In 1950, Philip Johnson completed a townhome in Midtown Manhattan for the Rockefellers. The simple mid-century modernist gem has become an icon of the halcyon era, with a black steel frame filled with a blind brick first floor and large floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows above, and an open floor plan hiding an exterior courtyard and reflecting pond, with a bedroom suite beyond.
Like most things I enjoy, I’ve re-drawn the project, but on a strict nine-square module and outfitted with a more traditional aesthetic. The brick, not the steel frame, becomes the driving tectonic, with columns in place of sliding plate doors at the courtyard, which itself is centered on a fountain rather than floating around one. The rear bedroom suite is more glorified with a full gable where the hip roof of the main house is tucked behind shallow brick parapets. The front elevation remains rather blind, but trades a single french balcony window for the trio of floor-to-ceiling glass panels.
What we have today is a study in similarities and contrasts – two houses, separated by a continent in distance (and climate), two distinct architectural styles (and building materials), and about fifty or so years of time (and appreciation.
The first (up top), is McKim Mead & White’s iconic Low House of 1886 at Bristol, Rhode Island, a long shallow gable of shingles, punctured by a subtle staccato of windows and oriels, all subsumed into the larger singular gable form. The second, Cary Grant’s Spanish Colonial Palm Springs residence of 1930, a shallow stuccoed gable punctured by deep-set windows and shaded by deep eaves and wood porches (now partially obscured by a later Wallace Neff designed addition).*
So naturally, why not try to bang ’em together? My initial reaction (below) is probably more Low than Grant, with protruding bays and banded windows, but is coated in white stucco like its Californian pedigree. I suppose a few more deep-set singular casement windows might just do the trick.
* Apparently, the home was originally constructed by Santa Monica based architect John Byers for one Julian Noles, a recent west coast transplant from Chicago – more info here.
In 1980, Jose Ignacio Linazasoro designed a deceptively simple renovation of a town hall at Segura in the Basque region of Guipuzcoa. While Linazasoro’s current work is of a decidedly modernist vocabulary, his earliest work was more neo-rationalist, taking heavy cues from Rossi and Krier (he even worked in the office of Venturi Scott Brown for a time). The town hall renovation in question reorganized the historic palacio to front an adjacent garden, adding a deep Syrian arch off of a square brick patio, and a long brick-columned pergola overlooking a deep valley and river beyond.
The top drawing outlines the new garden with an idealized ground floor plan of the palacio, while the drawing below is of the square patio itself, complete with herringbone brickwork, stone jointing, and a partial elevation of the archway.
The plan above is a direct take on Philip Johnson’s Hodgson House of 1951, at New Canaan, CT. The original is of the same mid-century modernist vein as his own storied Glass House of 1949, also in New Canaan. My version keeps the same U-shaped floor plan, but filled out to take up an entire square, and replaces the focal fireplace wall with a half-round bay. Most dramatically, though, the entire exterior is rendered in brick, including the window openings, which in Johnson’s were a black steel and glass system, no doubt in deep homage to Mies’ contemporary work at IIT, Chicago. A shallow shingled roof completes the traditional restylization, and makes the whole more reminiscent of the earlier Chicago traditions of Richardson & Burnham.
I think through drawing; I interpret as I reproduce. The drawing above perfectly capture this, where I set out to draw an accurate representation of an existing floor plan and ended up drawing what I wanted to see. The project in question is Frank V. Klingeren’s T-Karregat Center in Eindhoven, of 1973. The original is a system of steel truss ‘trees’ that serve as both structure and building systems, in some Reyner-Banham-dream-come-true, culminating in large pyramidal skylights that provide the majority of the light to an otherwise free plan interior.
My interpretation keeps the modular system, but lays it out in a rigor more reminiscent of early SOM (Mitchell Hall at the US Air Force Academy), and imagines it rendered in popular-once-again heavy-timber framing. The drawings below investigate the basic modularity, the nine square, and centering.
A few weeks ago, I posted a quick sketch of a Classicized version of Le Corbusier’s Five Points. That post in turn had been influenced by the work of Leon Krier. Today, Leon has agreed to share with you some yet unpublished drawings, his own revisiting of Le Corbusier’s seminal Villa Savoye.
This is the mecca of Corbusian modernism, and Krier takes no small shots, recontextualizing the villa by relocating it on the site, extending a large walled garden at one end, and bringing the roof garden to a climactic belvedere.
Krier keeps Corb’s basic Five Points right in place, but deftly moves them about: placing the piloti on a massive, battered base; adding more forms to the sculptural roof garden; and making a feature out of the ‘free plan’ curve at ground level. Corbusier is still here, but so is Krier.
All work is graciously lent by Leon Krier, who maintains his copyright © 2017.
Today, merely an elevation and roof/floor plan of a simple structure Edwin Lutyens designed at Middleton Park, where a pair of these cubic houses form the gatehouse entry to a much larger country estate. Why I enjoy it, and why I represent it here, is because it is one of Lutyen’s only square/cubic projects, where the picturesque goes to the wayside in an exercise of formal purity. A large hip roof mounts the brick and stone Georgian base, where two dormers are set aligned with the windows beneath on two sides, and one dormer is centered on other two. A large central chimney sprouts from the ridge. The house itself is built into a larger gate, with two eagles perched atop, flanking the gateway.
Apparently, you can live in one . . .
In penance for doing little posting of late, I present you with a little precedent study, and an archaeological one at that. Burnham & Root’s Armory Building (Chicago, 1882), was demolished in the 60’s, and Richard Nickel’s photos are little of what remains to tell the epic story of this impressive structure. Predating the Monadnock Building by 9 years, the simple masonry volume is rather unornamented, save for the excellent brickwork and rough-faced battered stone. A large skylit central drill hall anchors the form, which gives only small fortified slit windows to the street, save for the large, Richardsonian Syrian arch at the main entry. The windows pre-echo Kahn, but I’m not going to argue that he was so influenced, no matter how hard I’d like to. The structure is framed by the large load-bearing masonry walls, which are filled with long-span trussed arches, which allow for the large hall at the center. My first (failed) attempt at a truly square floor plan is at the bottom.
Oregon has a large number of covered bridges, where the wood trusses had to be protected from the persistent damp and subsequent rot and failure. These are simple, rectangular, white clapboard (or board & batten) gabled ‘houses’, concealing impressive, large-scale Howe trusses inside. I find engineered structures to have a brutal beauty, especially those of the early 20th Century, and often believe the Historic American Engineering Record to be much more fascinating than its architectural counterpart. These covered bridges offer a wonderful contrast between the utilitarian trussed interiors and the domestic exterior form. There might just be another project somewhere in there. . .
Three ‘k’s. Three drawings. Three ideas:
Kahn – an homage to Louis I. Kahn’s Center for British Art at Yale, where one of his pyramidal concrete skylights is placed above a more classically detailed library, contrasting the stark materiality of his modernism with the richness of the English country house which inspired it.
Krier – Starting with a plan very much like Wright’s Charnley house, but facing its street façade with a stuccoed language taken from Leon Krier’s Perez Architecture Center at the University of Miami, all for the domestic scale of the single family home.
Kiosk – Almost an exact reduplication of a small Tokyo ‘warehouse’ featured in a book by Atelier Bow-wow, ‘Pet Architecture Guide Book’, with a triangular floor plan topped by a butterfly roof, centering the downspout on the front façade. All I’ve done is perfect the geometry and replace a roll-up garage door with a french glass door.