02 December 2008
project: Newman Residence
location: 616 Hickory Hollow Lane, Kirkwood, Missouri
architect: Harris Armstrong
condition: well maintained
This Kirkwood home at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac was designed by Harris Armstrong during his last decade as a practicing architect. Although a modest home it contains the qualities of a canvas waiting to be treated properly by loving owners.
This Kirkwood home is for sale. For further information check here.
Photograph by Andrew Raimist, May 2006.
05 November 2008
location: 5 Indian Hill Road, Ladue, Missouri
architect: Harris Armstrong
client: Dr. Ronald W. Stuebner
condition: no longer extant
The Destruction of a Treasure
by Andrew Raimist, December 1992
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting three Harris Armstrong homes of the 1940s. These houses are Saint Louis architectural treasures, but sadly the finest of the three, the Stuebner House of 5 Indian Hill in Ladue is faced with imminent destruction. It seems that land values in Ladue are so high that the three acres on which the house rests is much more valuable than the house itself. A developer now has an option to buy the property and intends to demolish this Prairie style house to replace it with a more eminently marketable pseudo-colonial facade. The new structure, replacing this work of art, will be an example of just what the ideals of modern architecture meant to replace. Sadly, the retrograde aspects of post-modern design have resulted in a revival of the worst tendencies toward fakery, artificial materials, contradictory structure, and economically driven design resulting in the visual degradation of our community.
Armstrong's Stuebner House of 1939 exemplifies the best achievements of modern architecture: the use of natural materials, honesty of structural expression, an open relationship to a magnificent landscape, and attention to detail resulting in a coherent artistic statement.
The present owners, Judy and Sydney Brilliant, have invested their own resources to update and enhance the house to meet and surpass all of the requirements of contemporary suburban life. They do not have maids, butlers, and nurses as the original owners did, but instead the latest conveniences offered by technology. All of this updating they achieved while keeping within the spirit of Mr. Armstrong's design concept. The Brilliants have unsuccessfully tried to sell the home to a family that appreciates the qualities inherent in it, but are now faced with selling the land for redevelopment.
Harris Armstrong was St. Louis' pre-eminent midcentury modern architect, as has been documented in an exhibit recently on view at Washington University's School of Architecture. His Shanley Building in Clayton went far beyond any work built in St. Louis at the time, both technically and aesthetically. The project was awarded a silver medal at the 1937 Paris Exposition of Art and Technology. Armstrong's houses of the 1930s and 1940s were among the most innovative work being done in the Midwest.
Photograph (scanned from slide) by Andrew Raimist, 1992.
I am currently writing a book on Armstrong's long and fascinating career based on the materials stored in the Harris Armstrong Archives located at Washington University. One purpose of this work will be to increase public awareness of the many wonderful structures that can be found throughout the area, some of which are now threatened with destruction.
I hope the community will begin to recognize the value of these works so they can be preserved and restored, rather than destroyed to make way for the latest false colonial boxes often built as a hollow, short-term investment, as empty in spirit and value as the worst junk bond sham.
28 October 2008
Here are some views of the Stuebner House of 1939 designed by important modernist architect Harris Armstrong. The color photograph of the exterior was taken in 1992 by the author prior to its demolition.
The black and white views that follows were part of a series of photographs commissioned by Armstrong following the house's completion.
Although the current credit crunch and economic crisis is hitting real estate hard, it's unclear how these circumstance will effect high-quality modernist works of cultural and aesthetic value. There's a danger that falling property values will only accelerate the process of destruction. Disturbingly, home builders have learned that a "virgin" site is typically more marketable for those seeking to build multi-million dollar McMansions. So the destruction of these works continues apace even in the absense of a buyer.
17 June 2008
architect: Harris Armstrong.
location: 9001 Clayton Road, Ladue, Missouri.
condition: good condition, somewhat modified.
This photograph was selected as "Photo of the Week" earlier this year for KWMU.org our local National Public Radio Station.
Photograph by Andrew Raimist, 2006.
30 May 2008
The book’s forward (by Richard Gluckman) explains the essential element common to the projects presented. They are not stylistically doctrinaire and have not been selected for polemical reasons. The shared attribute is that these architects share
. . . a willingness to include the client as a participant in the very subjective process of designing a home. The best clients are those who can realistically state their objective criteria and give shape to their subjective criteria, those who push the architect to explore alternatives and who step back at the critical point in the design process to allow the architect the final decision. This book will go a long way toward making better clients and toward making the collaborative exercise a successful adventure.
While the book’s intended audience is thoughtful homeowners with the time, interest and resources to invest in creating an outstanding home for themselves, it is also useful for a residential architect in reflecting on the methods and approaches other architect’s employ to “bring their clients along” in understanding and participating in the design and construction process.
Perhaps the book’s greatest use would be by architects who suggest the book to their client as a thoughtful, useful primer. The reader will develop an appreciation for the vocabulary and an understanding of the various factors impacting residential design. While the book is generally oriented toward contemporary “clean design", it is not heavily slanted toward a modernist, minimalist aesthetic. Rather the overall atmosphere depicted feature natural materials, expressed structure, and open day-lit rooms without an excessive use of ornament, stylistic games, or other fetish based characteristics.
Complementing the often stunning architectural photographs of completed interiors and exteriors are a select presentation of models, plans, elevations, and sections. The images and text are generally geared toward the non-professional reader who isn’t familiar with architectural terminology or design methodology.
The Essence of Home compares favorably with Sarah Susanka’s series of books beginning with The Not So Big House. In many ways it provides more coherent, philosophically grounded arguments addressing function, design, materials, sustainability, and usability. These ideas are explained in a meaningful, direct yet informal manner. There’s a consistent clarity of aesthetic intent and convincing built results. Ms. Geiger intelligently uses the excellent examples of contemporary home design rather than using the book as a marketing tool to present her own work as the Not So Big books have tended to do. The tendency toward establishing a personality cult and the inherent eclecticism fundamental to Ms. Susanka’s design approach weakens her arguments and tends to suggest that stylist affectations are interchangeable qualities that can be applied to any “good design”.
Geiger’s approach allows the multiplicity of factors impacting home design (site, climate, sustainability, materials, personalities, and spatial complexity) to work synergistically in favor of well-grounded, coherent homes allowing aesthetic intentions to encompass and coral the many factors pulling projects in opposing directions.
Some of the concepts addressed include the intimate scale of the human body, perception of far and near landscape contexts, addressing regionally appropriate design (akin to the concept of Critical Regionalism), the use of local materials and crafts craftsmanship, the importance of natural light and of shading devices, and the appropriate use of artificial light.
The homes depicted tend to be high-end, expensive homes where concessions to tight budgets are not a significant constraint although a range of costs and finishes are presented. The functional division of a home into public and private realms is explained. The interiors generally feature contemporary furniture and art work with an informal, flexible aesthetic approach. The ideas of sustainability and value of recycling buildings are introduced.
The book is organized around seven fundamental elements of design. Each element has a chapter devoted to it. These elements are: design origins, site and scale, language and style, openings and light, spheres of living, flow of space, and sustainability.
The locales range across North America, including the East Coast, West Coast, Southwest, Northwest,
All images are from the Essence of Home: Timeless Essence of Design, fully copyrighted, and may not be reproduced.
25 March 2008
18 March 2008
This will be held at the St. Louis Art Museum at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 3 by Robert McCarter, architect, author, architectural historian, scholar and recently appointed professor at the College of Architecture, Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in Saint Louis.
Robert McCarter will talk about the Usonian Houses of which has included the Kraus House in Kirkwood where it has been restored as a house museum as well as Wright's Prairie and Concrete Block Houses.
The lecture is FREE and open to the public!
For more information, please contact Joanne Kohn, Chairman of the Board, at 314-822-8359 or firstname.lastname@example.org
06 March 2008
Check listing here.
You can view a series of photographs, drawings, and text describing the house here.
04 March 2008
11 February 2008
In response to the question, "Why is there a Harris Armstrong modern house way out in Moberly?" I've written the following:
I suspect the "story" behind this house is rather interesting indeed. The house is unusual for many reasons: it's design, it's client, it's location, and the fact that Armstrong did not seem to have taken any pictures nor published any articles about it.
In being an International Style / Art Deco / Art Moderne influenced design made a great deal of sense in relation to Armstrong's having won a Silver Medal from the French Government for the Shanley Building (Clayton, 1935) at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts) that year (i.e., 1937). Armstrong designed very few houses in this mode: using white stucco, flat roof, cantilever, and other European modernist attributes. The closest examples would be two cubic white painted brick homes: the Cori Residence in Glendale of 1935 and the Deffaa Residence in South Saint Louis of 1937.
The design is striking in its strong emphasis on the garage as the house's most striking visual element. In the 1930s, the design of garages on homes typically involved hiding the car altogether or creating garages that appeared to be carriage houses. Armstrong's love of long classic cars (see photo of Armstrong with his Rolls Royce) is reflected in the design although I don't know what sort of car the house's client owned. Armstrong's rendering for the Shanley Building published in 1935 features just such a car.
The client for the house was apparently a husband and wife with the family name Green. Armstrong's drawings for the house do not indicate the client's name nor the house's address. The set of construction documents is simply titled "A House to be Built in Moberly, Missouri." Why the name and location of the house were kept "secret" is a mystery.
Some possible explanations (purely speculative) for Armstrong's apparent lack of acknowledgment and promotion of the project include:
1. A stipulation that the location and owner's name be kept anonymous.Regardless the reason for the house's anonymity, Armstrong was careful to save the drawings and specifications for the project in his office files following his retirement from active practice in 1967 (some thirty years later). The perspective sketch of the house is taken from the title page of the specifications for its construction.
2. A disagreement between Armstrong and the owner's during the course of the construction.
3. Armstrong may have been dissatisfied with the result.
Some anecdotal, unsubstantiated stories from a recent owner of the house suggest the idea for an overtly modernist house in a rural town in mid-Missouri was the wife's idea. It seems Mr. Green was reasonably successful financially. He may have married someone from a more "cultured" urban part of the country. Apparently she was either trained as an interior designer or was fascinated with the Art Deco mode of interior design that was then viewed as being up-to-date and cosmopolitan.
After having made a substantial investment in the design and construction of the house, it seems the Greens didn't remain there for more than a year or two. Whether this was due to business opportunities, financial difficulties, personal issues, or other problems is not known.
Although Armstrong designed works throughout the Midwest and by the end of his career, throughout the United States, the Moberly house seems unusual in being located in a largely rural town far removed from Missouri's major metropolitan centers (Saint Louis and Kansas City). While Moberly is today within commuting distance of Columbia (where the University of Missouri is located), I'm not sure the roads of the 1930s in that area would have allowed for that kind of regular automobile transportation.
The house stands out dramatically contrasting the other homes and buildings in Moberly. Facing onto a substantial farm, the horizontal line of the garage and its cantilevered roof seem to relate the house to it's site in relatively flat, plains landscape. A railroad track cuts diagonally across the area, bringing a note of modernity and industry to this generally rural area. Some local residents have suggested the unusual house was known as the "Boat House" for many years, probably due to certain details that suggest a steamship such as pipe railings and an external spiral stair.
Armstrong was adept at documenting, photographing, and publicizing his work. Especially during the 1930s during the Depression, he was constantly looking to find clients sympathetic to modernist design. Making a living designing modern buildings in the generally conservative atmosphere of Saint Louis at the time was practically impossible without other means of support. Armstrong's wife Louise sold real estate and took on other jobs to help keep their small family fed and housed.
So why this project was simply known as "House to be Built in Moberly, Missouri" without photographs or other documentation remains a mystery. Perhaps evidence of the Green family, their business, and activities in the area are known to some area residents or recorded in a library or historical society.
I'm looking forward to the house being purchased by a sympathetic owner who might uncover more of the house's secrets and bring it back to a state allowing for its proper appreciation and enjoyment."
Photograph by Andrew Raimist, April 2007.
03 February 2008
location: Moberly, Missouri.
architect: Harris Armstrong, FAIA.
The house definitely needs some TLC, but the essence of the original Art Deco / Moderne house is intact.
Following is information describing the house and its context based on the owner's description.
• price: $65,000.
• bedrooms: three bedrooms.
• area: approximately 1600 square feet.
• heating and cooling: original gas furnace and a 20 year old air conditioner.
• other rooms: living room, kitchen, utility room, breakfast nook, library/dining room.
• flooring: original wood floors at the stair, upstairs hallway and "master" bedroom; the original wood floors may be hidden by carpet in the other two bedrooms; living room and dining room are also covered with carpet and may have the original hardwood floors beneath; the original rubber floor in the entry way is hidden beneath linoleum; bathroom floor may also feature original rubber floor covered by linoleum.
• bathrooms: one bathroom with "split design"; shower & tub with sink in one room and toilet with sink in the adjacent room.
• two floors: yes.
• basement: no basement; there is a crawlspace about 2 feet deep with an access door.
• lot size: about 2/3 acre.
• location: quiet street, with a very large farmer's field under cultivation directly across the street; most neighbors are retired or older working adults; no small children in the immediate area; safe, friendly environment.
• reason for sale: owner is moving out of state; owner is interested to sell to someone interested in preserving and enhancing the house.
You can view a series of images of the house I've posted to my Flickr photostream here.
You can find Armstrong's original perspective sketch of the house here.
Photograph by Andrew Raimist, April 2007.
01 February 2008
This house is available for sale to someone interested in a 1930s modernist home near Columbia, Missouri. The house has many of its original fixtures and moldings.
Drawing courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.
16 January 2008
[You can find the original uncropped screenshot here.]Brick City posted the above image under the title "City Struggles." Along with the image are the following questions:
What do we do with areas like this?
Do we let a developer come in and create a New Town St. Charles or Winghaven? Do we build suburban style housing on the existing street grid? Do we restore the homes that are currently here and build historic replicas around them?
What should we do?
Of the three alternatives you've laid out, I would answer, "No, no, and no."
Bringing in a developer to wipe a clean slate (bulldoze history, culture, and people) might be economically viable, but it displaces the existing residents literally and figuratively. This is wrong. Not merely in a moral sense, but with respect to the overall costs to society and the environment. Displacing people and communities simply pushes problems around and creates a defensive, separatist attitude.
Building suburban style housing on the existing street grid would be disastrous. The street itself would be destroyed except for the use of the automobile. If you're going to go suburban, you might as well rip up the sidewalks. It won't really matter all that much if you maintain the street grid or modify it. The suburban house is a poor model to follow in general and in an urban setting, it is positively destructive and deadening. It results in people being alienated from their environments and from each other.
Restoring the existing homes should absolutely be considered. Even if the cost is greater than the cost of demolishing and rebuilding, there is a sense of history and place inherent in these structures that can help to guide new construction in the area. A completely clean slate is a bad way to start. Why? Because it allows developers / builders / designers to effectively ignore the context and the site's history. Doing so paves the way for anonymous, lowest common denominator, completely "non-offensive" real estate driven investment (i.e. profiteering).
What should we do? Let me think of this a little, although I believe there is a suggestion in my above comments of the appropriate course of action which mediates between complete obliteration of the existing fabric and an attempt at historical replication.
An outline: Rebuild using the principles established by the urban design as it existed. That is, replicate the conceptual fabric for creating a new community that is based directly upon the pre-existing situation. Then, build structures that are honest, direct expressions of the needs, functions, materials, and construction methods used in creating the new homes.
So the figure-ground image of the fully developed neighborhood might resemble the pre-existing figure ground (but not replicate it). The homes would varying in style and type. The homes would not need to necessarily be brick or follow the typology of the existing buildings. Consideration for the existing buildings should be a factor in the design of the new structures, but not the primary determinant of the exterior form.
Otherwise, the exteriors become false masks over suburban crap without character or meaning.
Does that help at all?
11 January 2008
Here's a quotation from Eames Demetrios:
These stamps were designed by the remarkable Derry Noyes, who design[s] many of the stamps for the US Post Office. The first inklings of this possibility were 10 or 12 years ago when we (I am wearing my Eames Office hat here) first answered a request for research images.Did anyone save some sheets of the Noguchi stamps of a few years back?
There is a wonderful familial connection there, as Derry is the daughter of Eli Noyes, who was an extremely close friend of Charles and Ray’s and the director of design at IBM.
Slowly over this time period it blossomed to a full on set of 16 stamps to celebrate the richness of Charles and Ray’s work. We see the Eames House, La Chaise, the Lounge Chair, Crosspatch, House of Cards, the film Tops and more.
Just think: How many Toys are on stamps? How many short films? This is just a great thing.
04 January 2008
The book is the brain child of Jamie Cannon, FAIA. He and his unfailing wife Mary Jo are to be congratulated for taking a good idea, doggedly pursuing it, locating funding, soliciting written and visual contributions, editing and organizing them, arranging for excellent graphic design and high quality printing. If nothing else, the book is a professionally executed document of the thoughts, history, works, and advice of highly recognized and accomplished architects in this time and place (something worthwhile of itself).
The book’s structure and layout (graphic design by Kiku Obata) is appropriate to the task of communicating each architect’s experiences, views and opinions on architecture as a meaningful, fulfilling profession. Each Fellow is allotted one chapter to offer advice, knowledge, and experience based upon their own personal history.
The range of viewpoints and experiences is fortuitous including several designers of the highest caliber; practitioners involved a range of building types & scales, and successful architects working in private, public, and not-for-profit organizations. In addition to the more “stereotypical” career paths expected, individuals included represent dedication to architectural education, community activism, local politics, and historic preservation.
Given its format, twenty brief chapters each authored by one Fellow, the book is an easy read. It can be viewed in discrete moments since each chapter features one Fellow’s writing with accompanying illustrations. The book includes examples of world-class architectural photography and design.
The inclusion of sketches, paintings, and personal memorabilia provides a wonderful sense of the individual behind the words and images. Poignant illustrations include a young Al Fuller in aviation gear, Gene Mackey’s evocative sketches, Dinos Michaelides’ Athens Polytechneion student ID, and Lou Saur’s objective yet personal record of his father’s workshop.
Each architect has taken their own approach in developing their essay. Some offer opinions and advice for young aspiring architects. Others recount their educational and professional experiences in a manner that reveals the sometimes serendipitous nature of the development of a life.
Some writings are philosophical and even polemical. I welcome the thoughtful commentary on architectural topics (Obata on design; Odell on the creative process) as well as societal issues (Cotton on economics; Danna on community outreach). The essays implicitly or explicitly address the impact of the culture of modernism. This generation of architects has experienced first-hand massive societal changes on a global scale -- economic, political, and military -- during the mid to late twentieth century.
(Photograph by Robert Pettus, p. 19).
These architects were generally educated in the context of modernist philosophy of the post WWII era. The extent to which they respect and draw inspiration from works of the past is heartening. The fundamental importance of architectural history is evident. While International Modernism theoretically rejected the forms and habits of history, it’s clear that each of these architects has been informed and enlightened by visiting and studying the canonical architectural forms of the past (European, Mediterranean) as well as benefiting from non-traditional sources of inspiration (Asian, vernacular).
These architects are invariably strong, independent minded thinkers and doers who’ve made substantive contributions to the profession. While the realms in which their activities vary including corporate offices, university buildings, and housing for the wealthy and the displaced, they generally demonstrate the validity of George Nikolajevich’s thesis regarding the imperative role of the individual of intelligence, will, determination, and belief.
While such sentiments may bring to mind authoritative architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, Nikolajevich makes clear the critical importance of meaningful collaboration between an architect and his or her client, consultants, and associates when he writes, “ . . . a design team resembles a jazz band where the individual member’s expression remains intact, and at the same time has a transformative effect on the work of other team members” (p. 91).
Some aspects detract from the book’s overall strengths. The quality of the texts vary revealing the extent to which architects may prefer the use of the written word over visual and oral communication. One approach to overcoming this limitation would be to conduct interviews of those architects who express themselves especially well through the spoken word. Of course such an undertaking would involve considerably more effort and expense.
Other details could be improved upon in subsequent versions and I do hope this kind of collaborative effort for the benefit of young professionals will be repeated in the future. Providing an index would be helpful for contemporary readers as well as for future historians. These architects are invariably connected with one another professionally, educationally, and/or personally. Providing an index would be a meaningful step toward integrating these individual essays into an even more coherent, cohesive document.
Another way to expand the book’s scope would be to mount an exhibition, conference, roundtable discussion or other similar event from which many stories would undoubtedly emerge of historical interest and of practical use for young architects starting out along with the added benefit to young architects of the opportunity to personally meet these esteemed professionals.
While the list of St. Louis Chapter Fellows, Gold Honor and Gold Medal Recipients, provided (p. 164) offers some background and context, a variety of additional features could meaningfully expand its scope and impact. A timeline and/or brief history of the St. Louis Chapter AIA would help to place these essays into a meaningful, well-rounded context. Similarly, an essay by a historian familiar with the development of the architectural profession in St. Louis would help to flesh out the overriding concerns and themes forming the implicit context of individual careers. Of course, there have been several worthwhile publications addressing such concerns including Modern Architecture in St. Louis, The Way We Came, A Guide to St. Louis Architecture, and the many excellent Landmarks Association publications.
It takes special people with unusual focus and determination for a project of this nature to balance an individual’s desire to protect and enhance their legacy for the collective benefit of the profession and our culture. My hat is off to Jamie Cannon for following through on his idea, bringing it into realization with quality, personal meaning, and further benefiting the future of our profession.
Finally, I want to make reference to the excellent essay by Robert W. Duffy for the book's Foreword. I commend it to you as a succinct expression of the power and meaning architecture can have for people and communities unknown to the original architect. I will address his evocative text in a future blog entry.
St. Louis, Missouri
Friday 4 January 2008