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

Palisade Farmhouse project update, June 2018

We are getting ready to start construction on the Palisade Farmhouse.  The old house will be demolished in the next week or so and the excavation for the new project will follow immediately afterward.

Palisade Farmhouse model image 01.jpg

After a number of interviews, the Owners selected McPherson Custom Builders as the General contractor.  They have extensive experience in the area and their quality of construction is excellent.   

Palisade Farmhouse sketch plan 01.jpg

The costs of construction in the Grand Junction area are considerable less than along Colorado's Front Range.  However, like all projects, the budget is stressed as we try to optimize all the materials selections, balancing long- and short-term costs.

Palisade sunset.JPG

Palisade is a magical place and we are really excited to move to the construction phase.  The lush green valley floor is dramatically surrounded by dry, rugged mesas.  This multi-generational farmhouse will be the anchor for the family peach farm and hopefully contribute a small instance of human scale to this starkly beautiful landscape.

school building architecture - post-war

 Waggener High School, aerial photo

Waggener High School, aerial photo

School building architecture

I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and attended suburban Mayme S.  Waggener High School.  I have written previous posts about Hyper-Attenuated Building Syndrome, and it only recently occurred to me that this building is in fact a prime example.  Its plan proportions are something like 12:1 - a long, lean, learning machine.

What I remember the most is the unendingly-long hallways.  Or maybe I should say "hall", for although there are a few transverse ones, the overall plan of the school is one long, continuous, locker-lined hallway.

 Waggener High School, original building

Waggener High School, original building

The building is also a good example of that kind of generic, bland international style design that was so ubiquitous after World War II and has made most Americans hate Modernism.  The long bands of windows and panels are systemized and designed more for the speed and cost of construction than anything else.  Like a jamb-band live, it could conceivable go on forever.

 Waggener High School, window bands

Waggener High School, window bands

The building opened in 1954, originally as a Junior High School.  It grew as its population expanded and aged and it became a combined Junior and High School soon thereafter.  Anyone who grew up in eastern Jefferson County knows this building not because of its unique character, but because so many of the schools around that part of the county are nearly identical.  Maybe only the red doors, painted in the school colors, distinguishes this building from so many others.

 Waggener High School, side entrance

Waggener High School, side entrance

A machine for learning.  Maybe.  Maybe not so much.