homes for the residential housing boom caused by the end of World War II.

Stahl House (Case Study House #22), plan.

 

The house is considered an iconic representation of modern architecture in Los Angeles during the twentieth century. It was made famous by a Julius Shulman photograph showing two women leisurely sitting in a corner of the house with an eventide panoramic view of the city through floor-to-ceiling glass walls. It has been the setting for numerous fashion shoots, films, and advertising campaigns.

Stahl House (Case House #22) Arrival side view.

In 1999, the house was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. In 2007, the American Institute of Architects listed the Stahl House (Case Study House #22) as one of the top 150 structures on its “America’s Favorite Architecture” list, and the only privately owned home on the list. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.

Image: Julius Shulman