Flat Roof Origins

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Tom
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Flat Roof Origins

Post by Tom »

So, lately, I've been searching through the decades 1890s-1900s (20 years) curious as to the seemingly sudden appearances of the flat roof or flat-top building.
The experience is sort of like: hip, hip, hip, hip, hip, hip, FLAT! Where did that come from?
Surprisingly the first flat-roofed building I came across is early: the unbuilt project Monolithic Concrete Bank 1894 (ref# 9408). It's obviously close to and drawing from Sullivan.
Wright does a lot of flat-top apartment buildings in this early period. It seems that houses get hipped roofs and institutional work gets flat roofs. The All Souls Church is 1897. The Abraham Lincoln Center is 1901. Then Larkin appears in 1903. In Larkin the corners of the plan are emphasized in massive servant space "piers". That's a real difference from the Lincoln Center and even Wainwright. That motif in Larkin (piers emphasizing corners) carries through to Unity and Yahara where the flat roof seems to make a debut to some degree.

However, in the files, there exists an unbuilt first version of the Robert Lamp house in Madison dated 1903 and so contemporary to Larkin (ref# 0307). It's a simple rectangle with Larkinesque corners, flat roof (no extensions of cantilevers) and gallery windows. It might possibly be his first flat roof residence for all I know. In some sense it goes to the issue of the scale life of concepts- Little Larkin:

Image
Lamp File:
https://library.artstor.org/#/search/ar ... e=1;sort=1

Roderick Grant
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Re: Flat Roof Origins

Post by Roderick Grant »

All of the Lamp Projects were for rental structures; none of the 17 shown is a preliminary for the flat-roofed house Lamp built. The built Lamp house had a program for using the roof, which required it to be flat.

Flat-roofed commercial buildings (including apartment buildings) were commonplace before FLW started his career, though Larkin only appears to be flat, since the parapet hides the immense hipped skylight from view down below. The real revolution was Unity Temple, even though that, too, had a pitched skylight hiding behind parapet walls. Religious structures were rarely, if ever, flat-roofed. The first flat-roofed residence he (may or may not have) designed was the Albert Sullivan Townhouse (1892). Such attached row houses also were more often than not flat-roofed in the 19th century. Another 'maybe' is Charnley, which has a very low-pitched roof, but from the street view, the broad, flat overhang makes it look flat.

The Gale House (1904) is really the first time a house that might have been expected to have a pitched roof was made flat. In those early days, flat roofs were a hard sell, and FLW didn't have the clout to insist. (Just look at the 1895 version of Nathan Moore, a Tudor design with gabled roof that FLW, living just up the street, went out of his way to avoid having to look at.) But Laura Gale had a great deal of confidence in FLW, and left him to it. By 1906, with the Richard Bock Project, he started to use flat roofs more often, but still rarely, until the Usonian Automatics.

Tom
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Re: Flat Roof Origins

Post by Tom »

Roderick Grant wrote:
Tue Sep 14, 2021 3:46 pm
The Gale House (1904) is really the first time a house that might have been expected to have a pitched roof was made flat.
That strikes me as important, helpful. thanks. The first explicit single-family house with a flat roof.

Had to look up Albert Sullivan, but it was not unfamiliar. He's with Sullivan at that point and it could be attributed to Wright.
Same with Charnley which I did not think about and which should be considered - of course.

There are discrepancies among the dates of the work. For example, the FLLW Foundation lists Balch at 1911. Yet there is a sketch of Balch in Wright's hand noted 1906. Lots of stuff like that going on. It's hard to know. Yet I would like to get a firmer idea on the Gale House ...

I'm relying on the dating apparatus of the Avery Filing system for all of this. They put Unity at 1904, Yahara at 1905 and Thomas Gale at 1909! What's the story?
Last edited by Tom on Wed Sep 15, 2021 10:31 am, edited 1 time in total.

Roderick Grant
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Re: Flat Roof Origins

Post by Roderick Grant »

I gave up on dates long ago. A date could be from commission to finished construction. A date in FLW's hand could also be a total fabrication. There is a perspective of a project for a movie house in San Diego which FLW dated 1906 with cars that obviously do not conform to what was on the market that early. 1916 has been suggested as the probable date. Northome was commissioned in 1908, with published dates as late as 1914.

Tom
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Re: Flat Roof Origins

Post by Tom »

Image

Avery puts this project at 1905. They also put Robie at 1906.

File:
https://library.artstor.org/#/asset/284 ... 1803474774
Last edited by Tom on Thu Sep 16, 2021 9:45 am, edited 1 time in total.

toastedskin
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Re: Flat Roof Origins

Post by toastedskin »

Isn't the Laura Gale house 1909?

Tom
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Re: Flat Roof Origins

Post by Tom »

.... the Gale house that Wright built in Oak Park, referenced by RG above, with all horizontal and vertical planes, that Wright cites as a precursor to FW is the house in question here. I don't know the story. But I think Laura was married to Thomas and I referred to this house as the Thomas Gale house a few posts above. As RG indicates you can get a wide spread on the dates on Wright's work. Who knows.
Last edited by Tom on Wed Sep 15, 2021 11:56 am, edited 1 time in total.

Tom
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Re: Flat Roof Origins

Post by Tom »

All Souls Church 1897 (A):

Image

Abraham Lincoln Center 1900 - 1903:

Image

Larkin 1903:

Image
Last edited by Tom on Wed Sep 15, 2021 1:59 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Tom
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Re: Flat Roof Origins

Post by Tom »

All souls Church 1897 (B):

Image
Avery mistakenly locates this drawing in the Abraham Lincoln Center file. A lot of development taking place between versions A and B.

Abraham Lincoln Center Interior Assembly 1900:

Image

The connection of this interior to Unity is obvious. Note the depression of the main floor while at Unity it is raised.
Judging strictly from these two drawings even more seems to have happened between 1897 and 1900.
Last edited by Tom on Wed Sep 15, 2021 12:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Roderick Grant
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Re: Flat Roof Origins

Post by Roderick Grant »

Gale is a case in point. Storer, who is precise about dating, gives "1904, 1909," the former for commission, the latter for construction. Mono and Taschen both give only 1909.

Thomas was Laura's husband, who died after the house of 1892 was built, and after the 1904 commission for the second house, but before the three 1905 vacation cottages and the 1909 completion of the Oak Park house. Walter was Thomas' brother.

Roderick Grant
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Re: Flat Roof Origins

Post by Roderick Grant »

Reverend Jenkin Lloyd Jones, FLW's uncle, was the client for both All Souls Building (1897) and Abraham Lincoln Center (1903). The earlier structure, to have been built across the street from Jenkin's old church by Silsbee, was to hold a new church and community center. FLW and his uncle had a contentious relationship which caused FLW to withdraw from the commission. He had started the design with Dwight Perkins, who took over the project for the same site. The project changed names from All Souls to Lincoln at some point before FLW left. The final design, aside from FLW's church, is largely Perkins'.

DRN
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Re: Flat Roof Origins

Post by DRN »

Circling back to Lamp for a moment...
Were the rental houses Wright designed for Lamp intended to be built along the Butler or Mifflin Street frontages of the block in which the Lamp house proper was situated?...or, were the houses to line the "alley" that leads to the Lamp's house from Butler Street?

My question is rooted in the idea that the houses may have been intended as a grouping in which all have related forms. The flat roofs of the rentals also have the benefit keeping a lower profile so as not to obscure the lake view from the top of Robert Lamp's own house.

toastedskin
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Re: Flat Roof Origins

Post by toastedskin »

There is a house called the Thomas Gale house on Chicago Avenue in Oak Park, a bootleg house designed and built by write in 1892, but Laura Gale commissioned her 1909 house on Elizabeth Court in Oak Park after Thomas had passed away. The house is more accurately referred to as the Laura Gale house.

Tom
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Re: Flat Roof Origins

Post by Tom »

DRN wrote:
Wed Sep 15, 2021 5:24 pm
Circling back to Lamp for a moment...
Were the rental houses Wright designed for Lamp intended to be built along the Butler or Mifflin Street frontages of the block in which the Lamp house proper was situated?...or, were the houses to line the "alley" that leads to the Lamp's house from Butler Street?

My question is rooted in the idea that the houses may have been intended as a grouping in which all have related forms. The flat roofs of the rentals also have the benefit keeping a lower profile so as not to obscure the lake view from the top of Robert Lamp's own house.
Perhaps RG can respond. I don't know to answer your question. When I first saw this file I thought the plans were for an initial version of R. Lamp's own house. The only indication I can find that indicates that this design is in fact a rental property is that on the title block of one of the drawings is the title "investment dwelling". And the file contains no master planning work with the site at all. So someone with extra knowledge needs to let us know.

Roderick Grant
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Re: Flat Roof Origins

Post by Roderick Grant »

The several designs for "investment dwelling" were variations for just a single structure. Lamp had acquired the landlocked lot for his own house from a relative, who later sold the remainder of the property to him, for which the rental was planned.

For all things Madison, refer to John Holzhueter, "FLW and Madison: Eight Decades of Artistic and Social Interaction." Lamp is dealt with on pp 20-24.

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