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A detail on the Herman Mossberg house.
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Laurie Virr



Joined: 25 Jul 2009
Posts: 471

PostPosted: Sun Nov 13, 2011 9:29 pm    Post subject: A detail on the Herman Mossberg house. Reply with quote

Mention of the Herman Mossberg house on another thread has reignited my interest in the first floor brick faced balcony.

Altho not as egregious a detail as that of the terrace of the Harold Price Junior, it hardly reflects the nature of the material.

Brick can be used as cladding, as in veneer construction, but it is primarily a structural material, excellent in compression, but not in tension.

On lintels, where arching action is observed, and with brick corbels the structural scheme is honestly expressed. This is not the case at the Herman Mossberg house.

Where similar balconies occur at Taliesin in Wisconsin, the balustrades are expressed in a different material from the structure, as is also the case with some of the other Usonians.

Of course, we are aware that the apparent cantilever of the balcony is supported, but it does not look as tho it is. Once again we visit the query regarding the fitness of the structural elements of buildings. Surely, these should not only perform the task to which they have been allocated, but also look as tho they do.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 16274
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Sun Nov 13, 2011 11:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As a response, I add this to the mix: My late father, a mechanical engineer of no particular aesthetic bent, aware perhaps of my interest in modern architecture(s), once described to me a porch on a public structure he had noticed, whose thin roof was supported by multiple thick square-section columns. He wondered why the architect would have designed it thus. So did I . . .

What factors in common (if any) do we find in the ill-chosen material in the Mossberg balcony and in the oddly-proportioned building elements noted immediately above ?

SDR
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Jeff Myers



Joined: 22 Feb 2009
Posts: 1761
Location: Tulsa

PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 12:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mossberg was to be one story until code intervened
thus making Wright angry with the Building Commission.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 16274
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 12:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wonder why we enjoy -- I know I do -- the thrill of a floating architectural element, like the separated stair treads at the Mossberg house or its gravity-defying cantilevered balcony, even as we acknowledge at some level that there are more secure or rational ways of building ?

Do we not marvel at the trees above, with their countless leaves suspended from soaring branches -- which occasionally come crashing down when something goes wrong ?



Related but separate issues: form -- its psychological and aesthetic impact; proportion of elements, as a subset of formal choice; material -- rational or inappropriate usage

SDR
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Laurie Virr



Joined: 25 Jul 2009
Posts: 471

PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 3:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The pinnacle of floating architectural elements must be the terraces at Fallingwater.

In contradistinction to the balcony of the Herman Mossberg house, we read the reinforced concrete balustrades of Fallingwater as being capable of carrying the self and imposed loads, whereas we know that brick masonry, as detailed and built, cannot so do. The means of support of the latter are not expressed.

Strange to tell, we accept the cantilevered hoods of brick masonry fireplaces with scarcely a murmur, and yet the detail is substantially the same.

Corbeling, the traditional solution to the problem, does not fit with Usonian detailing.

I have always understood that the second story of the Herman Mossberg house resulted from a neighborhood covenant, not a code requirement.
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pmahoney
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Joined: 05 Feb 2006
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 9:37 am    Post subject: Brick cantilevers Reply with quote

Another home with a substantial brick walled cantilever is the Carl Schultz house which appears to now be an overnite rental. http://www.theschultzhouse.com/Korab_Photos.html#17

The Mossberg house is not an anomaly regarding its multi level plan, it is really an outgrowth and a usonian reworking of a plan first developed for William Norman Guthrie in Sewannee, Tennesee around 1908. As Wright's work evolved after World War Two exteriors were streamlined as to the number of materials in most cases, so these all brick exteriors were more common than the brick and stucco combinations of the prairie period.
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DRN



Joined: 10 Jul 2006
Posts: 3588
Location: Cherry Hill, NJ

PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 10:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

pmahoney's citing the Schultz house poses an interesting question:

Does the insertion of a strip of concrete at the base of the Schultz balconies change our visual perception of the brick balustrade on a cantilevered balcony? A similar version of this detail was used extensively at the Johnson Wax complex (especially note the base of the research tower). Mossberg and Price do not have this detail.
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Jeff Myers



Joined: 22 Feb 2009
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Location: Tulsa

PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 11:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Anyone have a plan of the William Norman Guthrie?
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 11:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, the concrete platform which conducts the brick above it makes all the difference in the world in the perception (and the actuality) of soundness in the structures which display it -- for me.

(The height of the balcony parapets in many buildings, from Heald to Fallingwater, seems calculated for exterior appearance; a good deal of that height is used to conceal a thick floor plate, leaving a surprisingly low wall for the containment of the occupants !)

I for one am very aware of the illogic of the apparently unsupported brick fireplace "hoods" in many Usonians. Yes, it is lovely and somehow right -- but one is forever looking, in one's mind, for the hidden steel lintel . . .

Monomaterial thinking took over Wright's earlier prudence, as time went on, didn't it ? Did this trend appear as early as 1922, in LA ?

SDR
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Roderick Grant



Joined: 29 Mar 2006
Posts: 8604

PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 3:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wm. Norman Guthrie (M3/85) was the predecessor of Frank J. Baker (M3/78-9).

It was not code, but zoning that forced Mossberg to add a second level.

An early example of a cantilevered balcony of brick is Robie. Even the stone base of that very long balcony would not add to the structural integrity of the thing. It's held up by steel. FLW always championed the proper use of materials, then violated his own rules. He was nothing if not inconsistent.

An entire class of structures, Googie, revelled in (apparently) defying gravity.
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DRN



Joined: 10 Jul 2006
Posts: 3588
Location: Cherry Hill, NJ

PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 4:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

True, Robie is an early example of brick levitation in Wright's portfolio.

I guess my point was that Wright's inclusion of a piece of stone, cast stone, or slab edge, at the base of a run of brick such as this was more successful visually than the detail seen at Mossberg and Price where the bottom course of brick is fitted directly to an unseen steel shelf angle.

The gesture of a material change implying that something is supporting the brick is less jarring to the eye than no articulation at all. This is not to say this detail is any more "honest" to actual the materials employed, but it at least acknowledges brick does not hover unaided. It is interesting to note that people visiting the Sweeton house are consistently drawn to the cantilever of the CMU fireplace hood, yet rarely do they notice the significantly larger cantilever of CMU above the opening from the dining area to the workspace just two feet away. I suspect that this is because the light deck at the head of the opening to the workspace hides the "hovering" CMU with another material...no more honest, but less visually jarring.
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Tom



Joined: 30 Jan 2011
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Location: Black Mountain, NC

PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 4:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yep, and the Robie balcony is beautiful, the steel framing ingenious. The philosophical inconsistency is curious. Has anyone written in depth about this, beyond stating the apparent contradiction? I have Petterson's book on FLlW and the meaning of materials. It's an informative book, but as I recall it does not attempt to explain why Wright would do this. Patterson seems content to simply show the contradiction, that Wright said one thing but did another. Surely the apparent contradiction was not lost on Wright.

Back to Mossberg, it's front is similar to the entry elevation of Myer May and Robie (not exactly for Robie but you get my drift) except May and Robie don't have that balcony. However the entry elevation of May and Robie both face the interior of the block and are hidden. So one might think that Wright felt this kind of elevation was too bare for a formal front. I don't know of course if that's the case, but it's plausible. For myself I've always admired the "hidden" elevations of May and Robie and so think Mossberg would have been just fine without the balcony.

But even if one concedes the balcony, it does "work" in a number of ways, the chosen material over his typical horizontal wood remains a mystery to me. From some angles it's downright "brutal" in the architectural sense.
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Reidy



Joined: 07 Jan 2005
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Location: Northern CA

PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 4:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The most egregious example of this may be V. C. Morris, where the entry arch is brick on one side and gives way to glass in mid-air: http://en.wikiarquitectura.com/index.php/File:Morris_14.jpg
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Roderick Grant



Joined: 29 Mar 2006
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 5:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I doubt people who see Mossberg are jarred by the brick balcony. No one who knows anything at all about brickwork could assume that such a structure is consistent with the material without hidden support. But what would be the alternative? As has been noted, FLW minimized the use of materials in each design: Usonia began with brick and wood; FW is concrete and stone; one problem he perceived with the block houses of the 20s was the inconsistency of block walls and frame horizontal planes, which he remedied with the UAs. A wood balcony at Mossberg would be more jarring, I suspect, than brick. Nowhere in the house is wood used as a major material, so it would not have worked for the balcony that was appended late in the game. He could have started from scratch, but he could not have re-designed the front facade without the balcony. It may not be the ideal solution, but it isn't all that bad either.

(Just noticed, the following is for the Paradise thread)

Speaking of the textile block houses, and getting back to the stair subject, the problem of proportion was very important to FLW. In the 16"x16" block houses, there were two scales that fit into the 3D grid, 16" treads with either 8" risers or 5-1/3" risers. Only Freeman stuck to the grid in this regard; the steps are 16"x8", which is not a comfortable ratio. Storer, Millard and Ennis all ignore the grid. So for Lloyd-Jones, FLW changed the scale of the block to 20" wide by 15" high, so subdivided, the stairs became 10"x7-1/2", standard dimension.
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Paul Ringstrom



Joined: 17 Sep 2005
Posts: 3969
Location: Mason City, IA

PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 5:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jeff Myers wrote:
Anyone have a plan of the William Norman Guthrie?


Jeff,
Please consult Pat Mahoney's new book on the Walter Davidson House and it's many iterations that include the Guthrie House. He has both the plan and elevation drawings in it.
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