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.
While studying for my last licensing exam, I found some simple and elegant diagrams of different steel frame systems (something like this or this). While the concentrically braced frame has been a hallmark of certain strains of Miesian modernism (Craig Ellwood, anyone? or here), I couldn’t think of an instance where the eccentrically braced frame had made its feature debut. So I drew one. I’ll admit that I had recently had octagon houses on the brain, so that same geometry surfaced here, where the eccentric braces on the four principal facades curve back in on each other to form an interior octagonal form, obscured by the square glazed exterior.
Rather, they started with a frame. Shelves, that is. I was scouring the internet and architecture books for shelves, first to house my inordinately large (and growing) library, and then just for the interest of how shelving could be used/designed in an architectural setting. So I started with a frame, three cubes stacked, but quickly found myself drawn to a two-by-four stack, with it’s squares within squares. Squares led me to think of Ungers, but placing a base and a top on it made me think Rossi. The detail below assumes a hollow metal frame with sheet metal pediment and base, prefabricated coves cut and welded to form rudimentary mouldings. A wormseye axon explores how an entire wall may be covered with these. And a final alternate places two large half-round cabinets to either side of the shelving proper, taken from a large wardrobe Lutyens designed for Viceroy’s House, Delhi.
To celebrate one year of frame, I have something special for you all. That’s right, a small, un-programmable garden pavilion. A four-square frame of 4X4’s set on the diagonal, with a copper standing seam roof atop and a brick base below. There’s no way in, just a beautiful form without. Better than cake, right?
In contrast to yesterday’s post, I’m featuring Mies’ earliest work in the United States (and his first experimentation with the ‘revealed’ corner, where the exterior envelope is set off of the structural grid), classrooms at IIT, for which Mies also completed the masterplan. Here, the frame is still made up of wide flange steel sections, but with buff brick infill panels. The window systems are still solid steel bars welded together – the thermal break found in the aluminum and bronze curtainwall systems was still a long way off.
My client had just built a new greenhouse on his Malibu estate – it was awful. But the open framework of black steel and plexiglass infill on the roof and walls intrigued me. What about Mies in California, Neutra even?