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.
Two more takes on the Victorian-anomaly-Octagon-house. The first is octagonal at the core, with square rooms off of four corners, connected by intermediary porches to form more of a chamfered square at the ground floor, while the octagon proper pierces out at the second story, topped with a tall, Rossi-an turret. The second is more subtle, placing a gabled roof on top of an octagonal plan, with porches on either side at the ground floor.
This small house takes its initial generation from a small, L-shaped home I drove past while on vacation in Oregon this past spring, where a porch filled out the square floor plan, its tall hip roof hitting the crotch of the two-story L behind. My version envisions a three-story volume to heighten the drama of the hip roof over the porch, with a circular stair at the corner of the L, while large Richardsonian Syrian arches front each gabled end, here rendered with a Gill-inspired symplicity. I also toyed with adding a wing outside the L, after seeing a photo of a similarly planned house which featured a few wing additions – in this parti, the L is subsumed into an overall symmetry.
For a little dose of fun, I took this week’s longhouse and shortened it up, ending up with a square with half-round screened porches on either end.
Maybe today’s project is not a longhouse perse, but definitely a domestic form that is quite elongated, with long solid brick gabled walls making up the length of the volume, and a hipped apsoidal colonnaded porches on the ends. I think that the roof itself would be particularly interesting, with the intersecting gables at different pitches, and a generous Rossi-inspired conical skylight.
Another vernacular form taken from my Oregon drive. This one, the study of roof masses, with a four-gabled volume over a hipped porch. I’ve taken this to it’s logical extent, with square-in-square, and a continuous, cubic central ‘house’. The reality is that this is no house whatsoever, at least not at this scale. Perhaps more of an elaborate cabin. Miesian stairs offer access from all four sides.
The final drawing represents a different formal operation on the same floor plan, with a single pyramidal roof replacing the hips and gables, echoing Asplund’s Woodland Chapel.
It began easily enough, a simple linear plan with two entrance porticoes per side, opening onto a square central hall with a circular stair its center, flanked by two sitting rooms, all sitting beneath two large deep-eaved hip roofs. But then my love of iterations got the best of me, and I began to chop off the side porticoes, play with roof forms, and open up the central hall into a dogtrot type house. . .
Continuing my exploration of rural agricultural form, this square cabin-like-structure plays on ideas of symmetry, complete and incomplete form, nine-square and four-square planning, all within the guise of simple vernacular architecture. The side elevation was the generator, with an overall symmetrical gable, infilled below with a colonnade on one end, a blank wall on the other, and a large picture window on center. The plan operates between the three bays of this side elevation and four running perpendicular, with a long vaulted living-sleeping room flanked by the porch-colonnade on one end and a long kitchen-toilet-service gallery opposite. A study of potentially running a barrel vaulted ceiling the length of the main living hall is at the bottom.
Or not. Maybe just a hut then. A four-square hut. With a porch on one side and a matching sleeping alcove on the other. And a single wood stove. A small kitchenette as well. And plenty of bookshelves. Or maybe a different roof altogether in place of the four gables? An inverted butterfly perhaps? I think so. Much more interesting than the bucolic nonchalance of that first drawing.