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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:
Ã‚Â© 1994 by Robert L Sweeney, The Architectural History Foundation, and MIT Press; illustrations Ã‚Â© 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.)
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:
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.
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:
. . . while on the opposite side of the house many blocks have their bars oriented vertically:
(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:
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.
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.
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 ?
The section and plan drawings published in Monograph 5 give almost no hint of the block construction; one detail isometric spells it out, however.
But, decorative blocks are there. Sadly, they are largely encapsulated and defeated by latter day metal roof coping:
(G.W.Bill Miller photo)
We see those decorative blocks peeking out from under some beige flashing in Futagawa's images in Monograph 5:
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.
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.
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 . . .
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.
Floor thickness is irrelevant in floor-to-floor height measurement necessary for stair calculation -- though perhaps not for the aesthetics of modular construction ?
The point is, that a 54" grid does not work well with vertical dimensions for stairs.