Alden B Dow

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Paul Ringstrom
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Post by Paul Ringstrom »

DRN wrote:There is no question Dow was a gifted designer though....a look at his houses of the mid-thirties shows a designer working with a textile block system that was arguably an improvement on Wright's, and his forms (possibly influenced a little by Schindler) were actually somewhat prescient of Wright's own Usonian work. A look at Dow's houses post 1933, but pre 1936-7 (Wright/Jacobs I) bears this out.
There is no doubt, to those of us who have walked through them, that Dow's Usonians preceded and inspired Wright's versions. This topic has not been explored by any of Wright's biographers.

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

One of the flaws FLW saw in his textile houses of the 20s was capping the block walls with frame roofs. This he corrected in the Usonian Automatics, which all have concrete roofs. Do Dow's houses have frame or block roofs?

SDR
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Post by SDR »

I don't see the advantage of a concrete roof except as an expression of uniformity or "continuity" -- what was later called a monomaterial approach. Curtis Besinger reveals with admirable frankness the stages in the making of the concrete-with-rocks roof to the new Cabaret Theater at T West -- including the development of cracks after the staging was removed, and Wright's emergency design of top-mounted cross beams to salvage the construction.

Desert concrete overhead ? Why ? To carry out a misguided concept that "the whole thing should be made of the same stuff" ?

I have the same reservations about the Usonian Automatic roofs -- though the aesthetic effect on the interior may prove satisfactory and worth the effort and (to me) illogic of the construction.

S D R

DRN
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Post by DRN »

Dow's were frame.
Wright's Pieper house roof was frame too...if I remember correctly, it was the first UA and the roof blocks were not yet perfected or Montooth and Pieper were not equipped to erect a block roof.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

A concrete roof slab spanning a space must by definition be a (steel-reinforced) monolith -- sometimes pre- or post-tensioned, if the span is large enough to require it. Any pattern introduced to its underside is either an interruption of that monolith or is "pasted" on as a decorative addition, completely non-structural and simply an added load -- no matter how lovely.

One does not quibble about Wright's concealment of structure; the Robie dining chair is not less lovely or honest because its joinery is concealed (as contrasted to, say, a Stickley bookshelf where the construction becomes part of the visual effect). But when the architect resorts to a form of fakery in order to play out a theme, a theme in which the aesthetic is literally built of the structural components -- in this case, a form of textile block ? -- then I think the architect has lost his way to some extent.

Millard and Storer, et al, combine block and timber in a wholesome and delightful -- and not incidentally time-honored -- way; the Usonian Automatics might represent a digression in this regard -- though they may represent an advancement in (faked) "continuity" ?

S D R

peterm
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Post by peterm »

As a Cailfornia resident, I can not help but to look up in terror at the concrete ceilings in the Usonian Automatics.

Are they "stitched" together with rebar in the same fashion that the walls are?

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Eric was in charge of constructing both Kalil and Tonkens. He described the process at a lecture some years ago. The roof blocks were held in place by wood supports until the mortar cured. The edges of the blocks, rather than having semicylindrical grooves, had U-shaped grooves open at the top side. Rebar was inserted into the grooves. After the blocks were secure, 4" of "insulating concrete" was poured over the roof. It's shown in Mono 7, pp 278-9. Although it does seem less than convincing as an overhead structural system, all the houses that employ this system seem to be in fine condition.

The reason FLW gave for going that route was to have the same material used throughtout the house. A frame roof would be easier, cheaper and less prone to conk one on the head during an earthquake.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Thanks for that information, Mr Grant. It is a little difficult to determine where the primary strength in that ceiling was located; one imagines that the "insulating concrete" slab with rebar in tension below it was the working part of the ceiling, with (as I suggested above) the blocks serving as a decorative dressing.

S D R

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Years ago, shortly after USC got the Freeman House, Jeff Chusid examined the structural integrity, and found that virtually all the work was done by the mortar and rebar, while the blocks themselves were of minimal importance. I'm not sure I believe that; La Min has practically no metal in it, just wire mesh every third course.

dleach
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Post by dleach »

I agree (about disagreeing). If the block is bonded to the mortar then the assembly is a composite element and all connected components are working. If the blocks are of minimal density, as is sometimes the case, they are making a proportionally smaller contributation.

Don
Last edited by dleach on Sun Feb 06, 2011 12:06 am, edited 1 time in total.

peterm
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Post by peterm »

DRN wrote:There is no question Dow was a gifted designer though....a look at his houses of the mid-thirties shows a designer working with a textile block system that was arguably an improvement on Wright's, and his forms (possibly influenced a little by Schindler) were actually somewhat prescient of Wright's own Usonian work. A look at Dow's houses post 1933, but pre 1936-7 (Wright/Jacobs I) bears this out.
Paul Ringstrom wrote:

"There is no doubt, to those of us who have walked through them, that Dow's Usonians preceded and inspired Wright's versions. This topic has not been explored by any of Wright's biographers."[/quote]

1934 was an amazingly productive year for Alden Dow (and yes, these houses were very Usonianesque...)

Timeline (with many omissions, especially the textile block houses):

1922-- R.M. Schindler-- Kings Road House

1933-- Frank Lloyd Wright-- Malcolm Willey House (Built 1934...)

1933-- Dow at Taliesin

1934-- Alden Dow--
Stein House
"Shanty House" (Alden Dow House)
Lewis House
Heath House
Hanson House
Whitman House
Cavanagh House

1935-- Frank Lloyd Wright--
Hoult House
Fallingwater

1936-- Frank Lloyd Wright-- Jacobs House

SDR
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Post by SDR »

I know we're speaking over each other here, with two conversations going at once -- perhaps like a lively and pleasurable soirée, only here one really can address two discussions at once ?

My point would have been that a composite reinforced wall and a (ditto) ceiling experience radically different stresses; the ceiling would have to incorporate a slab while the wall would not. Also, we must distinguish between the early and the later block techniques, to the extent that they differ in detail. I am aware that the textile block wall underwent refinement and perhaps even re-thinking during the course of its use in the four LA houses. What sort of roofs does Freeman possess ? The other three houses have plank and beam roofs -- don't they ?

S

JimM
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Post by JimM »

The roof details mentioned by Mr. Grant.

It's clear the rebar and concrete do all the heavy lifting. Even though the block provides a channel for rebar, the coffered portion with minimal density is along for the aesthetic ride. You can also see in the upper right detail there is wrapped rebar connecting the structural elements into a tensile system. Note the rebar at the top of the 4" slab, reducing deflection. The most interesting aspect is the apparently successful roof slab connection to the walls. They would appear to be in considerable compression. Location and folding of walls below most likely spreads roof forces around. Also, insulating concrete is usually a lighter weight mixture than typical structural concrete.

Image

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Thanks for that, Jim.

Where insulating concrete is used in the roof span, it would be in compression, I take it. Would its lower density require a correspondingly greater slab thickness to do the job ?

S

JimM
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Post by JimM »

SDR wrote:Thanks for that, Jim.

Where insulating concrete is used in the roof span, it would be in compression, I take it. Would its lower density require a correspondingly greater slab thickness to do the job ?

S
Not necessarily; a 4" slab is not unusual for floors, and roof loads are generally lower. The psi rating can also vary depending on the design.

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