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House on the Mesa, and Conventional House
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 15921
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Sun Jan 04, 2009 4:20 pm    Post subject: House on the Mesa, and Conventional House Reply with quote

I reprint here Wright's unpublished text, mentioned in the concurrent Walker house thread, along with some less-familiar illustrations, as
reproduced in Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer's third volume of collected writings (Rizzoli, 1993, pp 126-30).

I find the verbal portrayal of an architectural project to be a unique pleasure, for it allows the reader to imagine the spaces and their
containment for himself; those rare paragraphs, for instance, in which Mr Wright his lays out his intentions regarding the Prairie House and the
Usonian type, found in their respective places in the Autobiography and in "The Natural House," are as meaningful and as pregnant with possibility as
anything actually built, anywhere, it seems to me.

The passages which follow show the architect as master of his material -- which includes everything, of course, including the (potential) clients and
their lives, the site and its characteristics, and of course the structural and aesthetic possibilities.

I leave it to others to dissect these paragraphs for their potential significance, c. 1932, in the ongoing evolution of Wright's "ideal dwelling-place."







THE HOUSE ON THE MESA

The House on the Mesa was designed for a moderately wealthy American family of considerable culture -- master, mistress and four children, cook
and two maids, chauffeur and gardener.

Their architect intended to help them make something of machine-age luxury that would compare favorably in character and integrity with the
luxury of the Greeks or Goths, within the limits of an expenditure of some $125,000.

The site, comprising several acres, is nearly flat, extending along a motor highway. The general scheme is simple. A concrete blockshell wall toward
the highway; an extended toplit arbor or sun-lit loggia, itself a continuous living-room, open to the grass planes of the garden and the small lake to
the south, sequestered by the house and the surrounding wood. This sun-loggia connects the various individual groups of rooms.

Each fireproof group of rooms has articulation according to function. The family quarters with large fireplace are grouped at the garden end of the
sun-loggia for privacy and semi-detached by sitting-room or loggia from the series of rooms for the children. Two guest-rooms, to be used singly
or together, are placed nearer the entrance and dining-room. These rooms are directly lit, above the sun-loggia, and are screened from the
loggia by a perforated copper wall-screen.

The living-room, billiard-room, beneath, and a pool, sheltered by a perforated copper canopy attached, is the main group, and it is managed
as a large, free-standing sun-pavilion with a great fireplace. This living-room stands free on the concrete roof-slab level. The adjoining concrete
roof-slabs are all related to the living-room as roof-garden terraces.

Standing near on the same roof-slab level, across the concrete slab of a broad roof-terrace, is another smaller pavilion with its fireplace, to be
used as a tea-house and breakfast-room. This upper level and its pavilions, as in the sun-loggia below and its rooms, are all directly related
to the garden and the lake.

The kitchen is so placed at a level midway between the dining-room below and the breakfast-room and tea-room above that it connects directly with
both and connects also with a kitchen roofgarden and the dwelling place of the servants. The kitchen roof-garden slab makes a broad cover for the
automobile entrances and exits.

The motor car is, in this plan, the feature of American life it is fast becoming. The group of family motors and those of visitors have ample
space in the garage courtyard. The garage, chauffeur's and gardener's dwelling place and dwelling place for the servants surround this court.

Thus the features of American family life, the motor car, service, family life and social life each have appropriate and convenient grouping. All are
individualized and integrated with air, light, vista in the sense of freedom characteristic of our new resources: steel in tension, glass, concrete and
the motor car.

The style of this fireproof house grows naturally tram this sense of space anangement definitely related to a modern scheme of a construction. That
scheme of construction is the cantilever slab hung from above by cantilever beams projecting from the masonry chimney masses. The light,
enclosing copper and glass screens hanging from the cantilever slabs are offset to place the opening sash in the horizontalledges. This general type
of construction and the offset concrete-block wall to allow ventilation at the floor levels, gives the house its individual grammar.

The sweep of the mesa with the magnificent views of the Rocky Mountains is felt in the arrangement and, as a foil, comes the sheltered bathing pool
pouring into the "lake-for-swimming," its surrounding glass planes sequestered by the surrounding masses of trees.

The house itself, as a whole, becomes a complete garden, open or sheltered at will. A good time place . . . it has what might truthfully be
called twentieth-century style.

The enclosing screens are horizontally offset or inset, so the opening sash may lift up from the flat ledges, thus made to render the winds of the
region less objectionable.

The reinforced concrete-block wall is offset, likewise, at the level of the main floor-slab. Screened openings in the floor itself afford cool circulation
of air over the floors. The best way to keep a house cool in hot weather.

Thin, projecting overhangs of sheet copper protect the glass screens from streaking and leaking and modify the sun-glare on the glass. These
horizontal plates of metal form a border of copper around the ceiling of each room, appropriately completing the copper wall-screens.

The reinforced concrete cantilever construction itself is exposed above the reinforced cantilever roof slabs as architecture. The cantilever beams
themselves are wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, according to stress. Changing to shaft-supported beams at the top over the living-
room, they become wide at top, narrow at bottom, according to stress.

The masonry chimney masses are all used for anchorage and support to secure the cantilevers and leave the main walls entirely free.

The roof-slabs are all insulated against cold or heat. The sheet copper projections added to them are insulated likewise.

The enclosing screens, being hung from the cantilevered slab above, may be inexpensive and extremely light.

Privacy is had by interior hangings wholly of copper mesh to be drawn as blinds over the glass surfaces anywhere at any time. For warmth or
coolness another tapestry hanging may be used inside of this one, harmonizing with interior furnishings. The hangings themselves thus
become a beautiful architectural feature.

Standardization in this house is perfectly utilized without prejudice to free imagination so long as imagination sees steel as steel, glass as glass, and
concrete as concrete. The whole fabrication becomes, notwithstanding severe limitations, a light, strong expression of the new materials of this
age, and uses these for our American lite as it almost is and might readily be: that is, genuine and free in point of culture and scientific art.



THE CONVENTIONAL HOUSE

The conventional house -- as we live in the United States it might be built nearby the House on the Mesa -- is a solution of the more conventional
house problem of the well-to-do American family paying $12,500 to $15,000 for a home: master and mistress, several children, one servant
and a Ford or two.

The type of home built by hundreds in a thousand or more American towns.

Here is the average town lot 100 feet wide of usual depth and regulation of building line. The lawn toward the street is so managed as not to
destroy the general effect characteristic of the American town but to conserve a forecourt to the living-room against the garage next door.

A study or workroom for father or mother, a gathering place tor the family with court to the front and garden to the rear; a simple
arrangement for a menage managed by the help of a single servant or none; a separate room provided in the semi-detached garage for a
servant or man about the place to insure greater privacy in the house; a dining nook off the kitchen to be ordinarily used, but the large table in the
living-room, almost as convenient, may be used as a dining table on occasion. The workroom or study then becomes the withdrawing room.

This fireproof house is no less a genuine expression of construction.

The walls are a single shell of reinforced concrete blocks inset at each opening to strengthen the thin wall.

The broad openings from floor to ceiling are filled with metal-sash, opening in series.

The roof-slabs and floor-slabs are reinforced concrete.

In this scheme, also, there is a general lightness, openness and relation to the garden, combined with privacy when desired, that is modern and that
makes natural the quiet simplicity of the early "Colonial" that is now merely artificial. The fabrication of this "Conventional house" again utilizes
standardization in a light, economic expression of concrete, steel and glass, doing no violence to the "conservative" tastes that prefer Colonial
by adding the advantages of plan and free space naturally belonging to the life of our modern times.

This house would be worthy of a place, notwithstanding its more simple extent, next door to the House on the Mesa. Quality and character are
more important in such association, in our country, than extent.


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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 15921
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Sun Jan 04, 2009 6:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A slightly later design, also unbuilt, and likewise designed for a Southwestern location, which includes some of the same elements,
including the outward-stepping glass screen-walls: the Stanley Marcus residence of 1935, for Dallas.



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Palli Davis Holubar



Joined: 27 Feb 2006
Posts: 1036
Location: Wakeman, Ohio

PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2009 9:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

SDR- you do keep posting delicious distractions. The conventional house was an interest of mine a few years ago on route to determining the "definition" of Usonian. I was considering it in relationship to the Usonians I was finding that had servants rooms.
Does anyone remember the playful scholarly genre of books like The Annotate Alice in Wonderland and The Annotated Winnie the Pooh? Well, my mind wanted to stop my work agenda this morning and do that to this FLW except. So many reference points to jump off from: demographics; construction statistics[ colonial house characteristics; "mail order contractor housing"; census figures; southwest climate study; building codes, city planning, comparative materials price indices; living style, furniture manufacturing & sales; literary style...
The description of the Conventional House alone would be a wealth of information annotated...
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Paul Ringstrom



Joined: 17 Sep 2005
Posts: 3885
Location: Mason City, IA

PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2009 11:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It is interesting to see the evolution of his ideas for a Usonian House (Conventional House 1932) does not turn it's back on the street as was typical for the Usonians starting with Jacobs I in 1936.


I also found it quite amusing that the ugly garage door faces the street, which has become so typical.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 15921
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2009 12:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The clue to all that may be the line "average town lot 100 feet wide of usual depth and regulation of building line." Few Usonians were designed for such a
limited (rectangular) site, if I am not mistaken. Note also that the building abuts both lot lines (would this have been typical zoning, then ?) so that a whole street of
these houses would make a continuous line of (nicely textured) "stuff". . .reminiscent to me of the postwar Park Planned Homes of Gregory Ain, for instance ?

Odd that he then posits (twice) that this home could comfortably be placed next door to the house on the mesa on its "several acres". . .

(Granted, 100-foot lots would be somewhat more generous that those being offered, twenty years on -- wouldn't they ?)


SDR
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Paul Ringstrom



Joined: 17 Sep 2005
Posts: 3885
Location: Mason City, IA

PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2009 2:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

SDR: In the driveway there is a direction indicator that I can't read. Please tell me which direction is indicated as North.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 15921
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2009 4:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Paul, the North arrow points to the left, on the plan -- the dark spot visible on the right margin of the quadrant is in fact the tail of an arrow.

This would ordinarily be easy to affirm by consulting the labels of the elevations -- but Wright, or his draftsman, in this case (at least) confuses us
by labeling the elevations by the direction of the VIEW of the drawing, rather than by the direction in which the elevation FACES, which is the accepted
precedent. Thus, the street elevation (labeled East) actually faces west, if we are to accept the North arrow on the plan.

I have seen this error occasionally, though I can't recall if any example was a Wright drawing. . .

SDR

I am preparing to post further drawings of the Mesa house, the Conventional House, and other relevant (?) material.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 15921
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2009 5:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote







Millard House textile block ?



textile block ?
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 15921
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2009 6:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here are two drawings from Monograph 5, p 147, in the entry for Broadacre City, 1934, presented without explanation or comment. The first item
("Medium House") is immediately suggestive of a number of Wright's postwar pitched-roof designs. (Be sure to read the large plain rectangles in the
top elevations as sloping roof planes.)





The second ("Smallest Homestead - for seven people") is yet another contender for "first Usonian" -- isn't it ? Note dirt-floored "work and wood
shed" -- and the odd arrangement of four small spaces at the bottom. Standing sleep quarters for four ? The module is given as 2-foot units. . .

Note also the unusual (for Wright) placement of entry door directly into main space, the sleeping porch, and the crib next to the bed.



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Roderick Grant



Joined: 29 Mar 2006
Posts: 8406

PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2009 7:13 pm    Post subject: *** Shades of Buckminster Fuller *** Reply with quote

The "standard bath unit" is interesting. It also shows up in the Brauner House. Does anyone know if Brauner actually has such baths? Walter has some odd designed baths, but I don't know if that's what is meant on the Brauner plans.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 15921
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2009 7:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes -- we've seen that before, haven't we. I'm looking at what I have. So far, the drawing above is the only instance, in plans shown in Monograph 5 (1924-1936), of the "Standard Bath Unit". . .


SDR
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 15921
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2009 8:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, R Grant has a good memory; Brauner I is the only other plan in the Monographs, between 1924 and 1941, to show a manufactured (?) Bath Unit.




I also found this drawing of the unbuilt Crystal Heights Hotel, Apartments, Theatre, Shops and Parking [whew], Washington, D.C., 1939. The combined
lavatory, tub and toilet unit is shown in both left-hand and right-hand configurations; I have no doubt this was intended as a prefabricated device, made
practical by the large number of units required for the job.




In cruising through the two Monographs that I have, I saw a large number of square baths with corner tub, and a number of houses with identical-sized
baths in mirrored pairs or identical; another great number were rectangular baths with a tub placed in the corner along one wall -- all very orthodox and
unremarkable. It seems Wright did not lavish his attention much on this most mundane of household necessities ?

SDR
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Palli Davis Holubar



Joined: 27 Feb 2006
Posts: 1036
Location: Wakeman, Ohio

PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2009 12:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

We researched the 2 corner square tubs at the W-J House- NEO ANGLE tubs introduced in 1947 by the American Standard Company. Not really square because the outside corner is blunted with a ledge/seat and the inside corner is a triangular ledge also. The children's bath off the gallery and the master bath share an inside wall that on the plans was actually marked as a shower with the same square footprint as the tubs. The shower opened to both baths. The Weltzheimers didn't include the shower after all and simply put the master tub on that inside corner.
Although I've looked at every page of Monograph volumes 5,6,7, and 8, I'm so focused on perfs I don't remember if there were ever any similar arrangements in other houses. Anyone know of any?
Growing up in my Erdman 1948 family home- we would have loved that common sense arrangement...Our 2 baths were terrible.

We are looking for a toilet replacement now for the children's bath -white with a low back as a cabinet is directly above the tank. Of course, it is the lower seat. Any advice? Or resource for replacement toilet hardware? The college plumbers want a new toilet and say they can't locate the replacement parts. I'm still looking to find date, Mike will double check tommorow but I think it is Crane.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 15921
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2009 12:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Distractions ?

Not at all -- just the turn of the plot, I suppose. One thing leads inevitably to another. . .


They're talking lighting over at the Sweeton house thread. What's next ?

SDR
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Paul Ringstrom



Joined: 17 Sep 2005
Posts: 3885
Location: Mason City, IA

PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2009 11:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

SDR: What does the Monograph show for the bathroom in the Lowell Walter House. The installed unit closely resembles the Brauner I Standard Bath Unit.

Also, on the Conventional House, I find the orientation completely off. There are virtually no windows on the SOUTH. How unusual. I guess he hadn't quite mastered solar orientation at the point.
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