Archive for October, 2007

Fairbanks House

October 25, 2007

Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts is one of the oldest extant houses in America. Built only 17 years after the landing at Plymouth, it is also typical, “the modern average middle class home of its time.? The building has been added onto at several times in the past but the original structure was a common double height two room English cottage. It had a hall and parlor on the ground floor, on either side of an axis which contained main entrance, large double fireplace chimney, and access to the upper floor. The hall would be kitchen, work room and family gathering place, while the adjacent parlor served the more outwardly societal functions of receiving room, as well as principal bedroom at night. Upstairs, the two other chambers might both have been bedrooms or possibly bedroom and storage chamber as there was a fireplace in only one of them. As a home for a family of eight, its comforts seem limited from a contemporary point of view, in its own time, however it was equipped with all of the modern necessities. The house used the standard half timbering construction method common in England at the time and was further protected from the more harsh New England elements by a second skin of unpainted clapboard. It was arranged around a central fireplace, which had only become common in vernacular housing during the second half of the 16th century. It would have had at, or shortly after, construction glass windows rather than the oiled paper or the empty openings with wooden shutters which had sufficed in England. Additionally it boasted a cellar/workroom and a nearby privy (sited away from the house for sanitary reasons).


My Manifesto Collection

October 22, 2007

I’ve been gathering the writing of previous architects on housing and how it can/should be changing the world. Here’s my little collection so far:
N. John Habraken
Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing

“If in housing we wish to restore human relationships, but mean to exclude today’s technical possibilities, we are following a road to the past, a road we cannot follow. If we wish only to develop the technological potential without touching human relationships, we end up with something like mass housing. … The impoverishment of human society in mass housing towns is becoming generally recognized. Like a caterpillar in a cocoon, we have surrounded ourselves with a technical potential which, as yet, has not found its proper purpose. The time has come to free ourselves and regain the initiative. …
“If new forms of human housing offer new opportunities, we must be able to say why they are preferable to old ones. To do that a clear insight is needed into what dwelling really means. Once we agree that it is necessary to introduce the inhabitant or active force into the housing process, we can face the future with confidence. Building has always been a matter of confidence and to make this a reality we must be clear and unequivocal about the nature of man’s housing needs.?a
Sim Van der Ryn and Sterling Bunnell
Integral Design

“The task, then, of integral design at the household level is to begin to recreate the opportunities for people to derive meaning and satisfaction from their experience of natural cycles as these occur in the household. This assumes that the occupant becomes and active and intelligent participant in managing, maintaining and adapting the dwelling. The ‘hot rod’ is one example of an aesthetic that grows out of the young American male’s attempt to find meaning in every day industrial culture. Maybe the day is not too far off when millions of Americans will be ‘hot rodding’ their new denatured houses into finely tuned, multi-channeled, closed-looped, organic instruments for processing natures flow.?b
Christopher Day
Places of the Soul

“Architecture has such profound effects on the human being, on place, on human consciousnesses, and ultimately on the world, that it is far too important to bother with stylistic means of appealing to fashion. … Anything with such powerful effects has responsibilities – power, if not checked by responsibility, is dangerous thing! Architecture has responsibilities to minimize adverse biological effects on occupants, responsibilities to be sensitive to and act harmoniously in the surroundings, responsibilities to the human individualities who will come into contact with the building, responsibilities not only in the visual aesthetic sphere and through the outer senses but also to the intangible but perceptible ‘spirit of place.’?c
Peter Calthorpe
The Next American Metropolis

“Its time to redefine the American Dream. We must make it more accessible to our diverse population: singles, the working poor, the elderly, and the pressed middle class families who can no longer afford the ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ version of the good life. Certain traditional values – diversity, community, frugality, and human scale – should be the foundation of a new direction for both the American Dream and the American Metropolis. These values are not a retreat to nostalgia or imitation, but a recognition that certain qualities of culture and community are timeless. And that these timeless imperatives must be married to the modern condition in new ways.?d
Sim van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan
Ecological Design

“First Principle: Solutions Grow from Place
Ecological design begins with the intimate knowledge of a particular place. Therefore, it is small-scale and direct, responsive to both local conditions and local people. If we are sensitive to the nuances of place, we can inhabit without destroying …?e
Frank Lloyd Wright
Organic Architecture

“To thus make of a human dwelling-place a complete work of art, in itself expressive and beautiful, intimately related to modern life and fit to live in, lending itself more freely and suitably to the individual needs of the dwellers as itself an harmonious entity, fitting in colour, pattern and nature the utilities and be really an expression of them in character, – this is the tall modern American opportunity in Architecture. True basis of a true Culture. An exalted view to take of the ‘property instinct’ of our times??f

Read the rest of this entry »

The Latest

October 14, 2007

Here’s the latest draft. Its got all kinds of shiny new features: an updated hypothesis and thesis statement, a research statement, a thesis map, a new case study of usonian houses, a beginning typological ancestry of early American house forms, a snappy bio of Eileen Gray and (hopefully by tonight) a program. Bask in the glory, folks.
Download file
All that… and sat next to somebody in class on Tuesday too. I’m a busy girl!

Usonia – It’s Great!

October 9, 2007

The Usonian House for Wright was a “building system, adaptable to each client with whatever modifications he might need regarding space and site conditions.? They were built on a standardized 2×4 foot or 4×4 foot grid to allow for simpler dimensions (and also to aid the illusive sense of unity). Wright created a “standard detail sheet? to deal with common elements such as the window details, the board-and-batten walls and masonry elements.
Those original Usonian houses seem lavish in their details to contemporary eyes but they were rendered affordable by the low cost of skilled labor during the depression and war years. The critical cost was in the materials which Wright limited in both scale and initial value. With the onset of WWII, and its attendant economic boom, the rising wages of construction workers make the labor intensive Usonian scheme impractical. Wright tried to offset this problem with his so-called “Usonian Automatic.? This iteration was structured out of custom made concrete blocks in single or double layers which was mean to significantly simplify construction. The owner would then theoretically be able to participate in the construction of their own home.
Typical Usonian features were in-floor heat, built in furniture. Garages were replaced with car ports because, unlike the horses which preceded them, automobiles did not really need protection from the elements. The exterior form was simplified with flat roves and pre-manufactured window elements. Wright limited his palette to wood, brick, cement, paper and glass. He wanted to do away with most traditional interior finishes. He specified no plastering – it was not in the palette – and wanted his wooden walls left unpainted. “Wood best preserves itself.? Trim was therefore extraneous. He also deplored most conventional decorative elements, believing that the house itself could be its own ornament. “Furniture, pictures and bric-a-brac [are] unnecessary because walls can be made to include them or be them.?
The plans were simple L-shapes with one arm for public spaces and the other for bedrooms. The bathroom and “workspace?, in other words the plumbing core, would be at the junction between the two and provide visual separation in his otherwise open plans. Wright designed from the inside, arranging rooms to suit themselves and then working out the facades to coordinate with them afterwards. This allowed him to use a much more fluid arrangement of space than was dictated by previous design strategies.
In Wright’s earlier Prairie School designs the kitchen was largely disregarded (by both architect and client). It would be used primarily by the domestic help and not the family so that a distinct separation was desirable. When he turned his hand to affordable houses for middle class families the kitchen was occupied by one of his primary clients. He re-conceived the kitchen as the “workspace? of the home, a sort of modern domestic laboratory for the housewife, and brought it into the arena of the public space. It was connected to living spaces and rendered in the same materials so that it felt a part of familial activities. He did still take care in most plans to position it out of view of the dining area so that formal pretensions could be preserved during a dinner party if that was desirable.

Read the rest of this entry »

Modernist Enthusiasms

October 6, 2007

“Advancing technology provided the builder with new materials and more efficient methods which were often in glaring contrast to our traditional conception of architecture. … I felt that it must be possible to harmonized the old and the new in our civilization.?
Mies van der Rohe, A Personal Statement by the Architect, 1964
The middle of the twentieth century was notable for its architectural idealism. Modernists of all vocations sought to embrace the new technology which was so rapidly emerging and use it to formulate a new and better way of living. This is nowhere more clear than in modernist housing designs.
In contrast to their predecessors, modern homes were open and flowing spaces which allowed even the most minimal of post-war cottages to seem spacious when compared with the old hallway linked plans. These new open plans were made possible by advances in structural engineering which allowed for increased spans and the removal of interior bearing walls.(26) Living and dining rooms merged. Kitchens could be screened by partial walls or built in furniture but still allow the cook to feel like a part of the family group. Exterior walls opened up into large expanses of glass, interrupted by sliding glass doors, which broke down barriers between inside and out. Modernist furniture became lighter, more mobile and more adaptable, assuming “a new role as space dividers that could be taken apart, added to, and moved from room to room.?(24)
Many architects of the time used housing developments as vehicles for their agendas of social change. Frank Lloyd Wright – Broadacre City and Usonian Homes
Wijsenhof and Mies etc etc
John Entenza of Arts + Architecture Magazine organized the Case Study House Program [find source] to use off the shelf components and synthetic materials to create an affordable version of the new Modern style that hey hoped to market to greater masses.

Excessive Force

October 5, 2007

Robert made the point yesterday at the end of our thesis meeting that architecture students often latch onto the idea of using their buildings to force people into doing thing they otherwise would not. The idea of “and this will make them stop here and look to the window and see the light? This a good warning to me – already a bit inclined to try to solve the worlds problems with my architecture. I have to be wary of using my design to force anyone into living greenly. So then the question is if I want to make a green building which helps people live more greenly I need to be certain that it is allowing or suggesting alternatives to people rather than trying to bludgeon them into some new idea.

Week the Fifth

October 4, 2007

Holy Crap! Here it is week five and I have yet again done not a whole lot other than what I produced this very morning. It was a pretty functional work day. I overhauled my table of contents and then expanded it into notes. Rewrote the case study section into a more organized little history. Wrote a new preface pertaining to my experience on IHP. The idea “if you don’t have time to bake bread you don’t have time to change the world” rolling into the importance of the domestic in architectural design. So … where am I? I feel actually pretty decent about where the straight up research component is going. The next step is program / site or site / program. Ozayr is pushing it and I know its important. So it lacks only a decision. I know I was talking about Northeast Minneapolis. But sitting in class today and hearing Sam talk about how much information we have about Biloxi (and acknowledging how rich my own knowledge of the place is. I just don’t know. So … I need to talk to James about this. And bounce it off the home front. Ozayr says full steam ahead but I’m worried. I don’t want to be a “Biloxi thesis” but on the other hand this might be my chance to do that multifamily housing project that we started to do and got cut off at the knees when we rolled into mixed use and single family. So … I guess it needs some mulling. Anyway, here’s what I gave Ozayr today … Download file