HH Harris 1939 home for Disney artists Mary & Lee Blair

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rightwaswright
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Location: Portland, OR

HH Harris 1939 home for Disney artists Mary & Lee Blair

Post by rightwaswright »


SDR
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Location: San Francisco

Post by SDR »

Text and illustrations of the Blair house, from Lisa Germany's 1991 Harris monograph (© by the University of Texas Press):


Mr. and Mrs. Lee Blair were directors for the Walt Disney Studios who had been interested in a house by Harwell Harris since 1937. He had, in fact, designed a house at that time that was canceled due to an uncertainty regarding their work. (Of the five Disney clients Harris had during these years only two would see their houses reach the construction stage.) In 1939 they returned with a new lot and he started over again. This lot was extremely steep and Harris designed the tiny, one-bedroom house with three stories sheathed in horizontal redwood siding. Each of the three blocks of the house rose another step up the hill. At its rear, each floor rested on the natural level of the ground and at its front it rested on the rear edge of the block below it. Thus, the second story used the roof of the first story for a roof terrace; and the third story used the roof of the second story for its roof terrace. So high, in fact, was the studio that the clients had a spectacular view of Los Angeles and even of the cowboy and Indian movies being filmed at Fox Studios.

The Blair house followed all the rules of Harris's nine-point plan. The same finishes -- grass matting, plywood walls, and Celotex ceilings -- were used throughout, and each room had one wall of glass opening into a garden or terrace. The furniture line was low and the pieces were few and far between. This allowed not only for a more generous display of the floor but also showed the Alvar Aalto chairs and Harris-designed couch and dressing table to their full advantage.



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SDR
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Location: San Francisco

Post by SDR »

Harris' 1935 list of residential design desiderata, from a piece written for California Arts & Architecture (Germany, pp 71-2):


1. Don't make rooms serve as halls. To do so reduces the proper use of the tloor area, disrupts the grouping, destroys the privacy, and so suggests crowdedness. Confine the main traffic stream to its proper channels and let rooms become quiet bays easily accessible to the main current but undisturbed by it.

z. Accept the fact that light attracts, and give every room a sunny exposure. Deserted space is waste space.

3. Don't crowd too many activities into one room. If necessary, reduce the size of the main room and provide alcoves off it for related activities. Minor activities, if unconfined. have a tendency to spread over more area than the major ones; and one often finds himself sleeping in a dressing room instead of dressing in a sleeping room as the consequence of same-one's mistaken notion of how to save space.

4. Group the openings. If possible get all the windmvs together and all the solid wall together. Grouping the two makes a sizeable representation of each and gives scale to the room. Small holes punched here and there look piddling and make furniture arrangement difiicult. Decide what walls should be glass, and leave the rest intact for "back."

5. Plan the walls of a room in scale with its floor. That is, in a small or narrow room reduce the height of the openings and lower the ceiling.

6. Keep the same finishes throughout. Cover every inch of the floor of the room with the same carpeting material, and use the same carpeting in every room. The constant repetition of a shape or a material creates the feeling of endlessness. Furthermore, sheer quantity of one plain material best displays the quality inherent in it.

7. Make one whole wall of the room of glass and open the room into a garden. With the solid material that the glass replaces, build a wall around the garden. Pave the floor of the garden next to the glass, making the outer tloor only an inch or two lower than the inner floor. The garden then becomes the outer portion of the room, separated from the inner portion by a removable glass screen. If possible! project the roof three feet or more beyond the screen and bring the eaves down to the very top of the opening. Board-in the under side of the eaves so that there is a low, horizontal ceiling just outside the opening. This extends the shelter of the interior to a portion of the exterior, and in an overlapping fashion links the outside with the inside.

8. Keep the furniture line low and the pieces of furniture few, light, and movable. Avoid fixed grouping. Avoid accessories. Let the floor show. Rooms are for people, not for furniture.

9. Plan the building not as a hollow box cut up into cells, but as a series of partially enclosed spaces opening into one another. By partial screening create the feeling of space beyond.

peterm
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Post by peterm »

This house reveals the subtle sophistication of Harris' thinking. In section and plan, it is as intricate as any Schindler hillside house, and yet it has an ease about it which almost hides that complexity. The flat terraces merging into the hipped roofs are very unusual.

The walk from the street to the front door of this house is even longer and steeper than that at the Schindler Gordon house. The listing calls it a nature trail! I would hate to come home with several bags of groceries...

This statement from his desiderata I found particularly profound: "Make one whole wall of the room of glass and open the room into a garden. With the solid material that the glass replaces, build a wall around the garden."

When taken out of context and isolated, this could almost be a conceptual art instruction a la Sol Lewitt or Yoko Ono...

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Right. It also seems to suggest that glass and its sash are cost-free ? But I like the concept in the abstract . . .

He certainly has the Usonian format down pat -- at the very beginning of the Old Man's second career ? Had the Willey house, or any other Usonian plans, been published in January 1935 -- the date of the California Arts & Architecture number for which HHH wrote "In Designing the Small House" -- including his nine points ?

S D R

peterm
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Joined: Thu Mar 13, 2008 10:27 am
Location: Chicago, Il.---Oskaloosa, Ia.

Post by peterm »

He undoubtedly was aware of every step that Wright was taking, though what is interesting about Harris is that by the mid thirties, he had already found his own voice within the umbrella of Organic architecture.

Some examples of where he varies from Wright: He typically employed a three foot module instead of Wright's two or four foot. Linoleum and the one foot modular grass matting (on the diagonal) replaced the red concrete floors (much more sensible for the Los Angeles hillside lots he had to work with, and giving the spaces even more of a Japanese character). He used paint, but sparingly, mainly to protect doors and windows. His color scheme would incorporate hues like teal, olive greens and eggplant. The use of celotex as a ceiling material was something that Wright (to my knowledge) never used, but it did appear in Gregory Ain's work. His exterior redwood horizontal boards were detailed in a much simpler manner (dare we say more practical...) and did not require the complex milling that Wright's system necessitated. The use of interior plywood walls anticipates the later work of Schindler and Wright. His asymmetrical brick fireplaces owe much to Wright, but he seldom incorporated stone into his designs. After his early stucco houses while still under the influence of Neutra, wood became his material of choice.

A remarkable architect who designed highly complex yet quiet "houses with good manners"...

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