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.
I don’t know why courtyards intrigue me so much. Perhaps it’s due to my living in the sun-drenched foothills of Southern California, where courtyard typologies have long dotted the land to provide shade in the summer and protect against winter winds.
Today’s project is yet another courtyard house. This time stemming from a relative’s home perched atop the rolling hills of San Diego county. The layout is simple: A small patio protects the front door (to the left on the drawing), with a living room just beyond, a dining room to the right, and the kitchen and family room further yet; to the left are bedrooms and baths, with a stair down to a lower level tucked into the hillside below; a central courtyard is flanked by a covered patio which opens onto tiered terraces and stairs beyond.
Formally, my initial studies (below) were rather rectangular, with only one oriel window at the family room. However, I couldn’t resist the fun a pinwheel-ed series of oriels would provide, lending one each to the family room, the master bedroom, a guest bedroom, and the dining room. Here the plan takes cues from McKim Mead & White’s two casinos at Newport (also here) and Narragansett, with a dash of the Bell House (also here). The bottom sketch further investigates a circular series of stairs at the patio, referencing the predominance of half-round oriel figures in the remainder of the plan.
There’s a single family house in my neighborhood that was at one time wrapped in a deep arcade. Though rotting and falling apart (and no doubt unpermitted), the regular rhythm of the arches masks the asymmetrically placed windows and doors behind. I tied this with Irving Gill’s Oceanside City Hall of 1934 (also here), which uses an arcade in a similar fashion, to regularize an otherwise syncopated facade.
Today’s project takes Gill’s more refined use of the arcade and applies it to the single family home, a typical, asymmetrical, single story, home not unlike many here in Southern California (and indeed in many suburban neighborhoods). This results in some interesting conditions, with some occupied spaces pushed right up behind the arcade while leaving shallow porches elsewhere, and even enclosing a small garden within its bounds.
The options below take the same floor plan of above, but add a second floor, positioning the arcade proper against taller volumes behind.
Staring at a blank sheet, knowing that I want to draw something, just not knowing what to draw, sometimes I try to draw the plan of a house from memory. This particular day I was musing over Greene & Greene’s seminal Gamble House, the high water mark of the California Craftsman bungalow. But being my own self, obsessed with modules and keeping things on grid, I drew it a little differently, quickly observing a plan that reminded myself more of Gill than Greene. So I ran with it. White stucco replaces darkened shingles; Rectangular parapets take the place of deep Japanese-inspired gables; Minimally appointed Italianate colonnades take over for iron-wrapped wood posts. What we’re left with, while deriving from the Gamble House no doubt becomes something completely different, yet all the while essentially Californian.
To celebrate my birthday, my wife took me to see over 20 of Irving Gill’s extant works. I’ve always appreciated this seminal figure, and his lasting impact upon Southern California’s architectural development, but had never taken it upon myself to actually seek out his work in person. Lesson learned. And as much as I appreciate precedent study, that is the representation of existing works through drawing, I believe that history must be operative – that is, we must look to how history can work for us today. Not only what we can learn from it, but what we can do with it.
And with that introduction, I give you a small house, three squares in plan, stepped in section, cubic in volume. The articulation of the volumes is typical Gill, with an arcade wrapping the a portion of the ground floor as a screen, yet open to the air above (quoting Gill’s Bishop’s School in La Jolla). The remainder of the details are taken from Ungers, with some Schindler-esque diagonal planning.
A friend and I were out exploring the local architectural haunts here in the Los Angeles area, which in this case included Pasadena’s Gamble House of 1908 as well as the other Greene & Greene homes studding the neighborhood. One of these sits kitty-corner to Frank Lloyd Wright’s La Miniatura (or Millard House) of 1923, and I noticed a lovely wrought iron gate at the rear of the property, almost coyly unimpressive against dynamic klinker brick wall. I began to think of my own home, and if a similar wrought iron gate would work against its Spanish revival aesthetic, with some details massaged here and there. Not a building per se, but a linguistic study nonetheless. Now if I can just find a blacksmith and a few dollars. . .
As a part of my Christmas traditions, my family and I spend a weekend in the mountains here in Southern California, where we can play ‘winter’ and ‘snow’ and safely return to our warm weather when our fingers are sufficiently numb. The so-called ‘cabins’ we stay in are often over-sized log mansions, and kitschy as can be expected.
This project is an answer to them: a simple nine-square plan with a central courtyard, and a circular infinity-edge spa at the middle; the kitchen-dining-living trio lines the north edge, with sliding glass walls fronting a supposed lake view; and private sleeping quarters located on the lower level.
My brother is kind of infatuated with mid-century modernism, with volumes on Palm Springs and Neutra strewn about his house. So naturally, I began to tinker with what I might do with the tropes of ‘MCM’, and how I might incorporate it into my own tendencies of modular, square plans. This plan again plays on ideas of four and nine-squares, with brick walls surrounding three sides of a square, one half of which is dedicated to the interior domestic spaces and the other is given over to the exterior with a brick patio, wood deck, gravel garden, and a pool. The timber-framed living volume is flanked by a service bar in which a small entry courtyard is situated.
I’m not happy with the pool, and am tempted to try it on center rather than the side. . .
My brother-in-law lives in a small military town in the Mojave desert, and when he mentioned buying cheap land and building something, naturally I got thinking. Courtyard typologies sprang to mind, perhaps met with elements of pueblo adobe rectangular masses and carved wood porches. My plan offers a square adobe mass punctured with a circular courtyard and fountain at its center (evaporative cooling), and is rimmed with wood porches about to enjoy the expansive desert vistas, and to offer deep shade to any exterior openings.
While traces of Irving Gill abound in the reductive classical-vernacular language, the plan geometries posed a small problem, reconciling the circular interior form and the division of rectangular rooms about. I turned to Palladio’s Villa Capra (La Rotonda) for help, but also needed to situate the rooms of a modern single family residence, and thought Frank Lloyd Wright’s Cheney House might work.
Continuing last week‘s Californian agricultural experiments, this small structure (which I’m titling a ‘cabin’, but really is a programless form) is square in plan with a pitched roof running in one direction, terminating in a dutch gable at the far end over a colonnaded porch and a large circular window in the gable face, and cantilevering over the entry portico, where two identical doors reference the four-square floor plan. The language owes much to Richardson, filtered through the vernacular, with a shingle roof, clapboard walls, and a flemish bond brick base.