Wright's Textile Block patterns investigated

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SDR
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Wright's Textile Block patterns investigated

Post by SDR »

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Just before the four Los Angeles Textile Block houses were born, there was Wright's final building at Olive Hill, the unfinished Little Dipper Playhouse.

In "Wright in Hollywood," Robert L Sweeney provides much material on these structures. He has this to say about the Little Dipper block designs:



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© 1994 by Robert L Sweeney, The Architectural History Foundation, and MIT Press; illustrations © 1994 by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation



Note that Block B closely resembles the block for Ennis, the last in the series of Textile Block houses to be built. The first two houses, Millard and Storer,
have wholly symmetrical block designs. The latter two, Freeman and Ennis, have asymmetrical blocks; in both cases there are right- and left-hand
versions of the block pattern. (In the panel of block faces at the top of this page the chronologic order is precisely reversed.)




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In discussing the Ennis house project, Sweeney very briefly touches upon the design of the block; here is what he gives us, in its entirety:




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The odd thing about the Ennis block pattern is that it is so nearly symmetrical about its diagonal axis. One would have thought that, to
provide left- and right-hand versions for use on various parts of the building, the designer would simply have rotated a single symmetrical block to
achieve the desired result.



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Perhaps the most prominent feature with which to identify the block's orientation and handedness is the indented bar running along one of the
edges opposite the plain corner square of the design. This bar is easily found on the four block faces shown above.



Looking at the completed building, inside and out, we find these blocks oriented in various ways. On the street elevation of the house we see blocks
in which the indented bar is placed horizontally:





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. . . while on the opposite side of the house many blocks have their bars oriented vertically:



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(The pierced blocks on large areas of the facade, here, puzzle me; pierced blocks are used elsewhere in small numbers, as exterior light fixtures.
These large areas of pierced blocks might be admitting light to the interior of the house -- but they do not. Why are they there ?)



Sweeney suggests the possibility of grouping the Ennis blocks to create larger patterns, but he does not find this, in fact, at the house. Here is a
panel presumably illustrating what he proposes:




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Looking again at Wright's isometric drawing of Ennis block assembly, in Sweeney (above), we see corner blocks. Here is an L-shaped corner block
owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wright's drawing also shows full-face corner blocks; these were apparently not made in the final design.




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Note that in Wright's drawing there is no indication of the use of right- and left-hand blocks; the corner square is at bottom right in all cases. Where a
block pattern turns a corner, the corner square continues this placement. The sample block above exhibits this characteristic as well. Note, however,
that right-hand and left-had corner blocks -- all with the corner square at bottom right -- are provided, to handle the various return conditions present
in the assembly.


Inside the house, various orientations of the block(s) are seen. At major engaged columns, two blocks wide, pairs of corner blocks are arrayed
symmetrically, recalling the small sample panel shown just above.




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A most interesting condition is seen in this last photo, where single-block columns and beams meet at right angles. The pattern is continued with
remarkable consistency, the corner square at lower right, throughout -- necessitating a switch from right- to left-hand corner blocks in the
horizontal runs. Note the bar moving from vertical on the column to horizontal on the beams.

Are all these columns made only with L-shaped blocks, or are there C-shaped blocks in use as well ?



SDR

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Yes. The columns in the background of the last photo are comprised of C-shaped blocks.

ZacharyMatthews
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#5 textile block house

Post by ZacharyMatthews »

Would you consider Westhope in Tulsa OK, (1929) the fifth Textile Block home?
Same style molds for blocks (still on the property), same 'grouting' system.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Robert L Sweeney considers it so; his coverage of the house, in his "Wright in Hollywood," may be the most complete publication of its form and structure.

The section and plan drawings published in Monograph 5 give almost no hint of the block construction; one detail isometric spells it out, however.



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SDR
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Post by SDR »

I guess Wright's "dowels" -- 1/4" steel rod -- must be set into the foundation pour, precisely located and at full wall height, standing upright like a fence or forest of reeds, while the wall is constructed around them, one course at a time . . .

S

JChoate
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Post by JChoate »

Years ago I did a drive-by of Westhope and didn't even notice any ornamental/decorative textile blocks. In most photos in books and on the internet the camera is far enough away so the dominant graphic force is the striations of the solid/void window cadence.
But, decorative blocks are there. Sadly, they are largely encapsulated and defeated by latter day metal roof coping:
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(G.W.Bill Miller photo)

We see those decorative blocks peeking out from under some beige flashing in Futagawa's images in Monograph 5:
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But, prior to the roofer's installation of the offending metal, we would've seen this important scale-giving edge where the building meets the sky. One's eye would've come to rest there -- a game changer. The motif is subtly repeated elsewhere, but in a much more restrained fashion than the California cousins.

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(photos Larryspeck.com)

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Excellent. Well, then, we might as well have the block drawings:


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© 1994 by Robert L Sweeney, The Architectural History Foundation, and MIT Press; illustrations © 1994 by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

In part, Jones was a correction to the earlier block constructions. The 16"x16" textile blocks of Ennis et al made for awkward steps, and therefore only Freeman stayed within the unit lines, 8" risers, 16" treads. Ennis' marble steps have 16" treads and 5-1/3" risers, which are a more comfortable climb. Storer and Millard ignore the grid entirely.

Jones' blocks measure 15"x20" to accommodate 7.5" risers and 10" treads. Reducing the patterned blocks not only helped with the budget of the huge Jones House, but also kept the concrete fabric of the house from being too busy, focusing on the rhythm of the columns and windows to enliven the exterior form.

In addition to extreme restoration inside and out (interiors are painted a sickly beige), Jones is in desperate need of imaginative landscaping.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

In my casual inspection of Wright stairs, over time, my impression is that more often than not the risers do no coordinate (are not coordinated) with any vertical coursing or module . . . as desirable as that might be, to me or to an architect interested in modular coordination. The exceptions -- those that are so aligned -- thus catch the eye ?

SDR

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

With the block system, the unit lines, horizontal and vertical, are so prominent that anything that violates them becomes more apparent than in a less obvious structural system. I think the fact that the division of the Jones' block fits perfectly with the standard scale of stairs strongly suggest that FLW had that in mind. To find a relationship between stairs and module in a building such as DD Martin would, of course, be next to impossible. Not so Storer or Millard.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Thank you. Quite so. Fifteen by twenty -- a real departure for Mr Wright, who had always demonstrated loyalty to his American roots through the use of the base-12 system of measurement employed here from the start and long standardized in the construction-material industry.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duodecimal

An eighteen-inch high block would have given him 6" risers, a number resulting in more economical (shorter) stair runs ? But there may have been other advantages to his choice . . .

SDR

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

3x16=48. The major module, consisting of 9 minor modules, determines the scale and proportions of the house. Jones is a huge house, built on a 5' square grid; a 4' grid was probably deemed too small by FLW. So the 3x20 system works quite well. With a floor one half a unit thick, it takes 14 7.5"x10" steps a run of 130" or 10'10", with a ceiling height of 97.5". Using an 18" unit (assuming 18"x18" blocks) would change the entire plan. The closest to the 60" unit it could get would be 54". At that scale, 6" risers would have to have either 9" treads or 18" treads to fit the major module. A height of 102" from floor to floor would require seventeen 6" risers and a run of 144" or 12', of 9" treads, while 18" treads would mean a run of 24'.

At Ennis, where the 5-1/3" risers are used, the treads are 16", which take up a lot of room. There are only 3 places where they exist: from the entrance up to the main level, from the living to dining room and from the gallery to the service wing. There's plenty of room in each case.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Right. Your stair calculations seem to favor adherence to one module or another, in both run and rise, over the user comfort conventions that suggest a combined rise + run of c. 17" ? A 6" rise/ 9" tread stair is close to that, while a 6" rise/ 18" tread is not ?

Floor thickness is irrelevant in floor-to-floor height measurement necessary for stair calculation -- though perhaps not for the aesthetics of modular construction ?

SDR

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Ennis and Freeman were designed so everything fitted into the 16"x16" grid, including stairs. Jones was as well, within its 15"x20" grid. In both LA cases, the treads were one full block, while the risers were either half (Freeman) or one third (Ennis). With Jones, everything was on the 15"x20" grid or half thereof. The 7.5" thickness of the floor represents alignment of both upper floor and lower ceiling along those lines.

The point is, that a 54" grid does not work well with vertical dimensions for stairs.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

A portion of the Ennis street facade shows the use of right-hand and left-hand blocks . . .


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