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Interestingly, I cannot recall hearing of a Wright owner taking on the recreation (or the construction, where an original design was never realized) of a "perf" (as we have taken to calling them). I suppose it will
have happened; perhaps another poster will refresh our memory.
But we do have original drawings of some of them, including in some cases a section drawing to accompany the elevation of the perf. There is more than one method of perf construction out there, so let's look
at some examples.
It might be assumed, to start, I think, that Mr Wright would consider plywood for the construction of these elements; it would be a logical choice, given the nature of most of the designs, to cut them from a single
piece of plywood (or, in fact, two identical pieces for each window, as the glass is usually shown sandwiched between two matching pieces of material), than to build them up from individual sticks and panels of
In fact, some of the earliest perfs were made from a single panel or board of solid wood. The problem arises where thin sections of the perf design run diagonally or vertically; these, when cut into a board with
horizontal grain---the most logical orientation of a long and narrow piece of wood, placed horizontally in the construction---are subject to breakage, when subjected to weathering and to the natural expansion
and contraction of the material with changes in temperature and relative humidity.
So, in an early Usonian detail sheet, we find this well-labeled section drawing through a typical perf panel. The material is specified as "waterproof" 5/8" plywood.
The middle portion of the section through the perf is a horizontal section, to show the vertical post that separates the row of perfs on the building. The rest of the drawing is a vertical section, looking horizontally
at a vertical cut through the materials. The perf is noted to be four feet long, and the posts (or "struts") are four feet on center; thus we know that the plan module for this house is four feet on a side---most likely
a 2' x 4' unit in plan, scored as such in the concrete "mat" or floor slab.
Sidney Bazett residence, Hillsborough, CA, 1939 -- plywood
Stanley Rosenbaum residence, Florence, Alabama, 1939 -- perf used vertically, and horizontally (as a ceiling light source)
Loren Pope residence, (originally) Falls Church, VA, 1939 -- perfs of solid wood, after 60 years of weathering
Bernard Schwartz residence, Two Rivers, WI, 1939 -- note breakage to two vertical members
Post-war: Melvin Maxwell Smith residence, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, 1946 -- clerestory perf turning a corner, perfs used vertically as an interior screen
Too bad they don't include some hardware notes. The item labeled "operator" is not much help.
I think if someone was going to build these today, it would be good to track down a supplier of marine plywood, especially for any "perfs" that would be on an outside wall. I noticed in the section drawing example that copper flashing and copper screen was specified. That would be important if the structure was near a coast.
land or sea. Protection of those exposed edges would be a good idea, though that doesn't appear to be the case on examples of perfs that I
have seen. Wright wasn't fussy with details, preferring to let materials be themselves. A very careful builder might have wanted to glue match-
ing solid-wood edgebanding on every one of the hundreds of exposed edges to the perfs, using one of the weatherproof adhesives.
Just because Wright designed his perfs to be read as wood-over-glass on both the exterior and the exterior, doesn't mean that a perf array
couldn't be constructed with wood on only one side of the glass---at a big saving in labor over the original configuration.
Here's a perf on a Wright-designed house (designed in 1941 for Roy Peterson, built for a client named Haddock in 1979). It appears to have
wood on the exterior side of the glass only.
It would be equally likely that a good effect could be had---and a defeat of weathering effects---by placing the perforated wood panels on the
inside of the glass . . . as long as the exterior appearance was satisfactory. A clerestory band above eye level might not look too bad ?
material that is the same thickness as, or slightly thicker than, the glass. Screws would pass through this layer, around the glass (which would surely be a simple rectangle), to assemble the finished perf panel.
The note [2" x 4" Strut] refers not to the filler strip but to the post, seen beyond the cut. Refer the the previous illustration . . .
In al my research on perfs I did not realize they were made of plywood as the faces often have very nice grain and the look, to me at least, of solid wood. Obviously these will need to be made from nice quality plywood that takes a good stain.
We are considering baltic birch plywood for some interior finishes, maybe even for ceilings in 4 ft squares. That plywood has minimal voids in cross section so edge banding is not needed. I'll find out if marine grade baltic birch plywood is available.
We're probably a 6-12 months away from building the first prototypes of these windows. I'll be sure and post some pictures!
Thank you again for your help!
As a woodworker I've tended to shy away from stains---though I realize that many don't believe a wood project is complete if the wood hasn't been
altered in color. (Indeed, some use the word "stain" when they refer to any wood finish !) Many of us feel that the wood should be selected for its color
and grain, in addition to the other physical properties required, and clear-finished only, if any finish is needed. Indeed this was Mr Wright's tendency,
particularly in the later period of his career.
Stains do not protect the wood; only the finish coat can do that.
I raise the issue because birch can be difficult to stain evenly. There are remedies for this---but samples of the same material you intend to use
should be treated and stained identically to the intended finish process, to judge the effect.
Stains, much more than clear finishes, will enhance the grain, as well as highlighting any problem areas in the workpiece, including uneven sanding,
surface defects, and unwanted grain features. So, the materials should be carefully selected from available supply, and protected from accidental
damage during handling and processing, to facilitate the best outcome.
Anyway, all that aside, Apple Ply is a superior brand of so-called Euro-ply, the multi-layered plywoods popular today. It seems to be available primarily
if not exclusively with maple surfaces---a good substitute for Baltic birch.
Best of luck with your project, and do please keep us in the loop !
ApplyPly is available in many veneers which would be a help. But at first glance not rated for exterior use.
You'll appreciate we're trying to find reasonable options for reverse board and batten (12" wide cypress not in our budget universe), and I've considered trying a mockup of something like apply ply.
Will keep researching.
Thanks again, it is great to have people helping who are interested and deeply knowledgeable about what we're exploring.
Exciting ! Can't wait to see more.
As exterior wood wethers, and changes color, the same specie on the inside of the house will remain much more in its original state, typically
fading or darkening (due largely if not entirely to UV exposure). Perhaps your exterior perf layer could be made of a different specie---or material
---than the perfs on the inside of the glass ?
We have discussed the "updated Usonian" many times, here, and a consensus has emerged to suggest that no 1940 Usonian would satisfy
today's building codes and standards, even if its form and provisions were satisfactory to its owners. So, absolute authenticity would likely be
impossible, today, for a house intended to be occupied and used as a residence. Thus, material substitutions would not be unexpected, in such a
project . . .
Here are photos of a Mark Mills house, in which the interior and exterior differences of a given material, the latter allowed to weather naturally,
seem to be celebrated:
photos Ã‚Â© Michael Mathers
The solution worked with Brandes, because the clerestories are not particularly noticeable from the exterior. The same solution would not work well on a structure like Gordon or Kundert, where large wall sections are involved.
in parts of a Wright residence---the entry, most typically---will be compromised. (Simply scaling everything up, in the vertical dimensions, is NOT an effective
remedy for this problem, in my view . . .).
Mr Wright was a master of scale and proportion in his work; these are of course vital elements of any superior architectural design. One aspect of this, in Wright,
is the sometimes lavish use of material merely to achieve the desired composition; those extended eaves aren't there merely to shade the building and shelter
its occupants---for instance . . .!
The same is true of the interiors; the magic is in part the result of carefully-considered (and/or divinely inspired) proportions, horizontal to vertical. Tamper with
these at your peril . . .
Some of us believe it is better to leave Wright alone, and seek inspiration elsewhere, if it is not within a builder's reach to respect fully the master's effects. But
the wish to "own Wright," to live in that sort of environment, is a compelling one, isn't it.
My reading of the residential IBC is that no lower 7' ft ceilings are required, and in a sloped roof room, 50% of ceiling has to be above 7', meaning soffits around the perimeter for space definition should be OK. I asked our designer to double check on that just now, so if I am wrong I'll get back to you. We'll try to create some spaces with soffits, the entrance will be dropped to 7' or so, opening up to the higher ceilings in the gallery and LR/DR kitchen.
We may be on a fool's errand, but so far we are having a lot of fun designing.
The rule dates back to the Great Depression, when so-called "Hoovervilles" started popping up all over, rental housing and shanties built on the cheap with very low ceiling heights.