12 February 2010

Origin of the Meatcutter's Medical Clinic

project: Meat Cutter's Medical Clinic.
architect: Harris Armstrong.
date: 1957.
location: 4488 Forest Park Boulevard, Saint Louis, Missouri.
condition: good condition, somewhat modified.

In Saint Louis, the International Amalgamated Meatcutters' Union organized Local 88 in January 1897. Eventually this union became one of the most forward thinking such groups in the United States by creating facilities for the health and welfare of their members.

From a website posted by a president for the organization:
Local 88 was the first labor union in the United States to negotiate "Preventative Health Care" for it's members. In 1958 the "Medical Institute of Local 88" opened its' doors, thanks to its' visionary President and leader, Colonel Nicholas Blassie.

This state of the art medical facility (part of the Local 88 Health and Welfare Trust Fund) offered full-service medical, dental, vision and pharmaceutical services to all Local 88 members.

The Health and Welfare Fund received regular contributions from the companies it represented, thus union members received most services free-of-charge. Many other labor unions, primarily the Teamsters, soon copied this model of health care for their members.

Color photographs by Andrew Raimist, October 2006.

Armstrong ~ perforated stacked bond brick

Uploaded by Andrew Raimist.
project: Meat Cutter's Medical Clinic.
architect: Harris Armstrong.
date: 1957.
location: 4488 Forest Park Boulevard, Saint Louis, Missouri.
condition: good condition, somewhat modified.

Harris Armstrong's design for the Meat Cutter's Medical Clinic pushed many boundaries. It was apparently the first medical clinic created specifically for the members of a union. Armstrong also took the building as an opportunity to experiment with many materials combined in unorthodox ways.

This photograph of a detail of the north face of the building (now part of the expanding Medical Center at Washington University in Saint Louis) faced onto a playground designed as an integral part of the center, so members children could play in a safe environment while their parents sought medical care.

The combination of the stacked bond red brick wall with the rusticated granite seems almost perverse in it's combination of two load-bearing materials in direct contact where the granite is firmly rooted in the ground while the stacked bricks have a somewhat precarious aura.

The slits and slots cut into the brick plane are sometimes blind, but some of them allow for views from the interior out to the playground. Perhaps the idea was to keep the children on their best behavior in a situation where they couldn't be sure whether or not their parents were spying them through a narrow slot.

The sills of the vertical slots feature slate set into the brick coursing. The cuts seem random, but a certain logic suggests itself. The series of slots at the bottom right suggest a bar graph or scientific reading. The four elements are cut into the brick in a way so that two of them align with the stacked bond and the other two cut into a pair of stacks. Either way, the sense of oddly floating bricks over the openings create a curious condition.


The other types of cuts into the wall represented along the base (where the children would be playing) offer a full void, a half void and another vertical slot centered on a vertical joint. The playful, picturesque organization of the cuts in the wall are riffs on these basic themes.

These cuts undermine the sense of solidity normally associated with brick masonry construction. If studied in any detail, they become a source of wonder and curiosity. Perhaps that was sufficient justification for Armstrong: providing a light-hearted, playful dance of voids for the playground.

The other aspect that likely motivated Armstrong was the sheer technical challenge of constructing, detailing and crafting such a wall. One can only imagine the conversations between the masons and the architect in resolving particular details.

Photographs by Andrew Raimist, October 2006.

09 February 2010

Armstrong Residence II will be coming on the market

project: Armstrong Residence II, 1938
location: Oakland, Missouri
condition: excellent, somewhat modified
architect: Harris Armstrong, FAIA

This wonderful, truly one-of-a-kind home will be coming up for sale later this spring. I first heard this news through Ted Wight's blog St. Louis Style. He's posted several exterior and interior photographs of the house recently, one of which you can find here.

I will post more images, descriptions and discussion of this house that will help situate it in the contemporary architectural scene of the late 1930s. In addition, I'll relate the story of Frank Lloyd Wright's visit to the house to visit the Armstrongs as told to me by Louise Armstrong (Mrs. Harris Armstrong).

There are some elements of the International Style (white stucco and corner windows), but I would not generally think of it in those terms. The hipped roof and ornamental treatment of the copper fascias clearly suggest a strong Wrightian influence.

The house has a fundamentally eclectic, almost collage-like blending of styles, materials, forms and references. It has taken me many personal visits over many years and quite a bit of time, effort and thought to gain an appreciation for the complex and sometimes confounding ideas embodied in its design and construction.

This image above is taken from a Parents Magazine article of the early 1940s.  It was the first in a series of articles developed in cooperation with Architectural Forum Magazine in its "campaign to stimulate home building and remodeling".

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