06 December 2005
Harris Armstrong's unbuilt design for a "Weekend Mountain Cabin". Drawn about 1945 for an exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum. I suspect that the design is a fantasy based in part on an idea he returned to repeatedly: the carved totem pole. Here, a structural column becomes a symbolic marker topped by a carving of an owl.
I can't be sure which came first, but the cabin in the woods that Armstrong built in 1945 south of Saint Louis (in DeSoto, Missouri) called "The Rockpile" clearly shares part of its genetic heritage with this design.
The composition of this small cabin clearly relates to the earlier unbuilt scheme for the Wasson Residence. However, the forms here have been simplified and the elements organized with a much greater degree of skill and control. Its likely that the lack of a program or client allowed Armstrong to fullfill the poetic expression of the earlier, larger home design without the nearly overwhelming sense of monumentality and dominance over nature. Here, nature, architecture, and building all seems to work harmoniously together for their mutual benefit.
Its possible that the subtly Armstrong expresses in the sketched rendering is an aspect of his natural ability to draw and envision structures and to suggest their relationship to the natural surroundings. Similarly, the perceived weaknesses of the Wasson Residence model may in part be explained by the method and means of presentation, in addition to the other factors already suggested.
Drawing courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.