27 September 2005

Harris Armstrong -- sign with logo

Office sign with architectural logo.
Graphic design by Peter Geist.

Armstrong's logo, the t-square and triangle, create an architectural symbol, while simultaneously forming his initials H and A. Peter Geist, an associate of Armstrong's, designed the sign for his office using a de Stijl palatte around 1947. The composition borrows a bit from Mondrian, but uses it to much different effect.

Armstrong seems to have created the t-square and triangle symbol for himself in the earlier years of his practice. One of his trademarks was a desire to incorporate his initials into his projects where possible. This tendency shows up in early sketches from the 1930s through projects completed in the 1960s.

Sign courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

24 September 2005

40-Story Tower -- rendering

Harris Armstrong's 1931 rendering for a forty story tower to be inserted between two existing buildings in downtown Saint Louis. The rendering is signed "Boyer & Armstrong Architects", but was clearly drawn by Armstrong. For comparison, see Armstrong's contemporary renderings for other Saint Louis projects: a proposed high-rise on Lindell Boulevard, a design for a country club, and an unbuilt modernist residence.

Alexander Boyer was an engineer and business partner of Armstrong at this time. At this point, Armstrong had several years experience as an apprentice, but needed to collaborate with someone with professional, commercial building credentials to attempt larger commissions.

Although this high-rise was not constructed, they did produce other tall structures in the Midwest (for example, see their Wesley Temple Building in Minneapolis).

Rendering courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

40-Story Tower -- May 1931 headline

Front page article announcing forty story skyscraper by the architectural firm of Boyer and Armstrong published Thursday 14 May 1931. The Saint Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper presented a series of articles on the project over the next several days.

Newspaper clipping courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

40-Story Tower -- height comparison

Published comparison of the tallest structures in Saint Louis in 1931 including the proposed 40 story tower designed by Boyer & Armstrong as shown in a Saint Louis Globe-Democrat article of 17 May 1931.

The proposed 40 story tower was never constructed.

Newspaper clipping courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

40-Story Tower -- building section

Vertical section through proposed skyscraper illustrating the pile foundations (through layer of quick sand) as well as mid-rise elevators and high-rise elevators.

Drawing from Saint Louis Globe-Democrat article published Sunday 31 May 1931.

Newspaper clipping courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

40-Story Tower -- typical floor plan

This plan, published by the St. Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper on Sunday 31 May 1931, illustrates the design concept for combining two existing structures to the North and South of the new 40-story tower to create one coherent building. Two banks of elevators serve the upper stories and two banks serve the lower stories.

Drawing from Saint Louis Globe-Democrat article published Sunday 31 May 1931.

Newspaper clipping courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

40-Story Tower -- site drawings

These 'before and after' site plan drawings were published by the Saint Louis Globe-Democrat on May 17, 1931. They depict the existing condition, including the six story high Post-Dispatch Building to be demolished. The new plan presents the forty story tower in a cruciform configuration. Portions of the two adjacent buildings were intended to be demolished to open up their lightwells, integrating the group of buildings with a roughly symmetrical plan.

Drawing from Saint Louis Globe-Democrat article published Sunday 17 May 1931.

Newspaper clipping courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

40-Story Tower -- 24 May 1931 article

Article published Sunday 24 May 1931 regarding the proposed forty story office building designed by architects Boyer and Armstrong. From the St. Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper.

The photograph at left shows the then existing situation of the three buildings facing onto Broadway. In the center is the six story Post-Dispatch Building that was intended to be demolished and replaced with the forty story tower.

Saint Louis Globe-Democrat article published Sunday 24 May 1931.

Newspaper clipping courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

40-Story Tower -- volume

Harris Armstrong's axonometric drawing showing the volume of the entire structure, the new forty story tower in the center as well as the existing renovated structures to the north and the south. The caption explains that the building costs were estimated based upon the overall volume (or "cubage") of the structure.

Drawing from Saint Louis Globe-Democrat article published Sunday 31 May 1931.

Newspaper clipping courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

23 September 2005

portrait of the author / architect

Portrait taken in July 2005 in the studio of Raimist architecture, Inc.

Seeing as I'm still learning how to develop this and don't yet have a handle on creating links along the margins of the page, I'd like to mention some of the websites and blogs that have directed people (directly or indirectly) to my blog.

~ one of the blogs by Saint Louis' own (a woman of many talents): B.E.L.T.

~ Thanks to Bill Keaggy (St. Louis Post-Dispatch Feature Photos Editor) who mentioned us on his blog (bits) by bill keaggy as well as including it in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch under the heading "A Site to Behold".

~ Chicago's Tim John Hill (, graduate of KSU): A Daily Dose of Architecture.

~ inclusion in the links section of the Architectural Sketches blog.

~ inclusion in the links section of the Architechnopilia blog (relating to the love of things architectural).

~ the website Annukka of Polish photographer Agata Lenczewska-Madsen. You should also see her photography on Flickr.

~ Kim G.'s website: LivingHome.

~ an entry with images of the Ethical Society in the :: urbansheep :: blog (in Russian), dated 21 October 2005.

~ the entry in the ColumnNetwork.org blog with the Shanley Building along with the quote, "Give me MODERN or give me death".

~ reference to our renovation of the Bergeron/Wellmeier Residence (originally the Vollmer Residence) on the Houseblogs.net site.

~ reference to Armstrong's "The Rockpile" on Archinect.com.

~ Michael Allen and Claire Nowak-Boyd's blog
Ecology of Absence. I'm also proud to be on their website's useful list of resources: links.

~ London-based magazine included links to this blog on Tuesday 2 August 2005, Tuesday 16 August 2005, and Friday 19 August 2005: ThingsMagazine.

~ for its mention of "The Rockpile": BlogosphereWanderlust.bldg.

~ The LivingHome entry entitled The dashing Harris Armstrong of St. Louis.

~ for its mention of the Magic Chef Building (on 1 Aug 05): Coudal Partnership. also, their endorsement to 'architecture geeks' in their archive.

~ inclusion in the architecture links section of the Architecture blog.

~ from the world's best online photography site Blogs That Flickr.

~ from inclusion in dmoz open directory project.

~ a website searchable for tags like "Armstrong": TagCloud.

~ for inclusion in the photostream section entitled Details of Modern Architecture on Kontent.

~ for inclusion on the blogroll of Pruned.

~ listing on the "A" list of PhotoBlogs.

~ comments on the Bergeron/Wellmeier Residence from JuicyFly.com.

~ Alejandro Rives of Uruguay: Arquitectarte.

~ Saint Louis' own: MB's Blogasm.

~ discussion site re: residential : LottaLiving.

~ site re: : Land+Living.

~ Architect and author Sarah Susanka's website Not So Big House.

~ Mother Earth's Mother Earth News.

To those involved with the above sites, "Thank you".

20 September 2005

Magic Chef Bldg. -- executive office

An executive office located at the Northwest corner of the building where the last bay angles outward. Typical of the North elevation, the clear thermopane glazing is uninterrupted. Only the executive offices have operable windows (which face West). Otherwise all primary glazing for the office face only to the North or South.

Photograph courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Magic Chef Bldg. -- office plan

This floor plan at the level of the executive offices illustrates how Armstrong addresses subdividing space at the upper levels. The top executive of the department located on each floor would get the 'cocked' corner office, giving them views to the North and the West. Except for this angled wall, all glazing faces directly South or directly North.

In designing President Arthur Stockstrom's office, Armstrong took advantage of the larger space and angled orientation to give the office an increased sense of grandeur while linking it conceptually with the biomorphic curves of the ground floor ceiling. He created a curved soffit leading from the office entry to the bay window and the desk situated within it.

Drawing courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Magic Chef Bldg. -- west elevation

West elevation with building services.
Hedrich-Blessing, photograph.

The West face of the building is largely solid and mute. The entire West side of the building, wrapped in brick masonry serves as the service core of the building.

At the lower left where a column is visible, the loading dock is located. The rectangular stack of glass block openings on the left side mark the elevator lobby at each floor. The five vertical slots roughly in the center of the building are for ventilation. The horizontal lines of glass blocks toward the right allow natural light to penetrate the Men's and Women's restrooms. Above and below these horizontal lines are horizontal louvers for fresh and exhaust air. The opening in the bottom of this portion of the wall is the entry from the parking area which leads directly into the lobby.

To the far right is an exit stair pulled out from the building (with door at bottom). Where the vertical stair meets the primary mass of the buidlling, natural ventilation is again provided for.

Photograph courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

19 September 2005

Magic Chef Bldg. -- back & front

Back & front of building as published.
Hedrich-Blessing, photograph.

The West elevation (at left) and view from Southeast (at right) of the Magic Chef Building as published in Architectural Forum are shown here side by side.

The left image appropriately presents a no-nonsense, utilitarian facade to the industrial context in which its is located. This massive brick masonry wall concealing the services acts as a shield from the intense heat of the late afternoon Saint Louis sun.

The right image is the inviting public side of the building which faces the busy north-south commercial street of Kingshighway. The fully glazed ground floor display area combined with the invitingly landscaped angled walks toward the main entry create a strong sense of welcome, openness and accessibility.

Photograph courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Magic Chef stove, 1926 -- back & front

The back and front of a restored Magic Chef stove, 1000 series, circa 1926.

* overall dimensions: 53" wide x 28" deep x 64" high
* 6 surface burners (front center burner is 11,000 BTU high output)
* Two baking ovens
* Large oven (21" wide x 20" deep x 14" high)
* Small oven (16" wide x 20" deep x 14" high)
* Separate broiler oven
* Warming oven
* Utensil storage drawer
* Lorain oven thermostat controls
* White porcelain doors mounted on black steel cabinet

In considering the design one of Magic Chef's stoves, such as this Series 1000 of 1926), there appears to be at least a conceptual connection between the overall building design and the form of the stove itself.

The back side is clearly functional, blank, and utilitarian. The front side is designed with function and aesthetics as twin determinants. Functionally, the usability of the front is its raison d'etre. However, it has a sculptural presence beyond mere function. Its proportions and graphic form are clearly considered. The stove is the product of an evolutionary design process involving mass production, fabrication, shipping, marketing, profitability, and many other factors that are not strictly necessities for merely cooking. This stove is meant to embody the latest developments in technology and design.

At a superficial level, the building's form has a series of stacked rectangular spaces set against a flat, unarticulated wall. The rear of the building reveals only the minimal, functional necessities, such as exhaust and air intake. Otherwise, the rear (West elevation) is essentially a massive masonry wall with glass blocks and grills being the only major events.

18 September 2005

Magic Chef stove, 1936

This 1936 Magic Chef stove is a massive 6300 Series 8 Burner unit. To purchase a fully restored, functional unit today costs about $29,000.

These stoves were the Viking and Wolf ranges of the time, featuring:
* 8 surface burners
* 6 - 9,000 BTU output
* 2 - 11,000 BTU output
* 2 baking ovens
* 2 roasting / broiler ovens
* warming oven
* condiment shelf
* work lamp
* measured time clock
* white and black porcelain cabinet wrapped in nickel trimmed frame
* shipping weight 745 pounds

The development of the stove design from 1926 to 1936 reveals the company's interest in creating the most up-to-date, highest quality stove possible.

In creating a building for the company manufacturing products like this, should the design have any conceptual or formal relationship to the product? In this case, does the building relate to the overall building form? Is any resemblance simply an unintentional coincidence?

Archival image.

17 September 2005

Magic Chef -- Globe-Democrat article

This article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper announces the construction of the Magic Chef Building. Although the last sentence of the article reads, "It is hoped that construction can begin within the next 60 days," in fact, the architectural design and construction documents were still being drawn and engineered through the spring. The first date on the construction documents was 27 May 1946. Revisions were completed by 14 June 1946.

The rendering shows the building with large script lettering along with the Magic Chef logo across the top of the east facade. Armstrong subsequently modified the this drawing relocating the logo to the lower left corner of the same wall and reducing its size (making it left-justified).

Newspaper clipping courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Magic Chef -- rendering with logo

Armstrong developed this perspective rendering of the Magic Chef Building in early 1946 to present the design to the American Stove Company executives and for publicity purposes. This version of the drawing is substantially the same image printed in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in February 1946, except the logo and lettering location and size were revised. The Magic Chef text and logo are here shown at the bottom left of the east elevation of the building. The logo had previously been shown across the top of the wall. That earlier location is just barely visible here, having been whited out and sketched over.

It's interesting to compare this perspective drawing with photographs taken of the building following completion. Initially, the rendering seems low and squat (as if the height of the building was increased). However, the number of floors is correct. I believe the perspective was drawn accurately, but that the viewpoint taken was rather far away. The photographs were taken from a much closer location with a wide angle lens (wider than the human eye's cone of vision). The distortion in the photographs enhances the height and makes the building appear more dramatic (and with better proportions).

Image courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Magic Chef -- flashing advertisement

This advertisement for copper-fabric flashing featuring the Magic Chef Building was published in the April 1950 issue of Architectural Forum. Manufacturers and distributors of architectural products took advantage of the notoriety of particular buildings in the advertisements, particularly when their products were less than exciting visually.

Modern design, technical innovation, and modernist aesthetics are combined for maximum impact.

Advertisement courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Magic Chef -- air cleaner advertisement

This advertisement for electronic air cleaners manufactured by American Air Filter Company was published in Business Week in July, 1949.

Here the progressive design of the building and the reputation of the Magic Chef brand are used to promote the use of electronic air cleaners.

Advertisement courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

16 September 2005

Magic Chef -- stencil logo

A logo for the Magic Chef brand using the initials in stencil with horizontal bars of black. This logo gives a rather different impression of the product than the script version.

The stencil logo seems to draw upon military graphics and industrial products. The logo seems to take on a form reminiscent of the American flag with its alternating dark and light stripes and solid field. It seems likely that this logo was developed during WWII in response to the focus on patriotism and collective production for the good of the war effort.

Archival image.

Magic Chef -- script logo

Magic Chef was the flagship brand of the American Stove Company which was created as a conglomerate of many different stove manufacturing companies. This logo is one of many images created to represent the brand to the public.

There's a fundamental break in the psychology and marketing of these two names. The script logo seems as if it were made to appeal to the residential market for stoves. The American Stove Company logo of all capital, sans-serif lettering seems as if it were more directed toward commercial kitchens and institutions.

Eventually, the company changed its name to "Magic Chef, Inc." but its sales of natural gas ranges was already in a downward trend. In the postwar residential market, it seems the "all electric" house was the winner in the majority of homes constructed. Perhaps builders felt the savings from not having to run gas lines offset any sentimental or actual value in cooking via flame vs. radiant electric coils. Perhaps safety, fire, odor, and carbon monoxide poisoning were also factors in the general turn away from natural gas. Magic Chef stuck with gas as the fuel source for their stoves and the company was eventually sold off and its assets divided.

American Stove Company -- sign plate

Metal plates on the back of a Magic Chef natural gas stove, including stove number and serial number. With respect to manufacturing, the plate refers solely to the "American Stove Company" rather than "Magic Chef."

15 September 2005

Magic Chef Bldg. -- exterior view

Exterior view as published.
Hedrich-Blessing, photograph.

This is an image of Harris Armstrong's award winning design for the Magic Chef Building for the American Stove Company. The building is today largely unreconizable as a U-Haul storage facility.

The original black and white photograph was 'colorized' for publication in The Architectural Forum magazine.

Magic Chef Bldg. -- north elevation

North face of building at night.
Hedrich-Blessing, photograph.

A night view of Armstrong's Magic Chef Building from the Northeast. While the building is stridently modern, it is also sensitively adapted to its climate and site. The primary glazing for offices faces to the North and South. This image of the North elevation demonstrates how Armstrong took full advantage of indirect lighting for the interior with North light. The South elevation has less glazing and more control over the light that is admitted.

The windows that 'kick out' at the Northwest corner of the building give the executive offices views to East and West, in addition to the North.

The entire ground floor is reserved for a showroom of Magic Chef's latest products. In essence, it is one gigantic display window. Particularly at night, the building appears to hover over the light filled, fully glazed ground flooor level.

Magic Chef Bldg. -- Noguchi ceiling

Isamu Noguchi ceiling.
Hedrich-Blessing, photograph.

This colorized image of the ceiling designed by sculptor Isamu Noguchi for the entry lobby was the most unusual, striking images from the building. The seamless nature of the design within the architectural space, lighting, structure, sculptural form, and color made this space a significant example of successful the integration of art and architecture.

Noguchi created a plaster model for the ceiling based upon Armstrong's architectural plans for the space.

The ceiling is functional, providing artificial lighting as well as directing visitors to the hidden elevator lobby to the left of the free-standing column. It is also decorative, providing a counterpoint to the crisp, planar geometries of the building. It appears that the free-standing staircase that wraps around a column on the right. It seems likely that Armstrong designed the stair with it's curved landing in reference to Noguchi's biomorphic forms in the ceiling itself.

Countering the concepts promulgated by Mies van der Rohe and many of his
colleagues, which called for the strict separation of architecture from the other arts, Noguchi and Armstrong make a convincing argument to the contrary.

The above photograph has been
'colorized' for publication in The Architectural Forum magazine. It is based upon the original black and white photograph.

Photograph by Hedrich-Blessing.

Magic Chef Bldg. -- Noguchi's ceiling

Ceiling in black and white.
Hedrich-Blessing, photograph.

The original black and white photograph of the Magic Chef Building's lobby presents a somewhat different image of the space when compared to the colorized version initially published. The ceiling design was a collaboration of working along with Harris Armstrong.

This is the same image that was colorized when published in The Architectural Forum.

Photograph by Hedrich-Blessing.

Magic Chef Bldg. -- Noguchi's plaster model

Isamu Noguchi's plaster model for the ceiling in the lobby of Harris Armstrong's Magic Chef Building. The model is in the collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum (a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harris Armstrong).

Photograph courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Magic Chef Bldg. -- ground plan

The ground floor plan with site design for Harris Armstrong's Magic Chef Building (1947). The plan makes clear the angled walks leading to the main entry from the East and the West. The outline of Noguchi's sculptural ceiling is shown with dotted lines in the Lobby.

Kingshighway runs across the bottom of the drawing with North being toward the right. The angled drive on the North side leads to the inset loading dock. Parking is provided on the West side of the building.

Magic Chef Bldg. -- night entry

Dramatic night view into main entry.
Hedrich-Blessing, photograph.

The glazed entrance to the Magic Chef Building highlights Noguchi's ceiling landscape inside the lobby.

Magic Chef Bldg. -- display area

First floor display area at night.
Hedrich-Blessing, photograph.

For the moment, I'm posting an excerpt from an email exchange related to the Magic Chef Building (as well as Armstrong's Normandy Theatre).


I've been going through 1955 newspapers that may be of interest to you.

An item in the 1/2/55 Globe saying that Max and Ella Gale took title to the old Normandy Theatre; previous owner was Adele Garthoeffner. In the Post on 3/20/55 announced the old theatre being remodeled into a Gale's store...men & boys clothing. Ben Shapiro of the firm Shapiro & Teasdale designing the conversion. This article includes a illustration of the plans and details, in words, the changes to be made to convert into retail. If Shapiro & Teasdale still exists, there would be a lead to follow.

And, in an item in the 2/5/55 Globe saying that Magic Chef put the ad building on the market, asking $1.2-million. Article also said the company lost $1.4-million the first half of 1954 and the work force has been cut to 600.

A few days ago I mentioned the Magic Chef building to an acquaintance--and got a somewhat negative reaction. I asked for specifics and was told the elevators were extremely slow and that the first floor display area was cold and drafty. Being about the same age as I, I asked why he was in building...he couldn't remember. If I run across anything else, I'll let you know.



mon 22 aug 05


thanks for the info. i appreciate your checking on these newspaper clippings. coincidentally, i'm working on a renovation and addition to a home designed by Ben Shapiro of Teasdale & Shapiro. i've checked on the firm and came up with a few anecdotal comments, but nothing substantive.

i don't think the renovations done to convert the Normandy Theatre into a retail space are terribly critical to my research, except perhaps insofar as they can confirm (or refute) that Harris Armstrong was indeed the theatre's original architect.

thanks very much for the interesting information on Magic Chef. it suggests that the downturn in their business was related to market pressures (as has been mentioned by others). there was apparently very optimistic plans for expansion among many companies manufacturing products for homes. Most of these firms did well in the first five to ten years following the end of WWII. apparently, they believed the tremendous increase in sales during those years would continue all the way through the 1950s.

unfortunately for Magic Chef, the gas stoves they produced in that era were so well made that some are still operating just fine 50 years later. i believe appliance manufacturers may have flooded the market, reaped rewards, then when the market became saturated, were stuck in a mode of overproduction. i'm not sure if this applies to other appliance companies, but it would be interesting to know if this was an industry-wide problem or something more specific to Magic Chef.

about the building being drafty at the first floor level, i suspect the HVAC design assumptions weren't adequate for this new building type. the primary use of the ground level for display with floor to ceiling glazed curtain walls on three sides certainly made for very dramatic views (from the street as well as from the interior). at that time, curtain walls were a relatively new product and many installations from that era have had to be removed and replaced due to moisture and air leakage.

so barring evidence to the contrary, i'm not prepared to attribute Magic Chef's financial crisis to the building's design and/or cost. perhaps someone has written about the relationship between these issues. business journals from that time period would've likely commented on such things. i imagine someone, somewhere has written about the history of consumer products for the home (and specifically appliance manufacturers) in the post war environment.

i believe a primary emphasis in sales, marketing, and planning at the time was toward selling modern up-to-date equipment, fixtures, and design. this assumption ultimately didn't hold true for the design of single family homes (on a mass market basis). however, modern architecture did become the accepted standard for commercial, industrial, institutional, public, multi-family housing, and many other building types.

i'm always interested to hear people's reactions to Armstrong's work, whether positive, negative, or otherwise.


Magic Chef Bldg. -- thermopane glass advert.

Thermopane glass advert.
Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Co.

Armstrong used Thermopane glazing from the Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company for the Magic Chef Building as well as many other projects, such as his own architectural office and his prototype Missouri Solar Home.

Armstrong had been a proponent of double pane glazing from at least the mid-1930s, before it was commercially available. For his Shanley Buidling of 1935, he successfully used double pane glass by employing his own custom window details.

This full page advertisement appeared in Newsweek and Time magazines. The ad's intent suggests the argument for adopting double pane glass as an industry standard. Glazing manufacturers were working to develop the public's understanding and appreciation for the benefits of such glazing systems in all building types, whether commercial or residential.

Magic Chef Bldg. -- radiant heat advert.

Radiant heat system advert.
Modine Convector Radiation.

An advertisement for "Modine Convector Radiation", the radiant heat system installed in the Magic Chef Building, references the progressive, advanced design and technology employed in its construction.

Armstrong had an enviable ability to promote of his work by capitalizing on advertisements featuring the products used in his buildings. The manner in which this is accomplished positively enhances a readers' perception of both the product and the architect.

Magic Chef Bldg. -- Zonolite advertisement

Zonolite adv.

An advertisement for lightweight poured concrete, Zonolite, published in Progressive Architecture.

Magic Chef Bldg. -- overview

Harris Armstrong's Magic Chef Building was his first major project following the architectural 'drought' of World War II. This project was as significant in Armstrong's career as his early success with the Shanley Building.

The American Stove Company hired Armstrong to design their national headquarters to be located on a major north-south street, Kingshighway, in South Saint Louis. Everything nearby was low rise construction, two to three floors typically. The Kinghighway corridor is a major thoroughfare with many commercial and industrial sites located along its length. The building Armstrong was asked to do involved the executive offices for the corporation, regional offices for various portions of the country, and a large display room to highlight their latest appliances.

At that time, Magic Chef was the largest manufacturer of gas stoves in the U.S. Armstrong was hired by Arthur Stockstrum, chief executive of the company, to do this flagship structure. Since modern design and new technology were integral to the Magic Chef brand, their selection of Armstrong was an excellent choice. However, up to that time, he had not designed any structures that could be characterized as 'high-rise'.

In developing the design, Armstrong created a powerful, functional form that fulfilled many of the requirements in a unified manner. He opened the ground floor to the greatest extent possible with tall glass walls to create the ultimate showcase to display their products. On several levels above the ground floor exhibition area, the regional offices were located within the main rectangular volume. The top floor was reserved for the executive staff.

Armstrong's studies of passive daylighting and solar design brought him to the realization that the primary glazing should face either to the south or the north, where it could be effectively controlled. The east and west walls were largely kept solid to protect the interior from the intense morning and afternoon sun. While Armstrong was already conscious of the significance of these orientations in his early work (such as the Shanley Building), his development of the concept.

14 September 2005

Clayton YWCA, 1953

A winter photograph of Harris Armstrong's YWCA Building in Clayton, Missouri. Armstrong's 1953 building for the Young Women's Christian Association in Clayton, MIssouri. The building is located at 7605 Forsyth Boulevard.

The most unusual feature of the building is the use of steel bar joists in a vertical orientation on the exterior. They function as supports and bracing for the building. In particular, the overhangs at the south side of the building (right side of photograph) are supported in a lightweight fashion, allowing the maximum amount of sun to enter the building during the cold winter months when the sun is low in the sky.

The other key feature of the exterior is the large tree around which the building has been sited. In winter, the lack of leaves allows sunlight to enter the building, while in the summer months the tree provides needed shade where such extensive glazing has been used.

13 September 2005

Glaser Residence -- sketch

A 1948 design by Harris Armstrong for a new home to be constructed on Lindell Boulevard in Saint Louis. This street contains many historic, imposing homes based upon various European nineteenth century precedents (French, English, Italian, etc.). The sources include Neo-Classical, Gothic, Romanesque, Beaux-Arts, and Tudor.

This sketch represents a concept for the house that didn't progress beyond this stage. Armstrong prepared a contract for Joseph Glaser, Jr., but it remained unexecuted.

Armstrong's design draws on the work of Le Corbusier and Alvar Aalto in its exterior composition. Since the primary facade faces south, Armstrong provides a horizontal plane to protect the glazing from the summer sun. The overhang, series of windows, and overall facade composition appears somewhat similar to his design for the Clayton YWCA (sans bar joists).

Armstrong sets the primary facade farther back from the street than the adjacent home which reflects the standard setback. Instead, he inserts an undulating wall enclosing a private garden in the front of the house, creating is essence two courtyards.

12 September 2005

morality and aesthetics in architectural form

The following remarks are a response to a post entitled "Why John Ruskin" on a blog by Meaghan Willard, a student at Taliesin.


you are so right in questioning the application of morality to architecture. i've been thinking about this issue for a long time (at least since graduate school in the mid 1980s) and have found that it leads to many contradictions that cannot be entirely resolved logically.

the fundamental problem stems from philosophy itself and the relationship between morality and aesthetics (check with immanuel kant). the general implication of the comments about 'truth to material', 'organic architecture', etc., is that the creation of such architecture is fundamentally a natural process. and that natural creations are inherently superior to man-made creations. that may or may not be true, but is it because natural form is morally superior than human form? i doubt it.

i believe that we have a love of natural form for romantic reasons, not because they're fundamentally more beautiful. certainly people like plato, corbusier, and other rationalists seemed to suggest that only pure, abstract forms were truly beautiful: cube, pyramid, cone, etc. wright suggests the same thing about the superiority of stereometric forms, but draws very different conclusions in the application of this idea.

personally, i find it difficult to think of form as being inherently ethical qua form. the content and interpretation and use of forms, that's where morality begins to play a part.

when it comes to architecture, the strict separation of form and content can be tricky (and at times impossible). a good saint louis example is saarinen's arch. not too many people think about this reference now, but when the design was revealed, there were serious challenges to its form. a similar monumental arch had been proposed under the fascist regime of mussolini. there were many articles and editorials that denounced the design as inherently fascist. others of course insisted that arches have been used for thousands of years and aren't anymore particular to fascism (nazi, etc.), democracy (u.s., france, etc.), imperialism (u.k., roman empire, etc.). the idea was that the form of an arch had no inherent moral/ethical meaning.

there was even a lawsuit challenging saarinen's authorship of the arch design. the suit was eventually rejected.

anyway, i love the architecture of fllw and the arts & crafts in gerneral. i've tried to read and study these works and the ideas behind them to the extent possible. it generally seems that the intellectual concepts are drawn from ruskin and morris.

within ruskin's own writings there are plenty of contradictions, but his fundamental ideas were/are very powerful and persuasive. from our viewpoint today, some of his arguments are almost absurd. however, in the nineteenth century, the battle of styles was at the forefront of every architects' mind. was gothic architecture morally superior to classical architecture? is the difference in the form? or as ruskin argues, i think, in the manner of its production.

he sees classical architecture as based upon slavery and subjugation of the individual. similarly, he sees gothic architecture as superior because it gave expression to the worker who was not required to copy predetermined forms. hmmm. i'm not so sure about this idea. when you apply it to industrial products, as ruskin attempted to do, you run into all kinds of crazy contradictions.

a book that i love that discussed these ideas in some depth is 'the arts and crafts movement' by peter davey. his position is clear. the architects that insisted that all lumber used on a building be sawn by hand and never using a mechanical lumber mill, were 100% wrong. he sees their approach as fundamentally immoral because it created years of back-breaking work where mechanical equipment would've taken care of this production with little problem.

wright gave an early talk on the use of machines in architectural production that was extremely prescient. clearly he valued the individual expression of the artist (esp. if it was him). but he also understood that the use of machinery in the production of lumber and other materials 'should' change the forms that they take. why should the machine be used to try to falsely emulate hand-carving? its not honest. [is it therefor not beautiful? i believe beauty and morality are two separate categories of judgment, as described by kant.]

the ugliness and poor quality of the machine-made products shown in the great exhibition of 1851 at the crystal palace is often cited as the beginning of the backlash against the industrial revolution, particularly with respect to the applied arts. morris, ruskin, and pugin all expressed their outrage at the declining quality of goods and the increasingly monotonous jobs that factory production creates. [k. marx says a few things about this as well, but generally from the political viewpoint, although he discusses the spiritual destruction of the human being through mechanization.]

so then, is international style architecture, as pushed by people like siegfried giedeon ('mechanization takes command' is one of his books), fundamentally anti-humanist? wright seemed to think so, but then he borrowed forms from them when it suited his purposes (in my opinion, i.e., fallingwater, johnson wax).

for a long time, i took this view, associating modernist, white, abstract architecture as fundamentally inhumane and destructive. i could see clearly how it subjugated the personal expression of the individual craftsman and how it destroyed the context, scale, and detail of cities around the world. truthfully, i associated this kind of modernism with the hierarchical, dominating forms of classical architecture. i saw it more from the viewpoint of the monumental, over-bearing aspect of many classical architecture (really roman architecture and much neo-classical architecture). i didn't see any real democratic expression in arches, domes, symmetry, etc.

i personally favored the gothic, the handmade, the romantic. i think in general, wright did too, although its easy to find precedents for many of his works in beaux-arts architecture. for example, in the monumentality of the hollyhock house or the rigid plan of the imperial hotel. these are obvious, but it appears in more subtle/complex ways in the larkin building and the guggenheim.

anyway, i'm definitely rambling. hopefully, i made some kind of coherent comment (or at least provided some interesting bits and pieces).

i'd be interested to know your thoughts and feelings. i don't expect you to have read everything i have. i'd just like to know your point of view as it is . . .

11 September 2005

Airlines Terminal Bldg. -- sketch

Harris Armstrong's pencil sketch for the main entry for the proposed Airlines Terminal Building. The view shown illustrates the openess of the glass facade.

The undulating canopy over the entry reflects a similar ceiling within the terminal.

Airlines Terminal Bldg. -- perspective

Harris Armstrong's 1943 design for an Airlines Terminal Building in downtown Saint Louis. Located on twelfth Street, the design called for parking below ground level and a transportation hub on the main level. The configuration provided for bus access via the alley behind the building.

The second and third levels were to be reserved for a television and music recording studios. The remaining levels (fourth through twelfth) would be set aside for "general office space" presumably for lease. Setbacks allow for roof gardens at the fourth, seventh, and ninth floors.

The 'T'-square and triangle symbol in the lower right hand corner was Armstrong's logo, forming his initials: 'H' + 'A'.

10 September 2005

Stockstrom Residence -- main entry

A snapshot in winter of the main entry illustrating curved stone wall defining entrance drive. The primary roof slope extends from the cantilever at the entry, over the stone wall, and through the house at a continuous angle to the rear deck.

Stockstrom Residence -- side view

View of the side of the house with the deck looking over the Meramec River valley at the left.

Stockstrom Residence -- private patio

Between the bedroom wing at the left and the free-standing limestone wall is a paved patio. The patio is located on the south side of the glazed solarium that forms a part of the Entry Hall.

Stockstrom Residence -- private / public

At left, the private bedroom wing of the house with a garden nestled between the house proper and the backside of the curving stone wall. To the right of the stone wall is the public circle driveway.

Stockstrom Residence -- entry hall

View looking into Entry Hall toward the front entry. At the right is an indoor garden. Outside beyond the glass wall is a private garden.

Stockstrom Residence -- section

This section drawing cuts through the house from the cantilevered roof overhang at the main entry (far left), through the glazed solarium (steps down with stone walls), through the main living space (with fireplace), to the screened porch and deck at the rear (right side).

Stockstrom Residence -- side view

Armstrong designed the home for Arthur Stockstrom in 1949. It's located on over eleven acres of land at the top of a ridge overlooking the Meramec River valley. The address is 13290 Maple Drive, Sunset Hills, Missouri.

The main entry to the house is located at the far right below the cantilevered canopy that pierces the large curved stone wall.

Behind the curved wall is a private garden. The glassed area at the center of the photograph is a solarium/greenhouse built as part of the main entry sequence.

Stockstrom Residence -- river view, colorized

View from Armstrong's Stockstrom Residence toward the Meramec River valley. The original black and white photograph was "colorized" for publication.

Stockstrom Residence -- entry hall, colorized

This colorized image of the Entry Hall of Harris Armstrong's Stockstrom Residence has been scanned from a water damaged magazine.

The original photograph for this image was black and white. In preparing the image for publication, the colors where applied by hand as part of the printing process.

Stockstrom Residence -- overhang

Stockstrom Residence -- overhang.
Uploaded by Andrew Raimist.

Detail at overhang with heavy timber framing, light wood infill, and stone base.

09 September 2005

Goldman Bookstore, 1933

A bookstore for Lesser J. Goldman designed by Harris Armstrong. The store was located at 386 North Euclid Avenue, Saint Louis, Missouri. I've been unable to find any extant remnants of this shop.