historic renovation and preservation

Frank Lloyd Wright in California, 1920s

Frank Lloyd Wright in California

I recently returned from a trip to Los Angeles and when I was there I took the opportunity to visit a number of Wright buildings.  Of particular interest to me were the textile block houses of the early 1920s - the Freeman, Storer, Ennis and Millard houses.

 Ennis House, 1923

Ennis House, 1923

Wright's first major work in California is the Hollyhock house, an explicitly Mayan Revival style fantasy, looking down on the city from its perch on Olive Hill.  It is a strange design for an unusual client and maybe represents Wright's first attempts to shed the Prairie Style compositions of hovering roofs and dominantly horizontal planes.  It is a volumetric construction and the large, blocky, overlapping masses foreshadow the more sophisticated and refined textile block houses that were to follow.

 Hollyhock, 1919

Hollyhock, 1919

The textile block houses are all designed and executed in the same year, 1923, and represent an amazing body of work for an architect testing new materials on challenging and unfamiliar topography.  These houses gradually abandon the explicitly formal aspects of the Mayan Revival style but maintain the surface patterning and volumetric expressions.

 

 Freeman House, 1923

Freeman House, 1923

Each of these houses sit on incredibly steeply sloping sites among the foothills and mountains north of the LA basin.  It is easy to imagine that the choice of building materials - custom patterned, but standardized concrete blocks - was influenced by the technological and logistical challenge of building on significantly vertical terrain.  The use of concrete blocks drive the houses to express themselves in large, muscular volumes, eschewing conventional windows and doors in lieu of glazed openings between masonry masses.

 

 Storer House, 1923

Storer House, 1923

The textile blocks are fascinating and much has been written about their patterns and motifs. My interest lies more with the overall building massing and how these buildings differ so dramatically from the light, seemingly weightless glass and panel construction that we associate with California Modern - the work of Neutra and Lautner, Eames and Eichler.

 

 Ennis House sketch

Ennis House sketch

Wright's architecture extends the rough hillocks of the landscape and acts more like piled up boulders than built constructions.  The textile block houses are masonry constructions, blocks added to yet more blocks, stepping up the hillside and creating sheltered spaces between.

The later work of the California Modernists, so light and airy, sit lightly on the landscape but are clearly not natural extensions of the terrain.  Lautner's Chemosphere is so divorced from its immediate site to only barely touch it at one point.

 John Lautner's Chemosphere - image credit: UCLA Humanities

John Lautner's Chemosphere - image credit: UCLA Humanities

Wright's use of massive, masonry forms in large expressive volumes might be a result of his own internal design process and his progression as a creative architect.  However, I can't help but think that it is also a reaction of a Midwestern architect to the vertiginous building sites, perching on shaking, near-cliffsides sitting on the edge of the continent.  Later architects reacted to these sloping sites by building ever-lighter constructions, buildings softly dropped down from the sky on uncertain earth.  Wright characteristically built his projects from the bottom up, the earth rising up into blocks, inherently and "naturally" tied to their hillsides.

 Storer House sketch

Storer House sketch

Victorian house renovation and addition, west Boulder

 1627 front

1627 front

This project is a large studio building added to an existing 1880's Second Empire style, Victorian era house in west Boulder.  An older, 1970's era studio was located in the same location as the new addition, but its connection to the existing house masked the original houses porch and overshadow the older portion of the house.

The new studio addition, while large, attempts to make subtle connections back to the original older home, using design aspects of the older house, specifically the mansard-set dormers, as cues for creating the new structure.  The connection to the new studio is pushed farther back from the front of the entry porch allowing the older structure to set itself apart more distinctly.  The interior of the connection between the old house and the new studio combines aspects of both new and old, revealing the old stone exterior walls on the new interior passage.

 1627 passage

1627 passage

Overall, the entire design adheres to the best practices of historic preservation - saving and preserving the old while letting the new relate to, but not copy, the original construction.

 1627 dormer

1627 dormer

Project Architect:  Mark Gerwing, AIA

Builder:  Cottonwood Custom Builders, Jeff Hindman and Tom Roberts project supervisors

townhouse renovation, Chicago

 MN stair up

MN stair up

This project consists of a complete renovation of the interior of a traditional townhouse in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood.

The interior of the house is organized around a large, elliptically curving stair made of craftsman wrought-iron and Brazilian cherry treads.  At the center of this stair, at the main house level, an inlaid stone mosaic pattern based on a traditional northern Italian motif dominates the entry hall.

 MN entry

MN entry

Carefully researched traditional trim and detailing was installed throughout the house including a linked series of stone mosaic floor patterns and designs.

 MN LR portal

MN LR portal

Imported carved stone fireplace surrounds were incorporated with new, wood-burning Rumford style fireplaces in the Living Room, Family Room and Sitting Room.

 MN fireplace

MN fireplace

Design by Mark Gerwing as Senior Associate with Kathryn Quinn Architects, Chicago

Project Architect:  Mark Gerwing, AIA

Builder:  Blackmore Construction, Rich Green supervisor

Historic house conversion, Walnut Street, Boulder

 2044 exist house 01

2044 exist house 01

The renovation of this historic Boulder house was part of a larger development project adding 8 additional units in five buildings on this large, sprawling near-downtown lot.

The existing 1890's house was converted into two separate condominium units, one upstairs, one downstairs, utilizing all the existing entries and windows to preserve the character of the structure.  Extensive structural reconstruction was executed after a complete analysis of the existing building was conducted.  The existing rubble stone foundation was repaired and replaced where required and a new internal roof structure was installed to stablize the large gable roofs of the house.  Front-facing existing windows were modified to meet new exiting requirements and maintain their historic materials and character.

 2044 old windows

2044 old windows

The resulting building carefully preserves all of the character-defining aspects of the existing house while adapting it to the demands of the development project and 21st century living.  Our extensive knowledge, experience and familiarity with the City of Boulder's Landmark's designation regulations and demolition ordinance allowed us to design a project that both satisfies the desire for preservation and the need for renovation.