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Usonian Exhibition house

Posted: Mon Feb 13, 2006 1:15 pm
by Guest
I was wondering if anyone has an opinion on FLW

Usonian Exhibition House

Posted: Mon Feb 13, 2006 3:38 pm
by dkottum
These houses are very interesting to study, and to compare. The Exhibition House and the Feiman design are very similar. FLLW used all of his best Usonian spatial features in this house. Compression and expansion of space from entry to living room. Built-ins everywhere that not only coordinate the design, but physically connect the spaces within, and soften the feel of enclosure by making walls into features. Note how the long storage unit in the gallery leads from the entry all the way through the master bedroom, with only a folding screen serving for privacy. This is reinforced with the long perforated board windows above. Note the long seating in the living room (not Feiman) to give another purpose to the back wall. Note the lack of closed corners, and how each space releases to a physical or visual escape. The dining table connects the living space to the workspace. So much more.

Looking at the Trier house, although beautifully done, it is similar but less spatially connected than the others. The bedroom wing is less integrated into the design. Compare the treatment of the gallery storage units, perforated board windows, and bedroom door. The perforated screens in the window wall are unusual in FLLW's work, but their shape is an interesting feature that may help control morning and afternoon sun in this southern exposure.

To me, these designs are among FLLW's best developement of the Usonian idea, especially in the use of built-ins and the manipulation of interior space. I don't think that they would be inexpensive to build. The roof cantilevers are large and would probably need custom-built steel support, as well as the carport. Window walls that support these cantilevers are difficult. This design needs a slightly southeast orientation to the windows in northern climates for success.

Doug Kottum, Battle Lake, MN

Usonian Exhibition House

Posted: Mon Feb 13, 2006 9:44 pm
by SWS
Do we know why, in this public demonstration of Usonian principles, FLLW chose to put the Exhibition House's fireplace at the opposite end of the living room from the workspace and traditional pivot point of the house? This placement is repeated in both Feiman and Trier.

Posted: Tue Feb 14, 2006 8:11 am
by rgrant
One must keep in mind that the Exhibition House, like any other FLW design, was intended for a specific site, the Fifth Avenue site of the Guggenheim. The environment to which it related was densely urban and the house responded to that with, for instance, the extra height of the clerestory windows, which had never appeared before at that scale in the Usonians. One entered the house, not from a carport or front yard, but from a tightly planned, walled area that included a large exhibition space. The total experience was very different from what it would have been if the house had been built in the suburbs. I suspect Feiman and Trier Houses were "quickies" that Wright left mostly in the hands of apprentices. If he had given the kind of careful attention to those commissions that he gave to Sol Friedman, they would have looked entirely different. The window wall of Trier was definitely not detailed by FLW.

John Geiger, former apprentice, who worked on the Exhibition House, and who probably understands it better than anyone, is writing a book about it.

Posted: Tue Feb 14, 2006 10:51 am
by dkottum
I don't think that the Usonian Exhibition House should be considered a response to its Fifth Avenue site. Wright was capable of designing for sites that were not specific, and did it frequently when he had an idea but no client.

His book, "The Natural House", features this design emphasizing the house but not the exhibit nor the city. Here he offers the house as a fresh look at his organic principles, and to clarify those principles that have been misinterpreted during his sixty years of architecture.

It is apparent that FLLW put a great deal effort, and most of his organic principles and Usonian ideas into the interior of this house. The response to the site may be better understood if limited to its orientation to the sun, which is of utmost importance to the interior.

Along with the way the exterior materials are also used inside the house, there is a charming line of perforations in the brick wall that extend from outside to the inside of the living room. Wright gave this design a lot of attention, and we can learn from it. This may be a good example of how he would design a wonderful house, and the clients would properly adjust their lives for the better to fit in.

Am looking forward to John Geiger's book.

Doug Kottum, Battle Lake, MN

Posted: Tue Feb 14, 2006 2:36 pm
by Guest
I am the one who started this thread. I thank everyone for comments.

I too also noticed the fireplace location. This is the first time we see the fireplace NOT placed in the center of the house as Mr. Wright always required. I have also been inside the Meyers Medical Clinic in Ohio. That fireplace is also placed at the end of the (waiting) room and not in the center. It is actually a nice affect and I enjoyed the layout. But why these houses is it placed on the side of the room? I went back and looked at the Monograph of the clinic. The drawing of the floor plan has the fireplace not placed on the side but in the CENTER of the floor plan! What gives?

I would also think Mr. Wright spent a great deal of time developing the house for the exhibition. Wouldn

Posted: Tue Feb 14, 2006 3:30 pm
by rgrant
I was not idly speculating. This comes from FLW by way of Geiger. The Exhibition House was a very careful design. The layout of the kitchen was precise, down ... or up ... to the rack holding the pots and pans. The choice of a linear plan accommodated the constraints of the lot. It was because the house was to be experienced in a particular way by the public wending their way through the house in long lines that design decisions were made. The brick wall with its perforations, for instance, block a view of 89th Street, something that would not be called for in a residential neighborhood. The house also related to the Pavillion just a few feet from the front door in ways that would make no sense if the building had not been there. That the design was built for two clients at later dates with very few alterations suggests strongly that FLW was not deeply involved in the two commissions. The detailing of Trier recalls the work of Jack Howe.


Posted: Wed Feb 15, 2006 6:31 am
by NickSpellman
Actually, Mr. Wight did place the fireplace on an end wall opposite the junction of the living and sleeping areas a few times during the Usonian era; Alsop and the first Erdman prefab come to mind.

Posted: Wed Feb 15, 2006 4:43 pm
by Reidy
Coonley, Hollyhock, Ennis and Freeman are other examples of houses whose fireplaces are not at the center of the plan.


Fireplaces at center of plan

Posted: Wed Feb 15, 2006 7:40 pm
by dkottum
There are several others with the fireplace not at the center of the plan, including FLLW's own living rooms at Taliesin and Taliesin West, noting that the T West fireplace was added by FLLW after original construction.

The point is that Wright did not have a kit of components assembled a certain way to achieve his magnificent spaces. Remember that the reality of the structure does not consist of the walls themselves, but of the space that they enclose.

This magnificent space is difficult to translate into words, patterns, or systems. It is the work of an artist who can sense human nature, feel the character of his materials, and translate the meaning of the site into a beautiful building through his natural sense of proportion.

As we may know, these magnificent spaces of FLLW cannot be achieved nor understood by simply looking at the individual parts or exploring some pattern that seems inherent in his work. For me, it is most useful to experience his spaces, study his drawings, and attempt to understand his writings.

Doug Kottum, Battle Lake, MN

Posted: Wed Feb 15, 2006 8:11 pm
by Wrighter
This takes the thread in a different direction, but the conversation seems to be turning that way, regarding the placement of fireplaces. The fireplace in Ennis, in particular, has always disturbed me, especially because of Wright's emphasis on the hearth's importance as the heart of the home. It seems to me it can still work as such, even if moved away from the "center" of the home. In Ennis, though, it seems so divided from the main living area, by both the columns and the fact of the traffic area that runs in front of it, extending forward into the gallery. The movement through the house doesn't feel right as a result, with the hearth disconnected, almost background noise to the life of the living room, rather than being central to that room. I remember standing in the living room and thinking, "There's no gathering around that fireplace." It thus gives it the effect of a painting on the wall, rather than a living, breathing contribution to the lives being lived in the house. (the mosaic, I suppose, contributes to that).

Is that a reflection of the admittedly surreal feeling given off by the noise of the concrete blocks--that is, the constant presence of a repeating pattern--one so intricate yet geometrically suggestive (having both pattern and depth) that it seems to connote almost constant movement? That the fireplace can be divided from that space with no particular loss, because there is already so much going on (and that's even without discussing the stained glass patterns in that space)? Or is the placement a lapse? Or am I misreading the space? Would love your thoughts.


Posted: Thu Feb 16, 2006 9:17 am
by rgrant
First, relative to the location of fireplaces, Willey's fireplace is across the room from the entrance, yet there are few interiors as wonderful in FLW's entire canon. It works perfectly. An apprentice, noticing that the 2' x 4' grid of Jacobs I was interrupted by a 2' x 2' unit mentioned this to Wright. Wright's response, "I wrote the rules. I can break them if I want to.

The Ennis House needs a major tome of its own to be understood. If the house had been built as FLW designed it, the interior would hardly be recognizable. Gone would be the marble floor of the gallery (s/be slate), marble and tile bathrooms (plane blocks, floors, walls, ceilings with gold tile filling in the joints), leaded glass (wood mullions), box-beam ceilings (board & batten with a pitch) and chandeliers (wood and glass cubes hung from one corner). The dining room would be more removed from the gallery with perforated block and wood art glass all but enclosing it. The mosaic over the gallery fireplace would extend to the two flanking bays, and would also be used in the dining room instead of the Aztec repousse. A special place in Hell was reserved for Mable Ennis for the violations she perpetrated on that masterpiece.

Posted: Fri Feb 17, 2006 12:01 am
by JimM
rgrant wrote: A special place in Hell was reserved for Mable Ennis for the violations she perpetrated on that masterpiece.

rgrant, you bring a smile often with your choice of words...but you'll have a tough time topping Ernest Borgnine!

Fireplaces at center of plan

Posted: Fri Feb 17, 2006 8:42 am
by dkottum
As I sit here and it is 24 below zero outside this morning, with 50 below windchill, I wonder if placement of FLLW's fireplaces had anything to do with heating the room?

Doug Kottum, Battle Lake, MN

Posted: Fri Feb 17, 2006 1:26 pm
by rgrant
First of all, dkottum, thank you for the weather report. Lately I have been contemplating my retirement, even thinking of moving back to Minnesota. While Pipestone on the prairie may not be as frigid as Battle Lake, the reminder of winter in the Land of 10,000 Tundras encourages me to redouble my efforts to find an affordable place in Southern California.

Fireplaces are lousy heating devices. Mrs. Mossberg said the vast fireplace in her living room sucked warm air out of the house faster than the furnace could supply it, which is why they installed a wood burning stove in it. Wright's use of fireplaces was purely aesthetic. Whether they were functional or not was of little interest to him.