House on the Mesa

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Craig
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House on the Mesa

Post by Craig »

Can anyone tell me a good source for an image and information on this project? I don't have a copy of "Treasures from Taliesin." Is it pictured there?
ch

SDR
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Post by SDR »

You could start at this earlier thread. Not all images there are given citation, so ask for reference if you wish. I don't find anything in "Treasures . . ."

http://savewright.org/wright_chat/viewtopic.php?t=3145

SDR

SDR
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Post by SDR »

From Monograph 5:


The term "mesa," from the Spanish meaning "table;' denotes a wide flat shelf-like stretch of land that comes at the base of a mountain chain and overlooks the lower valleys below. It is a common circumstance to the mountains of the southwest in the United States.

"The House on the Mesa;' Mr. Wright wrote, "is the typical five-car luxury house that one might find in Broadacre City." Among its many features was a new system of ventilation appropriate to the hot dry climate of the southwest. The north wall protrudes over the slab edges at places, and a ventilating area is provided by a swinging down segment that would catch cool breezes along the garden and lawn level, while a higher opening, above and in an opposite wall, would encourage the natural flow of air. Mr. Wright disliked most forms of artificial air conditioning because he believed them harmful. "Just think what happens to the 'old pump' (the heart) when you come into an icy cold room after being out in the hot sun, or vice versa." The flow of natural air was always more desirable, even if the temperature of that moving air is higher than the cold blasts from excessive air conditioning.

The living room is raised off the mesa floor, adjacent to a swimming pool which can be partially covered by a canopy. From this raised living room the drama of the mesa view is commanded. Bedrooms, guest rooms, and dining room are behind this, some of them set on ground level, opening on one side to enclosed gardens, and on the other side into a long loggia. The dining room itself is placed on the upper level, and like the living room, commands a great view of the mesa, but in the opposite direction. The scale throughout is intended for elegant liying in every way possible.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Views published in Riley et al (MoMA, ©1994):


Image



Color rendering published in Mono 5:


Image

Image detail

Image detail

Craig
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Post by Craig »

Great. Thanks for the info and illustrations!
ch

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Wingspread is as close to House on the Mesa as any built structure.

Reidy
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Post by Reidy »

Sweeney's Wright in Hollywood has information and illustrations.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

I'll take the liberty of quoting Robert L Sweeney on this project (Wright in Hollywood, ©1994 Architectural History Foundation/MIT Press, pp 195-200). Throughout this sub-chapter the author refers his reader to the few illustrations available, most of which we have already seen; there's an interesting section detail sheet below.


HOUSE ON THE MESA, DENVER

By early 1931 the Richard Lloyd Jones house was well under way; the future of the projects for Alexander Chandler and Alice Millard was not optimistic, and little else was on the horizon. It had been nearly a decade since Wright had begun exploring the technical and aesthetic possibilities of concrete-block construction; he had prepared numerous schemes, yet he had built little. It was surely Wright's need to assert his unsuppressed vitality - and the need to stay in the competition - that prompted him to respond to an invitation to design a house specifically for the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art; any sense of winding down is dispelled in this project. Called House on the Mesa, it represents the sort of pure design possible in a climate free of pragmatic constraints.

Wright outlined the program for House on the Mesa in a manuscript dated April 25, 1932, two months after the project was first exhibited. It was designed for a "moderately wealthy American family of considerable culture, - master, mistress and four children, cook and two maids, chauffeur and gardener." The house was to be a demonstration of "machine-age luxury, that would compare favorably in character and integrity with the luxury of the Greeks or Goths," but had "what might truthfully be called twentieth-century style."

According to Wright, the inspiration for the design arose from a visit to the house of George Cranmer, who lived "on the mesa" in Denver - hence the identification with that city. George Cranmer (1884-1975) had made money in the stock market; he had retired in 1928 at age forty-four and, in his words, "traveled and loafed for a few years." Between 1935 and 1947 he served somewhat controversially as manager of improvements and parks for the city of Denver. He and his wife, Jean (1886-1974), were strongly committed to cultural improvement in the city; their large Italian Renaissance house, designed by Jules Jacques Benois Benedict and completed in 1917, was a mecca for artists passing through. Cranmer invited Wright to be their guest when the architect was in town, in December 1930, to speak at the Denver Art Museum; this apparently was their first meeting. Wright explained later that he had "used" the Cranmers' "family and situation merely as an ideal American family ... as an example to the country," when designing House on the Mesa; their "'set up' seemed ... worth interpreting." He added that he "had no idea" whether they "would at all like the interpretation."

House on the Mesa was designed for a site with a panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains. Wright described several acres that were nearly flat and opened to a small lake, grass plains, and surrounding woods. He may have had a small but inspiring and readily accessible park in front of the Cranmers' house in mind; it overlooks the Front Range and Pikes Peak. Visiting Mountain View (now Cranmer) Park sixty years later, one can easily imagine House on the Mesa there. However, Wright also indicated that the site extended along a "motor highway"; as depicted, this could only have been the street separating the Cranmers' house from the park; this street was vacated in 1923. Also, the elevation drawings indicate a cardinal orientation that would have been impossible on this site and, curiously, suggest that the house as oriented to the view could not have been built in Denver at all.

Wright wanted the house to reflect "the sweep of the Mesa." He accomplished this by designing an extraordinarily long building - it extends approximately 360 feet; the Ennis house, by comparison, is 248 feet long -whose composition accentuates rather than fragments the horizontal line. The elevation close to the street is essentially a solid wall with little articulation. Several projecting wings make the opposite side, which opens to the view, more three-dimensional, but again, the great length of the building is accentuated with a rhythm of repeated forms.

A loggia spans the length of the building and links the various spaces. A large entrance court with four-car garage at the northeast end of the plan is connected to the house by a second-story bridge on axis with the loggia, and serves, in Wright's words, to acknowledge "the motor car" as "the feature of American life it is fast becoming." Service wings, framing the motor court, extend to the southeast. Entry to the house is under the bridge, a few steps up from the garage court, and leads directly into the loggia. On the ground floor the loggia gives access to the dining room, two guest bedrooms and three children's bedrooms on the right, and the master suite at the far end. A cross axis is formed at midpoint in the loggia by a stairwell leading to the second floor, and by the extension of the billiard room and swimming pool to the southeast. The living room on the second story, above the billiard room, is expressed as the focus of the house in plan and elevation.

House on the Mesa was to be built with concrete-block shell walls; floors and ceilings are reinforced-concrete slabs, hung from above by cantilevered beams projecting from the masonry chimney masses. Wright described this as "a modern scheme of construction," an "individualized and integrated" design "characteristic of our new resources - steel in tension, glass, and concrete." This is a departure from the notion of mono-material concrete-block construction Wright had worked so hard to perfect; in fact, concrete block seems almost incidental to the scheme. Having brought the concept to its logical conclusion in San Marcos in the Desert, Wright retreated to the earlier practice of using blocks only for wall construction, though without the formal contrivances of the earlier buildings. There are no offset blocks and pattern is all but abandoned; there is occasional use of a cruciform design, recalling the blocks of the Millard house.

Wright gave up not only the reality of mono-material concrete-block construction but also the appearance; he could have attached blocks to the undersides of the concrete slabs, as he had done earlier (though by 1931 this idea probably was untenable). The accomplishment of San Marcos in the Desert was not publicized at the time; in the absence of technical and cost constraints and client demands, one questions why Wright skipped so highly visible an opportunity to validate a concept that had been a major preoccupation throughout the preceding decade.

The answer, suggested earlier, may well lie in a gradual shift in Wright's aesthetic responses, provoked - if not forced - by his awareness of modernism as it had developed in Europe. Perhaps he recognized that the concrete-block buildings he had designed earlier offered the notion but not the iconography of machine-age construction. Although disinclined to abandon concrete block entirely, Wright was willing to modify its application to meet the situation.

House on the Mesa is not an International Style building, but it is a calculated response to the work of the European modernists and to their visual ideals - lightness of construction; use of industrial materials; and smooth, planar surfaces. Wright was still designing with mass materials, but in this house he dematerialized conventional structure. Horizontal and vertical planes almost never touch. Cantilevered roof slabs float over walls; glass screens suspended from the slabs fill the voids. The point is made most dramatically in the living room: entire walls of glass, stepping inward from the top, are hung from above. The windows themselves are steel-framed and formed as series of cantilevered steps, each horizontal plane opening for ventilation. The concrete-block walls do not rest directly on the floor slabs but are offset for ventilation (Fig. 205).

Discussing House on the Mesa in the exhibition catalogue, Hitchcock commented sympathetically, "Beside the classical formalism of the houses of Oud, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, this latest house of Wright's is a striking aesthetic statement of romantic expansiveness."





Image Fig. 205


. . . again, see http://savewright.org/wright_chat/viewtopic.php?t=3145 for the remaining illustrations.


. . . SDR

Jeff Myers
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Post by Jeff Myers »

house on the mesa is wingspread meets westhope meets ennis
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Post by SDR »

Some buildings, like some faces (Wright's included), are susceptible to different moods and lights. This photo -- one chosen by the architect
himself, for publication -- seems to channel the same concrete-and-steel-sash quality that I guess we might have found in the Mesa house,
had it been built. The simple expedient of adjusting the awning sash, and waiting for the right light, brings it all into focus (if you'll forgive me).


Westhope
Image

Jeff Myers
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Post by Jeff Myers »

House on the Mesa and the Chandler hotel design and Westhope were over 1928, 1929, I think.
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Post by SDR »

Wright worked repeatedly in this mode, during the late 20s and early 30s. Elizabeth Noble apartments is another example. Fallingwater is perhaps the best-known result of this work . . . ?

SDR

Craig
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Post by Craig »

I wonder if this quote isn't the most telling:
The answer, suggested earlier, may well lie in a gradual shift in Wright's aesthetic responses, provoked - if not forced - by his awareness of modernism as it had developed in Europe. Perhaps he recognized that the concrete-block buildings he had designed earlier offered the notion but not the iconography of machine-age construction. Although disinclined to abandon concrete block entirely, Wright was willing to modify its application to meet the situation.
ch

dleach
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Post by dleach »

Roderick Grant wrote:Wingspread is as close to House on the Mesa as any built structure.
Doesn't the Harold Price Sr. "Grandma House" fit into this dialogue, also?

Don

Tom
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Re: House on the Mesa

Post by Tom »

Here's some stuff on Hitchcock from recent reading that's fun to recall:
He was assinged by the director of MOMA, Alfred Barr, to co-curate alongside Philip Johnson, the International Exhibit of Architecture in 1932. When opening the idea to Johnson that Wright should be included in the exhibit, he reports Johnson to have said, "Frank Lloyd Wright? I thought he was dead."
Second, I did not know, Hitchcock was gay. Not that it matters, but in the realm of identity politics that is a real coup. That is to say, probably the most influential architectural exhibit of the entire 2oth century was selected, organized, and promoted by two gay guys ... in the early 1930's for crying out loud.

It's also interesting to bring out what Hitchcock emphasizes about the House on the Mesa.
Wright designed this house in 1931 specifically for the 1932 exhibit. He knew he would be in competition with the "International Style" and so he designed conciously to compete. Hitchcock said it made everything else in the entire exhibit look flat, 2-dimensional, and derivative.
I've not made this connection with House on the Mesa before. Usually, I think, one first hears about Wright's conscious
design competition with the International Style in the work of Fallingwater. But according to Hitchcock the work at Fallingwater has real sources here in the Mesa house.
Also - the Wiki page on Hitchcock states he regarded, contra Johnson, that European modernism has it's origins in the U.S.

(Looks like Wright hand dates the rendering to 1927.)

Have not read this but looks worthwhile. The photographs of the model in this article are the ones Hitchcock uses in his book where the structural framing of the main cantilever is so close to FW.
https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/A ... c7bf1835a5

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