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Wild Bird

Posted: Mon Feb 08, 2010 3:42 pm
by Education Professor
As an offshoot of peterm's thread "Central California Road Trip", I've attached some scanned photos of Wild Bird from the 2007 Weintraub and Hess book "Forgotten Modern: California Houses 1940-1970", pp. 170-175.

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Posted: Mon Feb 08, 2010 3:50 pm
by Education Professor
Here's another photo from Forgotten Modern (p. 170):

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Posted: Mon Feb 08, 2010 4:21 pm
by peterm
Thank you, just beautiful. There were so many "hippie architects" throughout California who attempted this sort of thing, but lacking the skill and depth of Mark Mills, their works are just goofy and undisciplined.

I am a complete sucker for a good a-frame, the first being Schindler's Bennati cabin from 1937 at Lake Arrowhead.

Posted: Mon Feb 08, 2010 5:00 pm
by Wrightgeek
Two words.

Wow!

Thanks.

Posted: Mon Feb 08, 2010 5:01 pm
by hypnoraygun
I "moved" this reply over here to match up with this tread. I really like this house! Thank you Education Professor for the additional photos!

There are a few more photos on flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/hypnoraygu ... 59/detail/

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Posted: Mon Feb 08, 2010 8:10 pm
by Education Professor
peterm and Wrightgeek....wow indeed! Wild Bird is a magical blend of site and design.......Mills was a gifted architect who tried to move organic architecture forward along new paths............

hypnoraygun, thanks for posting the Flickr photo set and the detailed info from House Beautiful............

Posted: Fri Feb 12, 2010 6:31 pm
by wjsaia
I also have regarded Wild Bird with awe for years. Having no direct knowledge about this, it appears to me that accurate design attribution for this house may have become a bit indefinite over the years. A Time Magazine article on Wild Bird that appeared in 1959 makes no mention of Mark Mills or anyone other than Margaret Owings as being a design collaborator with Nat Owings. Of course, it was typical in those days at the highest levels of corporate architecture in which Owings moved and prospered so prominently to relegate to anonymity the design contributions of individuals other than those of the firm's partners or other top corporate officers, so the lack of mention of Mark Mills’ contribution here, even if it was significant, is consistent with that pattern and thus would not be surprising and is not telling.

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 Weintraub’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, “. . . he was the one paying the bills.�

On Page 190 of The Spaces in Between: An Architect’s Journey, Published in 1973 by Houghton Mifflin Company, Owings writes this about Wild Bird:

“. . . 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.�

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 “sensitively� incorporated the design concepts for the project (presumably Owings') into the plans.

From Time:
“Art: HOUSE IN BIG SUR
Monday, Dec. 28, 1959

“ADMIRERS call it the most beautiful — 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.

“Site 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.

“After 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.

“Indian-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."

“The Owingses decided to call their new house "Wild Bird" because "we have the feeling of soaring in mid-air—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.

“Mosaic 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 house—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."

“As far as the Owingses are concerned, their home suits them to a T. Says Owings: ‘This is a onetime house for the rest of the time we expect to be here on earth.’�

WJS

Posted: Sat Feb 13, 2010 5:28 pm
by Roderick Grant
If Mark Mills had been no more than a draftsman, Owings could have had any number of employees at SOM (sometimes known as "The Three Blind Mies") do the work rather than hire an outsider. (Owings' other house was an adobe in New Mexico, which he also did not design; it dates back to the 19th century.) I would say Mills had a client who knew a lot about architecture and may have been unusually demanding, but that Mills still deserves the credit. Mills had previously done an A-frame house in Carmel that showed (on a much tighter budget) the same sensitivity as at Wild Bird.

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.

Posted: Sat Feb 13, 2010 9:22 pm
by pharding
A project like that would have SOM staff work on it without becoming an official SOM project. This would be done under the guidance of the Owner/Designer/SOM partner of course. No architect of any consequence is going to abdicate design responsibility on his own residence.

Posted: Tue Feb 23, 2010 4:05 am
by wjsaia
WHAT THE BIG SUR CALIFORNIA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE DOES NOT WANT YOU TO KNOW!

Typical incident when touring architecture enthusiast catches first glimpse of Wild Bird:

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WJS

Posted: Tue Feb 23, 2010 5:11 am
by Laurie Virr
Mr Paul Harding:

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.

Posted: Tue Feb 23, 2010 2:31 pm
by outside in
If I may comment on Nat Owings house - let's not forget that Owings is the one who promoted Walter Netsch to be the architect of the Air Force Academy Chapel. Perhaps Walter had a hand in the design of the house?

Posted: Tue Feb 23, 2010 3:22 pm
by Wrightgeek
outside in-

Based on the design of this residence, I would say that your suggestion is certainly not "outside" the realm of possibilities.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Posted: Tue Feb 23, 2010 3:34 pm
by Roderick Grant
From the Air Force Academy Chapel to Wild Bird is a stretch. BTW, did you know that FLW was originally considered for the Air Force Academy contract? But that was cut short before preliminary drawings could be done by the enlightened bureaucrats in Washington.

Posted: Tue Feb 23, 2010 3:54 pm
by Jeff Myers
I had known about that. Sad though just like the Pittsfield project.