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.
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 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.
Today’s project takes its impetus from the tithe barn (Fr. grange dimiere), medieval structures used to collect villagers’ tithes, which prior to the proliferation of cash was often given as a portion (one tenth) of the individual’s harvest. These cumulative tithes required an elaborate barn to store them for safekeeping throughout the following year. The structures are fabulous syntheses of the ecclesiastical and the secular – large, windowless stone or brick fortresses with soaring trussed, nave-like, roofs.
Barn conversions are fascinating to me, with the domesticization of the agricultural, and the tithe barn is no less so. This project attempts to take the typical tithe barn and meet it with the domestic, with a large enclosed courtyard to compliment the truss-framed living room.
Facade as generator: that is, starting with a facade and working back to a floor plan instead of the opposite, more traditional, fashion. Here, a scored plaster exterior references brick construction, with radiating joints at the circular window and jack arches over the rectangular side windows. A tall pyramidal skylight centers the whole.
Another facade, this time actual brick with rounded corners, simple square double-hung windows under jack arches with thin metal overhangs and stone shoulders at the inset front door. The plan suggests a small linear courtyard at the center.
This circular rotunda has a few things going on in plan that a section won’t illustrate. But not to mind, for the section shows enough of its own intrigue. The dome is cut, making it shallow at the center than the ends. A large skylight sits above, illustrated here as a small tempietto, a room beyond a room, above which the skylight proper is positioned.
Or rather, I drew more of the same courtyard I’ve drawn before. Particularly, I wanted to see how this plan-section combination would work with my double-axon-section projection (see above). I especially like how the section proper gets lost in the projecting planometric linework, both from the wormseye and the traditional ‘aerial’ axonometric.
More than just a Bach reference, that title could really be the title of this entire blog, since the vast majority of what I post here are really just different takes on courtyards. Blame it on my being a SoCal native, blame it on my love of squares, palazzi, and any other architectural trope you can. I love me some courtyards. So here we go again. At the top, a more detailed elevation of a previous project, and below, a different take on that same floor plan, this time more loudly echoing Giorgio Grassi and Louis Kahn.
Today, I’ve got something a little odd here at frame, four ‘L’-shaped towers surrounding a nine-square cubic courtyard. The exterior walls are bare brick, but for small observatories in the upper corners. The ‘house’ itself is broken into four independent towers, with public spaces grouped on the ground floor, connected via the large tree-filled courtyard, which acts as the main living room of the house, with baths and bedrooms located on the upper tower floors. In contrast to the bare brick exterior, the courtyard walls are detailed in a strict classical vocabulary, with pilaster colonnades wrapping floor upon floor.
A week or so ago I promised elevations for a courtyard plan. Well, here they be. The front and back feature vernacular porches, complete with columns and hip roofs. The sides, however belie the modernist floor plan inside, with floor-to-ceiling Mies-ian windows at the dining room and bedroom (what’s privacy?), and counter-height butt-glazed windows at the kitchen. The roof forms cannot be seen from the exterior, as they all slope inward to the impluvium-like courtyard. I really aught to do some sections. . .
I normally like to post a number of drawings of the same project together, but I’ve been backlogged with scanning in some of my sketchbooks. Excuses aside, here’s a plan. A courtyard plan. Another courtyard plan: square court in a square volume, off-center to allow for a variety in the sizes of the surrounding rooms, but on axis from the entry to the rear porch. Large modern floor-to-ceiling windows paired against vernacular hipped roofs. Elevations, sections, and details forthcoming. Ti promeso.