Tag: Iconic Buildings

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.