Wright and Exposed Structure?

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Matt2
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Wright and Exposed Structure?

Post by Matt2 »

Jumping off from the Pew House thread and the observation that Wright wasn't much for exposed structure. I've been researching mid-century design in the Pacific Northwest were wood is king and not surprisingly the result was a lot of post and beam structures. It was modular and inexpensive, but it did present a totally different vocabulary of architecture. Wright seems to work with a base masonry layer, a mid layer of wood and glass, and then a roof later. And so much of the pleasure of Wright is how he wove these layers together. With post and beam you don't have that lower masonry layer and while there's a lot to like in these structures, there is also something missing to my eye.

SDR
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Re: Wright and Exposed Structure?

Post by SDR »

Mr Wright tended to appreciate, and deploy, solid mass---or at least its appearance---in his work. While he (and others) made much of transparency in the work---connection to nature, through bands or banks of sash including the famous butted-glass corners---it is solid material, presented in unbroken expanses of brick, stone, plaster or wood, turning the corner to reveal or portray thickness, along with generally thick and broad roof planes and the bands of deep shadow they produce, that is the more prominent physical feature distinguishing his work.

In this generosity of "stuff" he continued in old age to echo the dominant feature of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic that characterized much progressive American domestic architecture and furniture during the earliest decades of the twentieth century: broad boards, longer than they need be, long enough to penetrate the verticals and keep on going, are found in the Craftsman bungalow and the Stickley sideboard and settle. Wright is never afraid to specify miles more millwork, in more generous lengths and sections, than his postwar post-and-beam "competitors," in service of an architecture of mass as well as of space . . .

S

Matt2
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Re: Wright and Exposed Structure?

Post by Matt2 »

Excellent points. He was the master of mass, but also broke apart that mass in many instances, but never so much that is became mere columns. That might explain something else that has always puzzled me...Wright's apparent rejection of steel frame building. It could be argued that projects like Price Tower would have been better, stronger, and less costly had they been more conventional steel frame building. Wright never embraced steel frame design perhaps because it is inherently a kind of post and beam structure that is the main characteristic of modern architecture. So in one regard, Wright's work wasn't modern in the same way Mies work was modern.

SDR
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Re: Wright and Exposed Structure?

Post by SDR »

Quite. I don't think that Wright was a Luddite, or that he earned or deserved P Johnson's epithet, "Best architect---of the nineteenth century," but he certainly carved his own groove in the terrain of twentieth-century practice. He was without a doubt a romantic, and preferred the title of Poet as much as of Architect, I believe.

His romance with the forms we spoke of above, and with the "fire at the heart of the house," and with the tree-like cantilevered tower, set him well apart from the steel-frame Chicago tradition, where "form followed function" wherever it might lead, no matter how arid the territory ?

S

Matt2
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Re: Wright and Exposed Structure?

Post by Matt2 »

So how's this for a theory? Historical forms of architecture were about dressing up thick masonry walls. Wright was about breaking those walls apart and artfully rearranging them. The International style was about a grid of supports, either steel or concrete. The post-and-beam mid-century designers were really designing with posts, beams, and panels (of glass, wood, or stucco over wood).

Tom
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Re: Wright and Exposed Structure?

Post by Tom »

SDR has been the one to articulate best on this forum , now and in the past, the issue of concelaed structure in Wright.
I agree with his positition and would not have been able to put it into words as well as he.

The exceptions to this rule might be interesting to think about.
Sometimes exposed structure does occur.
I'm thinking about the interior of the main room of "Fir Tree" in New Mexico.
There is also a house in the north west which uses exposed trusses - can't remember name.
I think the house that the Waltons rebuilt in Arkansas has exposed beams in the main space.
and then there are all those cantilever counterweights that rise up through the buildings, like the main stone mass at Fallingwater.

However, I do not want to negate anything SDR has said in describing this issue.
I might add the following - what do you guys think about it:
Wright also liked to include in the impact of his work the confound-ment principle.
Part of the power and impact of the work is wondering and NOT knowing how it is possible.

I remember reading somewhere when Wright was asked by an apprentice if he wanted to include more
detail in the presentation about how the Mile High was constructed and Wright replied, something like,
"No, we don't let them know how we do it."

Part of the reason why other work is so prosaic is because it lacks this enigmatic dimension.
Last edited by Tom on Thu Apr 09, 2020 11:01 am, edited 1 time in total.

SDR
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Re: Wright and Exposed Structure?

Post by SDR »

Thank you, Tom. It is true that, until section drawings of houses were published, in the mid-1980s, no one but the architects's apprentices and his builders (sometimes better called "the clients' builders"), and restoration architects like John Eifler and Paul Harding, knew how Wright's houses were put together. It has been endlessly satisfying---and sometimes frustrating---to explore the bones of these houses by delving into the drawn record.

S

Tom
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Re: Wright and Exposed Structure?

Post by Tom »

Very much agree.

Roderick Grant
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Re: Wright and Exposed Structure?

Post by Roderick Grant »

When evaluating FLW's structural systems, a distinction between residential and commercial/institutional should be kept in mind. Even though the Price Tower was not constructed in the Miesian Mode, the National Life Insurance Project (1925; Taschen 2/136-9), while Mies' conceptual, unbuildable towers preceded it, foretold the modern towers of the 50s up to PoMo and beyond. Had it been built, commercial architecture would have advanced at least a quarter century, and the age of the Deco towers, with all their zigs and zags, Lalique, tile and frippery, might have been skipped (which would have been a downside). The base of Beth Shalom is concrete, but everything above it is modern steel and glass. Marin does not reveal its metal structure, but that's what holds it up. While the exterior walls of the Imperial Hotel were not metal-framed glass, they were curtain walls, non-supporting.

In his residences, FLW never catered to the view. Philip Johnson's Glass House is remarkable more for the 40 acres of landscaped privacy it needed to be inhabitable than the floor-to-ceiling glass walls that envelope it. That is the principal failure of all those glass houses of the 50s: They depend on something worthwhile outside to look at. During the midday heat, or to keep looky-loos away, the glass house had to draw the drapes, so it ceased to be a glass house, and became a cloth one. Even when a FLW house had a splendid view - Ennis, Oboler, Fallingwater, Teater, etc. - he provided views within the house that were interesting themselves. The description of FLW's approach to house design by SDR above (at 11:38) is exactly correct. Windows were fill for the spaces between masses.

Tom
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Re: Wright and Exposed Structure?

Post by Tom »

Thank for that.
Yep - the National Life building is at the top of my list for work regrettably unbuilt.

( and I think you meant "6:38" for SDR's description.)

Roderick Grant
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Re: Wright and Exposed Structure?

Post by Roderick Grant »

Tom, what time zone do you live in?

Matt2
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Re: Wright and Exposed Structure?

Post by Matt2 »

I've always thought there was a lot of exposed structure in Wright work, but in the form of a masonry mass that supports a roof. For example, how the masonry parts of Fallingwater support the concrete parts. And there is the famous "waiter and tray" example of structure in Johnson Wax or Price Towers. What is perhaps a more difficult to pin down are the structural necessities of some of the smaller designs like residences where Wright clearly wanted some sort of cantilever effect that required a hidden steel beam or two. You could argue that isn't a very natural use of steel given the steel was hidden behind some wood sheathing.

The comment on views is interesting. I mean is there a more under utilized view opportunity than Hollyhock?

jay
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Re: Wright and Exposed Structure?

Post by jay »

Teater's Knoll has a gloriously exposed beam:

Image

Roderick Grant
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Re: Wright and Exposed Structure?

Post by Roderick Grant »

The classic view in Los Angeles is from the Hollywood Hills toward the south, and it is largely the nighttime view. During daytime, this view is best observed from a distance, as it is from Ennis. Up close, Los Angeles is an ugly city, has been for over a century. What nighttime view there was from Olive Hill in 1919 was due west, toward downtown Hollywood, which the living room windows, 18' wide, face. The views to the south, north or east were and are not enthralling. This is the perfect site for a house that serves as an enclosure.

Matt2
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Re: Wright and Exposed Structure?

Post by Matt2 »

What other designs besides Knoll have exposed ceiling joists? That seems to be a rarity. Perhaps Wright thought this was a more "rustic" design?

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