Richard Smith House, Jefferson, WI

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Roderick Grant
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Re: Richard Smith House, Jefferson, WI

Post by Roderick Grant »

The North American Continent rose from out of the ocean first in southern Minnesota, then in the surrounding territory, including Wisconsin. The land is the oldest on the continent. Underneath a layer of soil is a shelf of solid granite, not too deeply hidden, but flat as a pancake from millions of years of erosion by weather and glacial movement. Volcanoes in northern Minnesota and southern Ontario created the Sawtooth Range, oldest mountains on the continent. Glacier melt created sandstone, limestone, quartzite and catlinite throughout the area, in many places readily available for construction. That may be reaching to justify building a stone house on the prairie grass, but.... The entire planet is rocky, so stone is as logical a building material as any wherever it is used.

SDR
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Re: Richard Smith House, Jefferson, WI

Post by SDR »

It seems, in retrospect, unfortunate that the two Richard Smith plans, the published Taliesin plan (the single drawing in the Artstor file, also found in Monograph 7) and the Storrer as-built plan, side by side in the same orientation and at (almost) the same scale, were not displayed earlier in this thread. Here is that image---better late than never ? Storrer is at left, T.5026.04 at right:


Image
Last edited by SDR on Sat Jan 09, 2021 1:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.

SDR
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Location: San Francisco

Re: Richard Smith House, Jefferson, WI

Post by SDR »

And to be complete, here are the Smith (left) and Mathews (right) plans, again at the same scale:


Image

Plans © 1993 by William Allin Storrer

SDR
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Re: Richard Smith House, Jefferson, WI

Post by SDR »

The trellis above the living-room glass, on the plan drawings of both houses, appears (covered in shingles) in a photo of the unrestored Smith house posted by outside in, earlier in this thread. But I don't see it in photos of the finished restoration.

The Mathews example is sketched below; the wood-and-steel construction is clad above and below in sheet metal.

Image


W A Storrer photo of Mathews trellis at bedroom corner:

Image

jay
Posts: 359
Joined: Mon May 02, 2016 8:04 pm

Re: Richard Smith House, Jefferson, WI

Post by jay »

That may be reaching to justify building a stone house on the prairie grass, but.... The entire planet is rocky, so stone is as logical a building material as any wherever it is used.
To use stone to build a house, in any capacity, is an act of human will. Any appeal to 'naturalism' is symbolic. For example, the rough stone of Fallingwater, as natural and satisfying as it is, remains crafted by human hands. As the stone is quarried on-site, it appears as a continuation from its land––"out of the ground into the light". But yet that goal or ideal is a symbolic meaning all the same... In the end, Fallingwater has a sensory appearance that we find satisfying. Its context creates the condition for a full sensory satisfaction.

(A more interesting study might be how and why the stucco terraces of Fallingwater are nonetheless so satisfying, unnatural as they are.... Is it the forwardness of these horizontal features, against the backdrop of the stone-work, as if the work of Man is pushing itself outwards from the work of Nature.....?)

For the Richard Smith house... suggesting a 'sense' of granite bedrock emerging from the flat prairie grass is indeed a reach, in my opinion. Because there are no surrounding cues of rustic appearance that would really contextualize this naturalistic work of stone. To the contrary, the town setting pulls all context away from the naturalistic and into the commonplace 'unnatural' setting we associate with suburban neighborhoods... This photo posted by 'outside in' on the second page illustrates that, doesn't it? A symbolic 'naturalistic' work whose only problem is contextual?
Image

I believe that was the crux of Mr. Virr's complaint.
The Richard Smith house overlooks a golf course, but could not be described as being in a rural setting. More accurately, whilst not being categorized as urban or suburban, it could be considered a township site, and as such the choice of random coursed limestone masonry walls is totally inappropriate.

SDR
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Re: Richard Smith House, Jefferson, WI

Post by SDR »

What we are speaking of is "context"---the willful (?) choice to make a building "thus" rather than "so" when either option---of form, or material---would equally perform the required function. The context might refer to the location and topography of the building site, the natural or man-made material (i.e., buildings) on the site or within sight of it, or the seasonal climate of the region. It might even refer to the local culture---social context, of one sort or another.

In Wright's case, he was known to favor the use of mineral material found at or near the site, incorporating it into the material palette of the building when possible. What about wood specie; did he likewise try to use the kind of wood growing on or near the site ? Not at all---he repeatedly depended upon a very few species which he favored for their weathering qualities and/or their appearance. Of course he designed with the site topography and the climate in mind, but he seldom if ever paid much heed to neighboring structures in the matter of form or material. As a contextualist, Wright gets a decidedly mixed review.

So---what matter ? Aren't we satisfied with the work as we find it ? Isn't Roderick correct when he opines that "the entire planet is rocky, so stone is as logical a building material as any wherever it is used" ? In an urban or a suburban setting, isn't local building tradition as important to the "fitness" of a new structure as is what sort of mineral might be (often invisibly) present ? I think Laurie overstated the case that a random-coursed stone house was "totally inappropriate" in a "township" setting---granting a superior sensitivity to the subtleties of the subject . . .

S

jay
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Re: Richard Smith House, Jefferson, WI

Post by jay »

Not so long ago I'd have agreed with the entirety of your argument. And certainly the house in itself, built of stone, is wonderful as it is, alone as an object of architecture.

The way I'd personally define "context" is in the things that begin immediately where the object ends... Every object has its boundaries, and what shares that edge with it is its "context"... Thus, the local lumber used or where stone was sourced wouldn't count, for me, as context, because their significance as "locally sourced" materials doesn't necessarily register in the immediate experience of the 'artwork'. However, the things that begin immediately where the sculptured building ends––the ground, the sky, all things within view of the house––are its context... In this respect, Wright 'as a contextualist' is single handedly above every other architect I've ever even glanced at.

Of course I realize my definition of context is different than others. "Immediate experience" leaves little room for anything of significance outside of sensory perceptions. All meaning must be found intuitively, and immediately, within the work. "Out of the ground into the light" is an ideal which is created in its symbolism––massive central hearth and concrete floors thinning into periphery glazing and high windows––yet this symbolism is also experienced immediately through the artwork itself (and through the symbols themselves)... "Meaning" therefore stops being cognitive and becomes "felt"..... Good stuff!

Anyway, Mr. Virr's observation of the appropriateness of rough stone in a "township" setting––one I might add without any rustic elements like exposed rockery or forest symbols or even a slope––remains to me a legitimate critique towards Wright, one worth contemplating from a "zoomed out" perspective.

SDR
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Re: Richard Smith House, Jefferson, WI

Post by SDR »

I can buy all of that, including your definition of "context" . . .

S

SDR
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Re: Richard Smith House, Jefferson, WI

Post by SDR »

. . . but it isn't the definition architects and planners use, perhaps. From their perspective, there must be something present before pencil hits paper---a pre-existing environment into which a new building or landscape will be inserted.

Gestalt theory, and the study of figure-ground relationships, might relate to the area you are exploring ?

S

Roderick Grant
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Re: Richard Smith House, Jefferson, WI

Post by Roderick Grant »

For appropriate prairie architecture, my great-great-grandparents got it right: They built a sod house, dirt on the floor, walls of dirt, and who-knows-what for the roof in their treeless Minnesota farmland. They didn't even have glass for their apertures. It could be argued that nothing else is as appropriate for the site, but I would hesitate to move in myself.

Walter Burley Griffin blended his Melson design with the rock walls of the adjacent declivity, but how often does one find such a perfect site? The Smith House is jake in my opinion, no matter how far removed from the nature of the site or its location in a township. Fore!

jay
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Joined: Mon May 02, 2016 8:04 pm

Re: Richard Smith House, Jefferson, WI

Post by jay »

I haven't read much on Gestalt theory. But it comes up fairly often in reference for some thinkers I'm fond of... I'll copy below a couple excerpts from one of my favorite books on the subject––Mikel Dufrenne's "The Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience"... The first giving due to Gestalt; and the second a complementary piece for the discussion of 'context':

"It is commonly believed that ordinary perception does not grasp form, instead occupying itself with identifying the object in order to know and utilize it. Yet ordinary perception does not always stop at mere identification, as Gestalt psychology has clearly shown. This school of thought extends the word "form" to the very expression of objects, which is a stage beyond the spatio-temporal organization of the given by the figure which allows us to isolate and identify an object. "The theory of form . . . admits that objects have by themselves, as a result of their own structure and independent of all the previous experience of the subject who perceives them, certain characteristics of strangeness, terror, irritation, calm, grace, and elegance." The aesthetic object has just such a character, a character which we shall be calling "affective." The aesthetic object speaks not only from the richness of the sensuous but through the affective quality which it expresses and which allows us to recognize it without recourse to concepts. Its unity is not only sensuous but affective. This unity is not a new form which has been added to those we have already discerned. It is rather a new aspect of the object, for the affective itself is immanent in the sensuous, as the verb sentir ("to feel," "to sense") indicates."
[Page 143]

"Our perception must establish a context appropriate to [the aesthetic object], a zone of space or time, of empty space or silence, which encircles our attention like a nimbus. This context is seen in the silence which precedes a recital or in the way we prepare to read, sheltered from all distraction... The silence which ensues in the concert hall when the conductor's baton is raised or three taps are heard is not merely a silence which the audience creates by keeping quiet. It is a silence which the work carries as its forward messenger and is part of the work in the same way that a frame is part of a painting. It is perceived as an object or, rather, as the commencement of the aesthetic object, just as the silence of the forest or the night is also perceived. And the same is true of the solitude, stillness, and comfort we seek in order to read.... [Such an] environment is not so much the background against which the object stands out as it is the radiance of the object itself, the aura of its presence."
[Page 151]

The book is available as a free PDF download, if anyone's interested... Dense reading, but a wonderful thesis:
https://monoskop.org/images/9/94/Dufren ... 3_1973.pdf

Oak Park Jogger
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Joined: Mon Jan 22, 2007 2:21 pm

Re: Richard Smith House, Jefferson, WI

Post by Oak Park Jogger »

This house was on a Wright and the Like tour many years ago. While I remember the bedrooms seeming rather small and dark, my overall impression was very positive. While the house may be on a town lot, the arms of the house and the view across the golf course gave a wonderful sense of being out in the country. Overall, it was definitely in the "I'd love to live here!" category.

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