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I am a complete sucker for a good a-frame, the first being Schindler's Bennati cabin from 1937 at Lake Arrowhead.
There are a few more photos on flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/hypnoraygu ... 59/detail/
hypnoraygun, thanks for posting the Flickr photo set and the detailed info from House Beautiful............
However, it strikes me that it is safe to say with certainty that Mark Mills is not the author of the A-frame design concept for the main space. In Alan Hess and Alan Weintraubâ€™s book, Forgotten Modern: California Houses 1940-1970, Hess writes, based on a personal interview with Mills, that Mills was opposed to the A-frame structure for this house because he thought it inappropriate for that particular site. Hess also reports that Mills did not favor the timber bents incorporated in the upstairs bedroom wing either. In each instance, he had to capitulate to Owings, because, â€œ. . . he was the one paying the bills.â€�
On Page 190 of The Spaces in Between: An Architectâ€™s Journey, Published in 1973 by Houghton Mifflin Company, Owings writes this about Wild Bird:
â€œ. . . Every step of the way in building our house was special, from the scale model of the site with every rock in place, through architect Mark Mills' sensitive handling of the working drawings, to the choice of the redwood timbers from the old Torre Canyon bridge.â€�
No further mention is made of Mark Mills. It seems by this that Owings may have intended with this written record to distance Mark Mills from any position of responsiblity concerning the design of Wild Bird. He has identified him rather as a draftsman who â€œsensitivelyâ€� incorporated the design concepts for the project (presumably Owings') into the plans.
â€œArt: HOUSE IN BIG SUR
Monday, Dec. 28, 1959
â€œADMIRERS call it the most beautiful â€” house on the most beautiful site in the U.S. Any architect would envy the site and some might have suggestions for doing things differently (they usually do), but all would agree that Architect Nathaniel Owings has built himself a house that any man could be proud of.
â€œSite and architect came together by sheer chance. Seven years ago, rotund, ebullient Nat Owings, 56, a senior partner of the huge architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, was visiting San, Francisco for the express purpose of courting a handsome divorcee, Margaret Wentworth. One fine fall day they set out on a picnic in the precipitous Big Sur country south of Carmel. Scrambling along the cliffs, they came upon a finger of land that thrust out into the Pacific in lonely grandeur. To the south, they could see a 40-mile sweep of coastline. Six hundred feet below, sea lions barked on a small white sand beach. As they sat on a massive rock lunching on peaches and champagne, they decided that when they were married this would be the place for their home.
â€œAfter their marriage a year later, Owings bought the 55-acre site. Says Owings: "It was six hundred feet long, six hundred feet high and six feet wide," and the statement was only a slight exaggeration. What gave special relish to the job for Nat Owings was that in 32 years of designing, including work on such large-scale projects as Oak Ridge, Tenn., Moroccan airbases, and Crown Zellerbach's new building in San Francisco (TIME, Sept. 7), he had never built a house.
â€œIndian-Mound Garage. Big Sur is challenging country. The land is periodically shaken by earthquakes, battered by 80-m.p.h. winds; rainfall can total 72 in. in three months, and termites abound. To cope with these problems, Owings designed a kind of concrete saddle over the ridge, anchored by eight caissons reaching down into bedrock. On this he secured a rigid A-frame, surrounded it with cantilevered balconies carried around the outside to exploit the spectacular view. For roof beams he bought 60-year-old redwood timbers of a demolished bridge. A four-car garage was dug partially out of bedrock, leaving a prehistoric Indian mound undisturbed. Says Owings: "No house can do more than snuggle into and grab hold of and hold on to a sheer bit of granite on this coast."
â€œThe Owingses decided to call their new house "Wild Bird" because "we have the feeling of soaring in mid-airâ€”airplanes often pass below the house, and red-tailed hawks are our constant visitors." Through binoculars they have seen mountain climbers tumble to the beach below, once had to call in some professional rock climbers to rescue Nat Owings' 16-year-old daughter Jennifer, who was caught at nightfall halfway up the cliff.
â€œMosaic Carpets. To contrast with nature's grandeur, the Owingses tried to make the interior snug and warm. The only floor coverings are the pebble floor-mosaics designed by Mrs. Owings, but art abounds in the houseâ€”paintings by Morris Graves, drawings by Buffet, a candelabra by Seymour Lipton. When someone remarked that the house, with its redwood sheathing and massive chimney, was reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright, Nat Owings, a longtime aluminum-and-glass specialist, was taken aback, finally admitted: "Wright was a master of the organic philosophy of design. Perhaps anyone who reaches toward nature, or wants to meet nature on its own ground, would be bound to cross his path somewhere."
â€œAs far as the Owingses are concerned, their home suits them to a T. Says Owings: â€˜This is a onetime house for the rest of the time we expect to be here on earth.â€™â€�
Yet there may be credence to the claim of Owings as principal designer. Alfred Browning Parker might be the one to consult about this. In his book, "You And Architecture," he shows several views of Wild Bird, but in the index gives credit only to Owings. Neither the list of the works of SOM nor a list of Mark Mills works that I can find online mention Wild Bird.
I think you would have to agree that Louis Henri Sullivan was an architect of substance, yet when he desired to build a house for himself at Ocean Springs, Mississippi, he gave the problem to FLLW, and credited him with the design.
He was far more generous in spirit, and a much better architect than Nathaniel Owings, of course. Moreover he realised that there has never been an architect thru'out recorded history who was equally capable in the design of both large and small buildings. I am not convinced that Nathaniel Owings was capable of either.
This circumstance relates to each individual architect's sense of scale. Louis Henri Sullivan was comfortable with commercial scale, but after he fell on hard times and was offered only residential commissions, this fact was manifest. His Bradley house is a classic example: the scale and the details are not right.
FLLW was convinced that he could design any building, commercial, cultural or residential,
yet his essays, other than houses, all have a domestic sense of scale about them.
I doubt very much that Nathaniel Owings designed the house 'Wild Bird', and it was mean spirited of him not to accord the work to Mark Mills, or whoever else was responsible. One architect should not behave that way towards another. It besmirches the profession.