Archives For midcentury modern

At the entrance of Crestwood Hills, a neighborhood in Brentwood in Los Angeles, the sign reads, “Crestwood Hills: an architecturally controlled community.” It all began in 1946 when four musicians returned from war hoping to build homes for themselves around a swimming pool. They placed an ad in the local newspaper to see if anyone else would like to join them, and, astoundingly, 500 families responded. After pooling together their resources, they ended up purchasing 800 acres of a hillside with views of downtown Los Angeles. This group called themselves the Mutual Housing Association, and they saved money by buying materials in bulk and designing similar midcentury modern homes. For the designs they hired A. Quincy Jones, Whitney Smith, and the structural engineer, Edgardo Contini. They believed in progressive ideals, such as the need to create multi-ethnic communities.

Jones and Smith designed twenty-nine plans for the houses, with the majority being slight contrasts on several different plans. This is where the application of the ethos of midcentury modern flourishes: open plans with wide stretches of glass creating the feeling of free space, while also allowing the ability to see to the end of the property; materials were exposed concrete block, redwood siding, and Douglas Fir ceiling planks. Houses, in accordance to the rules of the Mutual Housing Association, respected the orientation of the homes around them, being put at a 45-degree angle to the street, and all were to be a maximum of one story from the street level, so the neighborhood could maintain the appropriate scale to ensure every home had a view of the mountains.

Though many people call them utopian, these were all simple, common sense ideas—the notion that middle-class families could enjoy a remarkable quality of life in a major city through the implementation of simple design principles. TVOA is proud to represent one of A. Quincy Jones and the Mutual Housing Association’s homes: 12449 Deerbrook Lane.

By: David Plick

Fredonia Apartment No. 4, 1963

“Architecture is an act of optimism.”

—from the SCI-Arc website

In 1972, in an act which could be described as revolutionary, or sheer optimism, or both, the influential midcentury modern architect Ray Kappe quit his position as the Founding Chair of the Department of Architecture at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and founded a competing, unaccredited school. This new school (which was its name until they changed it to SCI-Arc) was entirely independent, unbound by bureaucracy, and sought to innovate urban design through unbounded experimentation while maintaining a high ethical code.

Ray Kappe still embodies this paradigm—ethical innovation—in all his work. While he considers himself a modernist, it’s only because he’s inspired by experimentation, rather than the unnecessary, wasteful, and egocentric use of space and materials that some of his contemporaries are known for. Ray Kappe’s designs, from the Benton Residence to the Truckee Public Works Administration Building and Corporation Yard, solidify his importance in the 20th and 21st century canon. But his founding of Sci-Arc cannot be minimized in his importance because this act of defiance in the face of the architecture establishment changed the game and made it acceptable for a whole new generation of architects to think outside the box.

Known for his rigorous and demanding educational model which forced students to exceed their expectations for themselves, SCI-Arc’s alumni include Pritzker Prize Winner Shigeru Ban, the directors Juan Azulay and Todd Fisher, and many designers and artists who have impacted life in Los Angeles and beyond.

The Value of Architecture is very proud to be featuring one of Kappe’s designs: Fredonia Apartment No. 4, 1963, a “striking mid-century modern home [that] represents the best of the award-winning architect’s signature style: clean straightforward design, tall ceilings, floor-to-ceiling glass, a strong connection to the outdoors, and an abundance of natural light.” You can view the complete listing here.

Ray Kappe is an architect’s architect, but he’s also a generous educator and a sympathetic artist whose devoted his life to his environment, family, and to the honest application of his work. The reason why the SCI-Arc website says that “architecture is an act of optimism” is because Ray Kappe is an optimistic person. In his “Ten Most Important Principles of Architecture” the first one is, “Think positively, not negatively.” He’s that special kind of devoted artist who keeps persisting because he truly believes that his work can make the world a better place.

By: David Plick

“Stone likes to be on the ground. It gets nervous and unsettled the higher it gets. Wood loves to be high too, because it was once a tree. Wood does not like to be painted. It likes natural finishes. Brick does not like to be painted. It wants to be brick. Lay brick as a patio and it will thank you every time you walk on it. Stucco and drywall love to be painted. They are unhappy and incomplete when they are not. They mate with the paint for life, like ducks and geese.”

Doug Rucker

Speaking to the architect Doug Rucker is an artistic, spiritual experience. At the risk of sounding sentimental, I would say it’s like speaking to a guru. Rucker, whose homes have been on the AIA Los Angeles Home Tour alongside Frank Gehry, Frank Lloyd Wright John Lautner, and company, has a senstive, holistic approach to design. He believes that “good lines make good shapes”, that “a good line starts decisively, goes somewhere, and stops decisively”, and that “nail on windows are a way of forgetting architecture.” He is a man of convictions, and he applies these convictions wholly and unapologetically to his houses, which have brought joy and comfort to many in Southern California.

Like any guru, Doug Rucker is much deeper than his career accomplishments. In addition to being an accomplished midcentury modern architect, he’s published ten books, has had art galleries featuring his photography, was an improvisational dancer, and a singer in a renaissance group. The Value of Architecture had the privilege of speaking to him about his upcoming book My Midcentury, his approach to designing houses, art, photography, and how all these different art forms construct the fabric of his life.

TVOA: As much as you’re an accomplished architect, you’re also a writer with ten books, and an artist, a dancer and singer. How do these different art forms influence one another? How are your artistic processes similar?

Doug Rucker: I do have a strong background in art. I had the privilege of studying at the Chicago Art Institute. At the architecture school at the University of Illinois we studied art two days a week for four and a half years. Recently, since my retirement, I’ve had my abstract photography in about 100 art shows. I love shooting photos of junk I pick up on the highway: background junk, foreground junk, things that are shiny and reflect light. I photograph the junk in boxes and have shadows move across them.

I’d say that all these art forms are related in that I have a mind that looks to make things completely different. I love improvisational dance. When you get in the habit of improvising, you can do it in any artistic activity.

Curiosity is another thing. I could tell you a quick story. Years ago I almost had a small stroke. It’s called a transient ischemic attack, which is when a small blood vessel in your brain breaks. I wasn’t affected in my thinking except that I couldn’t speak, and I couldn’t add or subtract. I was very tired for three or four months. I laid down a lot and I realized reading helped me get my speech back, so I started reading a 700 page book about the history of Russia. I read that whole damn thing. Then I picked up another book and another book. Then by the end of the year I had read about 30 books. I discovered that after 20 years I had read over 500 books: Stegner, Steinbeck, Somerset Maugham, Virginia Woolf, all that stuff. And I found that reading all that stuff allowed me to consider all these different things that I hadn’t before. I read about the cosmos, religion, atheism. My mind expanded.

I think the transferable qualities in all forms, from philosophy to sports, all come down to this curiosity. And you need the passion and the caring and the motivation to keep learning. That’s the connection between all those things.

TVOA: You mentioned improvisation before. How do you use improvisation in architecture?

Doug Rucker: Any kind of creation is improvisational. In architecture it comes out in the way the architect uses ingenuity to find solutions to problems that arise while building the house. In another sense though, improvisation doesn’t come into play because there are many rules you have to stick to. They have to do with truthfulness and integrity. There are also zoning laws and building codes. Also, the house can’t be so hard to build. Finding a way to make the house work with the rules, though, involves improvisation.

In one sense, architecture is all improvisation. In others, it’s just common sense and logic. For example, the driveway in a house should be close to the door to the kitchen. That way you don’t have to walk so far to carry your groceries. That’s just logic. If an architect finds a way to be improvisational and come up with something original amidst all the rules and regulations, that’s a form of genius right there.

You have to know what the contractor needs, the building department needs, the client needs. And most important: how you want to live your life.

TVOA: What are some problems you see arise in contemporary architecture?

Doug Rucker: There’s been this question of whether or not architecture should be economical or not. Frank Gehry, of course, designs innovative structures with curves and angles, but it doesn’t fit. It’s hard to build and not economical. It doesn’t take into account heating ducts, or economy of any kind. It’s a big waste of money.

I think it’s sacrilegious to see two or three people living in a 20,000 square foot house today. It’s one of the reasons why we have global warming. We have 3 billion people living underneath the poverty level, who don’t have access to water or electricity. How can anyone live in a house that big in this world? It’s horrible. Architecture needs to be more economical than that.

The ego shouldn’t be involved. We shouldn’t be destroying redwood trees or birch trees, cutting down redwood trees to build a house. It just galls me. You have to take into account the world we live in, and the fact that the world is our home. Otherwise, the earth will not sustain itself.

TVOA: It’s very exciting you have a new book coming out. What’s it about?

Doug Rucker: I’ve done about 90 midcentury modern houses, and about 50 remodeling jobs, mostly in the Malibu area, but also in Kauai, Greece, Denver, and Santa Barbara. The book is about what should and shouldn’t be done in midcentury modern architecture.

This form of design had a philosophy behind it. And no architecture styles before it or after had a contemporary philosophy. There was a lot of copying during this time period of colonial styles, Cape Cod styles, etc., but there wasn’t any philosophy behind it. The book is about the role of harmony, the purpose of a house, and the motivation for building a house.

In a midcentury modern, post and beam house, what you see is what you get. We were bringing the outdoors in and the indoors out. We had communication between inside and outside.

The motivation behind it is to make a good house. We live in a house. It’s a home. It’s a place to go to relax. We should love our homes. How can you love it when it’s a piece of junk like a tract house?

Midcentury people wanted to build a good house, and good houses come from what people like. Well, what do people like? As it turns out, they like clouds. They like windstorms. They like soft rain. They like fog as long as it’s not too much fog. They like to see trees and when the wind blows, they like to see the leaves rattle. They like water, not only to swim in, but the sound of it running over pebbles. They love the outside, particularly in California.

By: David Plick

schindler-chase_house_rudolf_schindler_1922_bThe Value of Architecture is proud to have represented and sold homes this year by two Los Angeles architecture legends: Harwell Hamilton Harris & R.M. Schindler. And on Sunday October 2nd the MAK Center for Art and Architecture will host home tours of properties designed by those two, both protégés of Frank Lloyd Wright, and four other mid-century modern masters: Raphael Soriano, Gregory Ain, John Lautner, and James DeLong. Tickets are $90.

Here are some of the designs that you will see on the tour!

Lipetz House (Raphael Soriano, 1936)

Via flickr by J Jakobson

Via flickr by J Jakobson

Orans House (Gregory Ain, 1941)

Via flickr by Kansas Sebastian

Via flickr by Kansas Sebastian

Jules Salkin House (John Lautner, 1948)


Alexander House (Harwell Hamilton Harris, 1940-41)


By: David Plick

551b2c2618160b4e1630baa905016bc91460393856This Sunday, May 1st at 2PM you can tour an important piece of American architectural history right here in Austin—the Barrow Residence by Harwell Hamilton Harris. A protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the fathers of the Midcentury Modern style, and the first dean of the UT School of Architecture, Harris has a house on the market at 4101 Edgemont Drive in the picturesque Mt. Bonnell neighborhood. And TVOA is so lucky to be a part of it.

The American Architectural History:

It all starts with a guy named Frank Lloyd Wright, who was in Southern California attempting to develop his own architectural art form. Harris had seen Wright’s Hollyhock House while he was studying sculpture at Otis Art Institute, and was inspired to study architecture, seeing that it offered tremendous artistic opportunities and challenges with form and design. He enrolled at UC-Berkeley, but was convinced by two guys—R.M Schindler and Richard Neutra—to not study architecture, but rather, to learn by doing. Later, after having his influence come from the International Style of Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier, Harris combined modernist principles to a regionalist approach to design which emphasized using local materials and local culture.

Hence, the Barrow Residence in all its Texan majesty was born.

The Incredible Story Behind the Barrow Residence, as told by Sarah B. Duncan (the current proprietor):

During Harris’s tenure as dean, he became friends with a young architecture student named David Barrow, Jr. At about the same time, David’s father and his Uncle Edward acquired 2000 acres of land north of 38th Street and west of what is now Mopac (Loop 1), which had been occupied by Texas Crushed Stone. Their intention was to develop the land as residential home sites. The Barrows’ role in the development of this area is memorialized in nearby Barrow Preserve and Edwards Mountain.

Although the Barrows had grown up on Windsor Road in the heart of Tarrytown, David Sr. somehow met and fell in love with a woman named Nelle, who had grown up near Johnson City and the LBJ Ranch. When David asked Nelle to marry him, she replied, “I will consider your proposal, Mr. Barrow. But you know I don’t go anywhere without my cattle.” The Barrows later personally selected and purchased this lot because not only did it back up to Camp Mabry where Nelle’s cattle could at that time run free but, as Nelle told my next-door-neighbor in a very charming manner, it was “obviously the best lot.”

Having selected their lot, the Barrows needed an architect. Enter David Jr., who introduced his parents to the new dean. As evidenced by their subsequent correspondence throughout the design and construction process in 1954 and 1955 (maintained, with the home’s original plans, in UT’s Alexander Archives), the Barrows had found their architect. In keeping with mid-century modern principles, Harris and the Barrows designed and built a gracious and beautiful home but no more than was needed—large, open “public” rooms for entertaining; a bedroom and separate bathrooms for Mr. and Mrs. Barrow with an adjoining home office for Mr. Barrow and a “sewing closet” for Mrs. Barrow; a separate bedroom and bathroom for David Jr.; and, of course, several “outdoor” rooms.

David Barrow lived in this home until his death. After the death of her husband, Nelle continued to live in this home until shortly before her death. [Later], Nelle had grown too old to personally tend her garden and asked her son David to build her an addition from which she could at least see her hillside garden of (depending on the season) red columbine or red amaryllis. David of course honored his mother’s request and built a room of glass and, in keeping with the original house, used straight vertical grain fir. Shortly before her death, Nelle sold the house to Peggy Marchbanks, who lived here before selling it to two realtors, Susan and John Gould, who in turn sold it to the Myers. As luck would have it, within weeks after the Myers purchased this house, a home they had both loved growing up, was listed for sale. The Myers bought that home, lived here while renovating it, and listed this one for sale. I purchased the house from the Myers in 2012.

And now this captivating property, which is built for comfortable living where you can host leisurely dinner parties on the deck under the Texas sky, but is also a cherished part of our unique cultural identity and American architectural history, is again for sale. It’s a place where you can get away from the hustle and bustle to get some thinking done, live a peaceful life, yet still reap all the benefits of an urban cultural center. We hope to see you on Sunday!

By: David Plick