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"The Pieper House was spoiled by a new house in 1996, built in front of and attached to the original Wright building. Pieper was married to iovanna Wright, the daughter of Wright and Olgivanna, but later was divorced. He was, for a time, in partnership with the architect, Charles Montooth (a Taliesin Fellow). The Usonian Automatic House was very small and was located to the north of two other Charles Montooth designe that are often confused with this Wright design."
The Montooth houses are probably what you are referring to.
Just about everything, except the north facing window wall, between the living room and bedroom wing, and a view to the McDowell mountains. The removed window wall is where the connection is made to the new house which is 2 or 3 times the footprint of Pieper. When I was there, the interior concrete was being carefully cleaned, window framing sandblasted, repaired and refinished, and all other aspects of the original Wright interior were being restored. The addition touches the original only at one point, and is held 8 to 24 feet away as it actually extends the grid of the original using courtyards as separation. The bad part about all of this was that the exterior was covered with foam and dryvit to insulate it and have it "match" the addition. What had been real became fake. Worse, what had been a connection between Taliesin and one of its satellites: the orientation and view, has been obliterated by the placement of the addition.
The addition can be observed on Google Maps: search for the corner of N. 65th Street and E. Cheney Dr. in Paradise Valley AZ 85253. Scroll up N 65th until it makes a sharp turn to the right to become E. Cholla Dr. Click in the satellite view. The house is at the bend on the left side of N. 65th Street: look for a house that has 5 grey pyramid hip roofs. It is also one of the few houses not oriented to the streets...it is angled to face Taliesin several miles away. The original house is the portion oriented to the lower left of the footprint.
After reading The Natural House, I was surprised that the exterior walls were only one wythe thick. The interior surface of a southwest facing block coffer in the afternoon was literally hot to the touch. The house had a wood framed roof instead of Adelman's block roof, which appeared to have little or no insulation where the interior finish was missing. From what I have read, it was a study model of sorts for the system..maybe lessons learned were applied to the UA's that followed.
Still, it was a neat little house and fun to examine. There was even a little closet in the bedroom gallery, next to a pier at the entry door, that was square in plan and bounded on two sides by blocks. The other two sides were a finish plywood door: two panels joined to form an "L" in plan, that would swing open to reveal a small coat closet and some cantilevered square shelves. Cool stuff in a hot house.
Â© W A Storrer, "The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion"
Corner Window block
Corner window block and steel window sash
Living Room Corner Detail
Living Room Corner Window
Interior wall section
These pictures of the Pieper house were taken in September 1996 while the house's addition and remuddling were underway. The contractor let me wander the house freely. During the hour or so I spent there, I got a good sense of how a Usonian Automatic was assembled by watching portions of it be disassembled. The house interior was stripped of all casework, fixtures and appliances, and a new drywall ceiling had just been taped and spackled. According to the contractor, all steel sash windows and doors were to be sandblasted, reglazed and reinstalled...reinstallation was underway in the fomer bedrooms...living room had not yet been touched. The addition (3 or 4 times the size of the original) connected at the northeast face of the original where the bedroom "tail" met the living/dining "head". The stacked blocks were those removed for the connection. The exterior of the house (except for the window blocks) was to be covered with EIFS to introduce wall insulation to the single wythe only UA construction. Apparently, the house was a true prototype in that it had single wythe walls and a wood framed roof. Some surfaces of the block had received a milky gray cement wash intended to provide a uniform/finish color...the tan color seen on most surfaces was the original color of the block/house interior. The house had an intimate feel, and the block and windows created a strong rhythm that distracted me from the rather "rough" character of the "unfinished" concrete surfaces. The lack of insulation in the walls...single thin concrete membrane...led the interior to be quite hot, as it was mid-day with a temperature of 98F or so; it made me want to build a white canvas tent over the house to shade it.
Looking back on my visit to the house I find its loss even sadder now, knowing how enjoyable it is to live in a spartan example of Wright's late work. The Pieper house was a rare insight into the experimentation that went on between the textile block houses of the 20's and the more polished Usonian Automatics of the '50's.
Thanks for posting these photos and your reflections on the home. It is very sad that this first UA has been changed beyond most recognition. I guess the pressures to McMansion-ize can be too much for many to resist. That's why homeowners such as yourself, peterm, pharding - and the many other "caretakers" (in many cases "wonder-workers" would seem more appropriate) of Wright's architectural legacy are to be commended.
I recently bought some cinder blocks from a home supply store to keep some critters out of underneath my deck and was shocked at how cheap in cost they are as a material (about $1.98 apiece). It made me imagine if there were various block options that could be purchase ready-to-go or perhaps the molds themselves made available so that a DIYer could make their own.
I know this is an oversimplification of the concept and approach, and I'm sure there may be numerous zoning and engineering issues to consider, but Is this too far-fetched a concept?
Standard masonry uses a mortar joint of 3/8" thickness between the masonry units which allows a cushion or "fudge factor" to adjust for minor imperfections in a given unit.
The high cost of construction lies in the field labor involved to assemble thousands of pieces one at a time, often altering the pieces by cutting first, into a unique form. To cut cost in housing the masses, standardization and prefabrication (of components, high dollar rooms, or whole sections of the house) seems to be the answer.
Concrete is such a wonderful and accessible material. I wonder if it it becomes a matter of perfecting the design of the blocks themselves or adding a type of gasket element in between to avoid the issues DRN brings-up.
The biggest argument against UA construction is the roof. It's necessary to hold all those heavy blocks in place while the grout dries. It can be done, even by DYIers like the Pappases. But it must be a hard task. The solution might be to go back to the block designs of the 20s, and build the roof out of wood.
Thanks for that information about the dressing of dry-stack block. I can well imagine a device that would true the Wright blocks on four edges (?) by means of grinding. I also like the idea of gasketing, as a weather/air infiltration stop. The gasket -- something as simple as a rubber tube -- could have its own groove in the edges of the block.