historic preservation

New Harmony, Indiana

New Harmony, Indiana

Recently, I took the opportunity to break up a long road trip to visit one of my favorite Midwestern places, New Harmony, Indiana.

Sitting on the border between southern Illinois and Indiana, along the Wabash River, sits New Harmony, Indiana.  Founded in 1814 by a group of religious separatists similar to the Shakers, the town consisted of 180 buildings, but was bought in its entirety by Robert Owen, a wealthy industrialist from Wales.  His communitarian society was an utopia experiment in social reform but was short-lived. What they left was a remarkable series of buildings and realized urban plan:

New Harmony house 02.JPG

Throughout its history, New Harmony has attracted philosophers, theologians, scientists and most importantly reformists, interested in the ideas and promise of communal living.

That spirit is incorporated in the Working Men's Institute building and in Philip Johnson's 1960 interdenominational Roofless Church:

Roofless Church 02.JPG

This is a beautiful space and surely his best work, - a tall brick rectangular wall with the 'church' structure sitting to one side.  The space of this outdoor room is very striking, made the more so by a single, modulated opening looking out on the floodplain of the Wabash River.

Roofless Church 01.JPG

This building in a sense spans the cabins of the original founders and the Atheneum Visitors Center by Richard Meier (not built at the time of Johnson's work).  The Atheneum is other-worldly, a graceful, pure white, vision.  I am sure it was not intentional, but it feels a bit like a nineteenth century steamboat pulled up to a dock, an apt allusion for a visitor's center.

atheneum 01.JPG

New Harmony was intentionally separated from the mass of society and it still remains a bit isolated in rural southern Indiana.  I know of no other place that within the space of a few blocks you can wander around almost 200 years of remarkable American architecture.  Well worth a visit

Project Updates, Sept 2017

Project Updates, M. Gerwing Architects

As the summer comes to a close, we have a number of great project under construction in Boulder.

West Arapahoe existing house.JPG

We are well under way with the tricky excavation below a 100-year old house on West Arapahoe.  We will be placing the old brick house on a new concrete foundation and then constructing a new addition to the recently Landmarked property.

 

South Boulder renovation.JPG

Framing is just starting on two projects in South Boulder.  Above, a new second-story addition and two tower-like smaller additions are going to be added to a classic, 1960s ranch house, maintaining its mid-century form and subtle brick coursing.

Also in early framing is this house, below, alongside Martin Park in South Boulder.  A large, traditional gable-front addition will more than double the size of the existing house and compliment its prominent corner location.

 

Martin Acres renovation and addition.JPG

Finally, our carefully crafted large addition on Vassar Drive is coming to a close.  The rails and stairs are being installed and final painting and details are being executed in anticipation of our client's move-in.  This project has been a great collaboration between ourselves and the clients and we are really looking forward to seeing the house occupied and used as we have been dreaming of and working toward for many months.

 

adobe, churches and some thoughts on walls

adobe, churches and some thoughts on walls

I recently took a brief trip down to Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico and drove along the scenic High Road to Taos.  Of course, along the way, in addition to stopping off to admire the vast chaparral landscape, I stopped at a number of the old adobe churches that are some of the oldest still-standing buildings in North America.  

 

Las Truces, New Mexico

The dominant building material here is adobe - mud and straw bricks, left to dry in the sun.  As you can see in the photo above, the adobe walls are usually coated with another clay/mud layer that helps to protect the exterior surface and renders the entire building into a massive, monolithic volume.

 

Rancho del Taos, New Mexico

Further accentuating the bulging masses, the height of the unsupported adobe walls required buttresses, not unlike classic North European cathedrals, to keep the walls vaguely vertical.  In the case of many of the churches, these buttresses at the front and corners of the building, were integrated into the wall planes of the church.  The overall effect is one of a gigantic lump of clay, albeit hollowed out for occupation.

 

adobe chapel sketch

These massive structures dominate the landscape, and although they do not in any way try to meld sympathetically with the immediate topography, the consistency of color and form of the slathered adobe, makes them clearly native to their environment.

 

adobe chapel

These are sacred spaces, but also buildings of oppression, often severe.  In most cases, they are the only building over 1 story high and clearly the pride of their communities.  They dominate the landscape and it would seem, at least at one time, the lives of the villages they inhabit.  Their impressive stature lies not in their ornament or even craftsmanship, but their bulk, unyielding and stoic, baking in the landscape.