Mixing up ages in España

I don't speak or read Spanish, but I think I sense that this construction for multi-family living has generated un intenso debate, as mentioned in an earlier post from Plataforma Arquitectura. What I glean from the sometimes absurd translation provided by an online automatic translator widget, is that the the outrage is partly induced by the fact that the money and/or idea behind the construction belongs to an actor, and the buildings are seen as Disney-like movie sets. There's something about "it sails along the oceans of the Fake. It is like the fossil of Hello Kitty, or a Mickey Mouse."

Oh, well. I am always drawn to the melding of ancient with new when the sensibilities are in agreement, and I think these apartments are kind of cool . . . – GF
via Plataforma Arquitectura

HAHA! Joke's on me – the whole thing is fake, even the "old" part! see the comment left by David at P.A. Thanks, David!

Dressing up a trailer, then and now.

Although I have absolutely no numbers with which to back up my hunch, I would bet that dressing up a trailer – or drastically modifying it as the case seems be with the TrailerWrap Project – isn't going to be any less expensive than building a modest little modern house from scratch.

I have the same suspicion of shipping container houses. Just getting those behemoths settled on the site seems daunting . . .

Marcel Breuer wrapped his trailer way back in 1949 or so. His Wolfson Trailer House surrounds a 1948 Royal Mansion Spartan Trailer, which serves mostly as the house's kitchen and dining area. I think the house and studio on 10 acres in Duchess County, NY, is still for sale by our friend, the painter David Diao. – GF

Noticed on Freshome. (container photo: Leger Wanaselja Architects)

Industrial Modern

I confess to a mild fascination with old industrial cities and districts to the point where I was a bit disappointed, during a trip to Pittsburgh in September, to learn that the steel mills, which had been located along the Allegheny River (or was it the Monongahela? I already forget) and had been shut down in the early 1970s, were in fact torn down. I would have loved to see them.

I love the handful of Precissionist paintings of Charles Sheeler's that I've seen; they turn industrial buildings into modern art (there are a bunch here).

One of the stories on the Times' list of most-emailed stories was Nicolai Ouroussoff's Arts & Leisure piece about Buffalo, an old industrial city if there ever was one. Here's an excerpt:

Buffalo was founded on a rich tradition of architectural experimentation. The architects who worked here were among the first to break with European traditions to create an aesthetic of their own, rooted in American ideals about individualism, commerce and social mobility. And today its grass-roots preservation movement is driven not by Disney-inspired developers but by a vibrant coalition of part-time preservationists, amateur historians and third-generation residents who have made reclaiming the city’s history a deeply personal mission.

At a time when oil prices and oil dependence are forcing us to rethink the wisdom of suburban and exurban living, Buffalo could eventually offer a blueprint for repairing America’s other shrinking postindustrial cities.

Touring Buffalo’s monuments is about as close as you can get to experiencing firsthand the earliest struggles to define what an American architecture would look like.

The city’s rise began in 1825 with the opening of the Erie Canal, which opened trade with the heartland. By the end of the 19th century the city’s grain silos and steel mills had become architectural pilgrimage sites for European Modernists like Erich Mendelsohn and Bruno Taut, who saw them as the great cathedrals of Modernity. In their vast scale and technological efficiency, they reflected a triumphant America and sent a warning signal to Europe that it was fast becoming less relevant.

The whole thing is worth reading (here). One of the points it made implicitly was about Frank Lloyd Wright's longevity. Ouroussoff writes about FLW's Dwight D. Martin House. Gina looked at the photo and said she really didn't love the house; I agreed. But then we looked at the date -- it was built in 1905, a modern building that predates Modernism. Although we still don't love it, you have to admire the innovation. -- ta

Visit Johnson's Alice Ball House This Weekend

If you've been hoping to get a good look at a Philip Johnson house and haven't wanted to pay the $30 or $45 for a tour of the Glass House, you can get a discount tour this weekend of a house in New Canaan that isn't as nice as the Glass House but is way more controversial. And the $15 fee helps support a good Modern House cause -- the restoration of the Landis Gores Pavilion in New Canaan's Irwin Park.
alice ball house front and side
The house is Johnson's Alice Ball House, at 523 Oenoke Ridge Road. The New Canaan Historical Society is sponsoring the tour from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, November 15, and Sunday, November 16. Here's the webpage. Everything we've written about the Alice Ball House is here. And there's a post about the Gores Pavilion from my other blog, here. (Thanks to Jane Campbell, the Modern House Notes reader who told us about the Alice Ball tour.) -- ta

Old and Modern On One Lot in Our Neighborhood

One of the first families of European descent to settle in our town was named Fancher. There are still some Fanchers around, and one of the older roads in town is called Fancher Road. On a small knoll at one of its bends is a saltbox house that, we think, was a Fancher house, although Fanchers haven't lived in it for decades.

It is small and, from the outside, nicely proportioned. Until recently it was painted a light yellow. Then it went on the market and was sold within the last year. Excavation work began at the rear of the house, and the shell of what appeared to be a classic modern house began to take shape. That's not all that unusual -- people around here buy small old houses all the time and then expand them, and the additions often look in their early days like modern houses, until the peaked roofs and clapboard and fake shutters go on.

But the peaked roof and clapboard and fake shutters never went on this house. The flat roof stayed. The sides, instead of clapboard, revealed themselves to be glass alternating with gray fieldstone. The salt box had a new portico added to the front and was painted a light bluish-gray and then, within the last couple of weeks, a brownish red.

We haven't done any research yet. But it's been interesting to watch. Pound Ridge is known for its modern houses -- modest compared to the masterpieces next door, in New Canaan, but in some ways nicer for the way they fit into the landscape. Ours was built in 1939 and was one of the first dozen of so, probably, ever built in Westchester County.

At last year's New Canaan Historical Society Modern House Day, architect Peter Gluck said he did not know of one modern house being built in the metropolitan area. Further up Fancher Road, where the name changes to Barnegat Road, a friend of ours is building a modern house (and doing it himself). And now there's this one. We also have a strong local history. As I mentioned, some Fanchers still live in the area, and on one stretch of nearby road the descendants of two of the families that founded the town in the 1720s still live with half a mile of each other.

This house manages to combine the historical and the modern in a way we like (although I'd be surprised if some of our neighbors aren't grumbling: when our friend on Barnegat was before the Planning Board for approval, one philistine on the board compared his house to a double-wide trailer).

As I said, we haven't looked into it much yet, but when we get a chance we'll go to the building department, find out the name of the architect and report back. It's been fun to watch it being built and it'll be fun to see how it ends up. - ta

Daphne, Christ-Janer, Landis Gores

The fellow at the MCArch blog doesn't post often but when he does he writes about choice houses new to the market and, as his blog title implies, from the mid twentieth century. The other he wrote about this terrific house, known as the Daphne residence, in Hillsborough, California. There are a lot more good pictures on his blog, here. And scroll down to see his post called "Who is Jack Viks?" He's also way into Neutra and has good stuff about him and his houses.

In our part of the world a house designed by Victor Christ-Janer, for himself, in New Canaan in 1949, just came on the market. Until I figure out how to get a photo off the realtor's site, here's a link. When Christ-Janer died last May, the Times wrote of him:

Like the far-better-known Marcel Breuer and Philip Johnson , Mr. Christ-Janer helped transform the town from a haven of traditional Colonial-style homes into an incubator for distinctive Modernist dwellings as well.

It also says he designed the New Canaan Post Office, which isn't particularly distinguished, and a market, which probably was Walter Stewart's, on Elm Street, near the train station. Its site says:

In 1957, Stewart's moved to our current location on Elm Street. The unique, concrete dome roof and extensive glass frontage were considered avant garde at the time.

Christ-Janer was also a developer who built a rather ugly condo development down the road in Vista, which is in Lewisboro, New York, and when Gina had her design studio on Main Street, New Canaan, 15 years ago, Victor was her landlord.

There's also a house on the market on Wahackme Road, in New Canaan, that was partly-designed by Landis Gores. His widow, Pamela Gores, told me that the house had been a rather undistinguished ranch but that the owners hired Landis to design a pavilion for it, as she called it. Here's the listing. -- ta

Mod Cape Cod

Seems like now would be a great time of year to visit Cape Cod and see houses that the Cape Cod Modern House Trust is working to preserve, especially if you sightsee by canoe, the way the author of the latest Design Within Reach Design Notes newsletter did. – GF

Photos from top:
Weidlinger House. Photo by Bill Burke, courtesy of Tom Weidlinger.
Weidlinger House. Photo by Maddeline Weidlinger-Friedli, courtesy of Tom Weidlinger.
Hatch House. Photo by Jack Hall, courtesy of Noa Hall.

Presidential Seating

We're not really sure what to do with this chair. Gina's aunt and uncle, who lived in our house before we did, bought it ages ago. It was designed by Hans Wegner and it's something of a Danish Modern icon but it's not really a living room chair, we don't need it in our bedroom, and we have only one so we can't use it at our dining table (the seat looks pretty shiny and it's highly possible that Gina's uncle, in is dotage. had it covered in Naugahyde). [NO! Not true – it is original, beautiful leather, and the only piece we have of theirs that isn't marred by careless everyday use. – GF]

But as I was clicking through our blogroll this morning, I learned on Mid-Century Modernist (which learned from the New York Times) that there is a use for the chair -- you sit in it attentively while waiting your chance to rebut. It's called the PPS 503 chair and nicknamed the Kennedy Chair. Of course if the 1960 election had turned out differently, it might have been called the Nixon Chair.

Feel free to add your own jokes about what the Obama Chair or the McCain Chair might look like. -- ta

Staying in a Wright House

Terry Teachout, an arts writer, spent a few days in Frank Lloyd Wright's Penfield House and then blogged about it. The post is here and although you have to read through the narrative of his entire trip, and more, to get to his impressions of the house, they're worth reading:

The Penfield House is one of six Wright-designed houses that can be rented on a short-term basis. It's located in Willoughby, a quiet suburb east of downtown Cleveland. The house isn't visible from the road--it's in the middle of thirty acres of heavily wooded land--and you have to look closely to spot the Cherokee-red gate which tells you that you've gotten where you're going. You push open the gate and drive down the gravel road, and all at once the house comes quietly into view, a simple two-story home built out of glass, wooden beams, concrete blocks, and light tan asbestos-and-concrete panels. Like all of Wright's Usonian houses, the Penfield House seems to melt into the landscape rather than dominating it. As you pass through the unostentatious entrance, you feel as though you're still out of doors, for one of the walls of the twelve-foot-high living room is made almost entirely of glass, and the ceiling and floor extend beyond the glass wall in such a way as to create the illusion that the house is wide open to the surrounding woodland. The Chagrin River is nearby, and Paul Penfield, the owner, has cut a trail through the woods, making it possible for guests to wander at their leisure. Even though the house is only twenty minutes from downtown Cleveland, the city feels as though it's on the far side of the world. One afternoon I sat in the living room watching the leaves fall, and a half-dozen deer sauntered through the yard as though I didn't exist. ...

[One definition of a true Manhattanite is a person who is still enchanted by deer.]

At night we drove into the city to dine and see shows, but we came back to the house as soon as we were done, for we knew within minutes of our arrival on Sunday that we'd want to spend as much time there as possible. Since both theaters were dark on Monday, Mrs. T and I spent the whole day and night at the house, leaving only long enough to buy groceries. After dinner we turned on all the lights, went outside, and marveled at its warm, unassuming beauty. Even though the Penfield House is a work of art in and of itself, Paul and his wife Donna have gone to considerable trouble to make it look and feel like a home, not a museum. I've never stayed in a more comfortable place, or a more soothing one. Some part of this comfort, I know, arose less from the house than from the circumstances of our staying there. To spend four days in a Web-free woodland retreat could scarcely fail to please an Upper West Side writer who lives in the middle of the hum and buzz of urban culture. But it wouldn't have been the same had we stayed in a log cabin or a McMansion, for the all-pervading orderliness of the grid that Wright used to generate the floor plan and architectural detail of the Penfield House is both relaxing and reassuring to the eye. Modern the house most definitely is, but not in the hectoring manner of the International Style. It is, above all, tranquil, a point of repose in a world of pandemonium, a place where you can hear yourself think--or, if you like, where you can think of nothing at all. Wallace Stevens wrote a poem called "Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself." Such self-sufficient things were the stuff of which our four days at Penfield House were made: falling leaves, train whistles in the distance, deer on the lawn, rain on the roof.
That's a good description of what appeals to me about the best modern houses I've visited. A good modern house is "tranquil, a point of repose in a world of pandemonium, a place where you can hear yourself think--or, if you like, where you can think of nothing at all."

Of course I have no idea what he's talking about when he refers to the "hectoring manner of the International Style." Bullying? Swaggering? Intimidating or dominating? The Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts, is International Style and it's as warm and comforting as a New England farmhouse. Ditto for the Noyes II House, in New Canaan. I've never been in the Mandel House, which is down the road from where I work in Bedford Hills, but even if it were cold and austere, I have a hard time imagining how it would be hectoring.

Regardless. Impressions differ. Teachout's enthusiasms can be hard to take but I like his description of the FLW house. -- ta

Lecture @ The Aldrich

If you're in the area, The Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, CT is hosting what sounds like an interesting lecture on Sunday, 26 October at 4pm. Non-member admission: $10, members free.

The architect Joeb Moore will present Conversations with Suburbia: Rethinking the Harvard Five. Moore is a principal in Joeb + Partners, Architects > l.l.c. in Greenwich, CT, an Adjunct Assistant Professor and former Assistant Director of the Undergraduate Architecture Department at Columbia University, and Studio Critic in the Graduate Housing Studio at the Yale School of Architecture.

As part of his talk, . . . Moore will discuss some of the underlying cultural and commercial relationships and historical trajectories between modernism, American mid-century modernism, and the private house during the twentieth century. He will link these trends and influences to his own recent work and research and then connect it directly with the New Canaan Townhouse, a private residence currently under construction in the town of New Canaan that attempts to continue the innovative design tradition of the Harvard Five and reframe the modernist/post-modernist, high culture/low-culture dialogue and debate in the post-ideological landscape of the twenty-first century.

Lecture or no, the Aldrich is a fine destination for an autumn weekend.

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
258 Main Street, Ridgefield, CT 06877
203.438.4519 www.aldrichart.org

Modern Damage Tour at the Farnsworth House

The National Trust says that Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, which flooded last month, is now open for special tours, with proceeds going into a fund to repair the flood damage.

There's information at
Farnsworthhouse.org and at the National Trust site.

The house, which is near the Fox River in Plano, Illinois, has flooded before, most recently in 1996, an event that the National Trust says caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage and took months to repair. This year, the Trust reports:

The Farnsworth House, fell prey to Mother Nature Saturday, September 13, and Sunday, September 14, as more than eight inches of rain fell in two days from Tropical Storm Lowell, immediately followed by the remnants of Hurricane Ike. Fox River waters rose two feet over the top deck, entering the Farnsworth House interior. Built within the flood plain of the Fox River in Plano, Illinois, the house is supported by columns more than five feet above the ground which proved not high enough as record breaking rain amounts brought the river more than fourteen feet above its normal level. -- ta

Shiny, shiny new



Read about the amazing, 90% energy self-sufficient new Monte Rosa hiker's hut at Inhabitat. The hut is one run by the Swiss Alpine Club which has accommodations of varying degrees of rusticity all along the country's extensive network of hiking trails.

Here's a website (in German or French only) devoted to the the project. The project was overseen by Andrea Deplazes, in his capacity of professor of architecture at Zürich's ETH (Institute of Technology), and partner of one of my fave architecture firms, Bearth + Deplazes.

Where are my hiking boots?! – GF

Nathan Gluck, Modern Artist

Clicking through the modern design blogs, with their focus on houses and furniture and artifacts, it's easy to forget that there were people who lived and worked -- created -- entirely in the modern realm. One was our friend Nathan Gluck, who died in late September (Gina wrote about him here).

I met Nathan in the mid 1980s and knew him entirely in the context of the Federico family, with whom he was friends since the late 1930s. He worked at a place I had never heard of -- AIGA -- and created things that, to my narrow non-art-world eyes, were astonishing: paintings of quasi-mythological figures, 8 1/2-by-11 crayon drawings, postcards, photograms. He created his own greeting cards! I didn't realize people could or would do that. (He wasn't the only one doing it of course -- my future father-in-law in collaboration with my future mother-in-law produced his own, as did my future wife, my future sister-in-law, and a whole slew of their graphic artist friends.)

Almost everything we've seen of Nathan's was done on a small scale. They are colorful and deft and effortless, as if he knocked them out in the evening after finishing other tasks. He was immensely prolific and generous with his work -- it sometimes seemed that no sooner did he finish a drawing than he put it in the mail and sent it off. There's a drawing he sent to Gina's parents in 1950 of a girl carrying a bunch of balloons. "For Junior," it says and he must have mailed it just before Gina's sister, Lisa, was born and named. There's another -- a simple crayon drawing -- that he sent to us in 1993: "Snowy Owl for Elie," it says in his handwriting, our daughter Elie having been born that year.

Nathan created a lot a collages in his later years and showed dozens of them in a gallery on the Upper East Side in 1997. (We went to the opening one Saturday in late winter, as I remember it, and later visited Leo Lionni, the graphic artist and children's book author, in his apartment -- I remember seeing the cut-outs of the mice characters that he used to illustrate his books, like Frederic, piled in a tray on his desk.) The collages attracted attention and admiration. Here for example is what Nathan's good friend Luis de Jesus wrote:

It's hard for me to separate Nathan, the person, from Nathan the artist. The two were inextricably bound. Anyone who knew him personally can see his quirky, yet elegant sense of style, sharp wit, appreciation of language, music and the classics, and, above all, his oddball sense of humor reflected throughout his work. This is most apparent in the collages that he created beginning in 1995, during his 'retirement' period. It is in these works that Nathan finally found his unique voice, as if everything that he had ever collected over the years--all of the thoughts and ideas, competing influences and styles, tidbits of trivia and non-sense, recipes and scraps of ephemera--could no longer be contained and compartmentalized and simply exploded in a remarkable output of creativity. He leveled the playing field and everything became equal. It says so much about him as a person and an artist--honest, warm, unpretentious and a true original.

While I might disagree that Nathan "finally found his unique voice" in the collages, I absolutely agree that from what I knew of Nathan the collages are an expression of himself. We just happen to like his earlier work a bit better, perhaps because it seemed as if he were creating them for us -- which, in fact, he did. Steven Heller just published a good account of Nathan's life and career for AIGA (which I now know stands for American Institute of Graphic Artists), here. Note the description of Nathan's apartment, filled with art and artifacts. I visited him there twice and it had to be seen to be believed. His most valuable drawings were on the crowded wall but were draped with pages torn from magazines to protect them from the light. He showed me where he had an Andy Warhol piece -- U.S. currency -- that he had sold or given to a museum in exchange for a good copy that he hung on the wall instead. There was a phrenologic head from the 19th century that his father had given him, and which he gave to Gina last February when she and Lisa went to help him pack up for his move to San Diego.

Last week two institutions dedicated to Warhol's work took a death notice in the Times. (If you look at what's been written about Nathan recently, you see hints that he might have had more to do with Warhol's early art than is generally believed). Here's what it says:

GLUCK -- Nathan, gifted graphic artist and collagist, and Andy Warhol's commercial art assistant, died in San Diego on September 27, 2008 at the age of 90. Nathan's wit and unfailing generosity of spirit will be greatly missed by his friends and colleagues at The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in New York and The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

We almost always have one or two of Nathan's pieces on display in our house. Last week and this week the house is a Nathan Gluck gallery featuring our favorite works by an artist whose career spanned almost the entire modern era.

(Nathan's pictures, from top: A crayon drawing he did for our daughter soon after she was born; a greeting card, "Noel," from 1939 -- the image on the left is the front, the image on the right is the inside; a collage he created for our daughter; a painting, one of three similar paintings he did for Gene Federico in 1947.) -- ta


Photo from the current exhibition, ‘Le Corbusier: The Art of Architecture’ at The Crypt, Metropolitan Cathedral Liverpool.

It's the Pavillon Suisse, a student dormitory in Paris which was intended to resemble a ship on a sea of green landscape. Look at the contrast between the automobile and the building. This is 1930-32. – GF

couldn't resist . . .

Can't add anything to this. . . Very clever, LifeGoods! via swissmiss –GF

neat little boxes

David Jameson Architects in Alexandria, VA, designed these cute little boxes – uh, houses – as a family retreat on Hoopers Island.
“. . . the house is composed of several separate cabins that can be locked down or conditioned and inhabited as needed. Although the cabins are individual buildings, they are linked conceptually by their exterior metal cladding and the fact that all of the roofs are sloped but coplanar. A screened porch connects the three main cabins while providing a breezy place to relax. A wood deck extends from the main lodge towards the river, which creates access to the above-ground swimming pool and a platform for sunbathing.” – GF

Nathan Gluck, 1918 – 2008

In memory of our kind, gentle and creative friend who died over the weekend in San Diego – We’ll miss his visits by train, his concern about our well-being, his holiday phone calls, presence and presents; his drawings, paintings and collages, which arrived in the mail without fail for every New Year, birth and anniversary. . . We’ll miss his kindness, his wisdom, his worldliness.

Nathan was one of the last of an era. G’luck, Nathan Gluck! – GF + TA + family

Falling for Fallingwater

Fallingwater: the famous view

I used to tell people that I didn't love Frank Lloyd Wright houses. But when I did, it was with an air of authority that I hadn't earned, considering I'd never actually been in a Frank Lloyd Wright house. What I meant instead was that I didn't love the handful of Wright-style houses built by his disciples that I had been in. I'm not sure why -- maybe they were too dark inside, or maybe all the built-in furniture was too authoritarian, as if the architect knew better where to put a chair and table than the people living there.

Last week I finally visited Fallingwater, near Pittsburgh, and although I'm not about to make any sweeping generalizations I will say this: I don't love the one Frank Lloyd Wright house I've been in. It was spectacular, yes. But as a house, it was more of a showpiece than a home (this observation based, of course, on the hour-and-a-half I spent being herded through as part of a tour group). Here's an analogy: You go to a museum, admire a terrific modern painting, and then think to yourself that a museum is a good place for it because you really wouldn't want to have it in your house. The same with Fallingwater: I admired it for a lot of reasons, and it might be fun to stay there for a long visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. I'm not saying, by the way, that this "I wouldn't want to live there" standard should be anybody else's standard for architecture criticism, nor that it would even be my standard if I visited Monticello or Kykuit or one of the great houses on the Hudson. But since I live in an area with a lot of modern houses, and live in a modern house myself, it's the gut-reaction standard I'm most comfortable with.

I was in Pittsburgh for the annual conference of the Land Trust Alliance (I'm the acting executive director of Westchester Land Trust, in New York). Each year the conference organizers offer different field trips, to show off their regions and to get people out of the hermetically-sealed conference centers. I chose an excursion that combined a morning visit to Fallingwater with an afternoon bike ride along eight miles of former railroad bed bordering the Youghiogheny River, which is pronounced Yock-agheny, like Allegheny, and is a tributary of the Monongahela, one of Pittsburgh's three rivers.

Fallingwater is a destination, and visiting it is like visiting a major historical site, with its big parking lot, varied license plates, buses, visitors pavilion, and people in windbreakers carrying cameras wandering around asking where are the restrooms. Fallingwater is in the foggy, cool Alleghenies, maybe an hour and a half southeast of Pittsburgh; 140,000 people a year visit the place.

About 45 people were on our bus and although we arrived shortly after 9, our tour of the house was set for 10:15. We were given a tour of the woods around it instead, which turned out to be a good introduction. We circled the house, saw it from different distances, and learned some of its history and the history of the landscape from our tour guide.

The first thing you notice about Fallingwater is that it's in the woods – no lawn, no landscaping, nothing but forest. In fact it is owned by a land trust -- the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which has protected about 20,000 acres (including the 1,500-acre Bear Run Nature Reserve, which surrounds Fallingwater) and which was the host of the tour and one of the hosts of the conference. Our first glimpse of the house came from a ridge, looking down on it through the tree trunks. I was surprised at the yellowish, almost adobe color of the exterior, and at how massive and dominant the cantilevered terraces are.

kaufmann's dept store (now macy's)

Fallingwater was commissioned in the 1930s by Edgar Kauffman, the owner of Kauffman's department store (above -- it's now Macy's), which was tremendously successful in the days when Pittsburgh was a tremendously successful industrial city. The steel and coke factories made it an extremely dirty and polluted city (salesmen at Kauffman's had to bring a couple of changes of shirts to work because their clothes got so dirty while working inside), and so Kauffman and his wife bought a cabin and a fair amount of land (the site of an old Masonic camp) in the Alleghenies. But ultimately the cabin was too modest and close to the road to suit them, so they brought Wright in, showed him the land and the river (the Bear Run -- creeks there are called "runs," similar to the way we in New York still use the work "kill" for a creek or small river), and commissioned him to design a house there.

Wright visited just once. The common wisdom was that Wright, at 68 years old, was washed up. The Kauffman's Depression-era budget was about $75,000. According to the tale the tour guides tell, Wright took the commission and then produced nothing until, sometime afterwards, Kauffman told him he was traveling to Wisconsin for a meeting to see how the plans were going. When Kauffman was two hours away -- again, according to the tour guides' tale -- Wright began to put his plans on paper and had the house finished by the time Kauffman arrived, greeting him with, "Mr. Kauffman, we’ve been waiting for you!" Once construction started, Kaufman and Wright used local workers, paying laborers 25 cents an hour and skilled workers 80 cents an hour. The house ended up costing $155,000 to build. (In his 2003 book Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E.J. Kauffman and America’s Most Extraordinary House, which is considered definitive, Franklin Toker says the story that Wright designed the house in two hours is a myth. I haven’t read it yet and I can’t say how much else that we were told by the Fallingwater tour guide that I'm repeating here is also myth.)

After about an hour, we returned to the visitors pavilion and then walked back down to the house, where we were met by our guide for house tour, an odd little man from West Virginia who reminded me of Tennessee Williams.

footbath of door of Fallingwater

The entrance to the house is around back. It's a low, cave-like passageway that passes a foot bath (above) with water spilling from a spout and a bar of soap on a chain, and leads to a heavy glass-and-red-steel door into the first floor.

Fallingwater is a big house, and there were numerous tour groups going through it in stages, in front of us and behind, and so there was little time to linger and get the feel of the place. But here’s what I saw, and what I thought and felt about it:

The living room is modestly-sized with surprisingly low ceilings. A glass door opens to one of the cantilevered terraces overlooking the Bear Run falls. A wide stone staircase in the living room leads down from the floor to the river, with retractable glass panels in red steel frames above the stairs. All of the stone in the house -- and there was a lot of it, including the floor, which was polished with Johnson's Wax -- was Pottsville sandstone quarried just up the path (the bedrock that forms the falls in the Bear Run is Pottsville sandstone aswell). As we were standing near the hearth and dining table, the tour guide referred to the open plan, which he said was unique at the time. "That was something you just didn't find in the 1930s, an open plan .... It was unheard of in the 1930s.” That’s not true of course and when I questioned him about it later, out of earshot of the others, he used the word “unusual” rather than “unique.”

The guest room had varnished walnut blinds, walnut cabinets, a portrait by Diego Rivera on the wall (the guide mentioned that Frida Kahlo, who “was very crude,” stayed at Fallingwater and that Kaufmann was the first American to buy one of her paintings, which Edgar Kauffman Jr. later sold to Madonna), and a rotating chrome fan on the floor. In Liliane Kauffman's bedroom there’s a Picasso etching, a sizable (maybe three-feet tall) Madonna and Child from the 15th century on a sandstone ledge that Wright designed for it, and a framed page from a Bach score that I didn't ask about. Kauffman was a benefactor of the Museum of Modern Art, and there is another Picasso and a Rivera elsewhere in Fallingwater, and six originals from Audubon’s Birds of America, as well as other paintings, sculptures and artifacts, some interesting, others less so, and none of which I recognized or felt compelled to ask about.

We walked through the master bedroom and the studies upstairs, and I found that the higher we went in the house, the more comfortable I became, maybe because I was getting used to the place. Each room, or so it seemed, had its own terrace above the Bear Run, and two of the upstairs rooms had panelled corner windows that swung out individually at right angles so that the entire corner could open to the view of the woods and the sound of the falls. These were stunning, and the guide said that another Wright house was small enough so that Wright was able to design the entire corner of a room like that. The guest wing (as opposed to the guest room in the main house), which you reached by way of a gracefully cuving, canopied walkway, was a beautiful, compact home on its own, with an unusual, U-shaped, above-ground concrete swimming pool on the hill above the main house.

So by the time the we were done with the house, I was softening. Going back to my parochial standard, I'd live in the guest house immediately. But while Fallingwater as a whole was stunning, I can’t say I loved it. Nor can I say I loved the tour. The house is a bit too much of a showpiece and the tour a bit too rushed (and, I suspect, propelled by misinformation).

Kauffman, who lived in Pittsburgh in what the tour guide told me was a Tudor-style house (he didn’t seem particularly confident when he told me that), went on to commission Richard Neutra to design a vacation house for him in Palm Springs – the famous, threatened Kauffman House. He died in 1959, several years after his wife. Edgar Jr., who was a curator at MOMA and a professor of architecture at Columbia University, inherited Fallingwater and interred his parents' remains in a crypt on the property that has doors sculpted by Giacometti (the crypt is off-limits except on rare occasions). Junior donated the house and the property in 1962 to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He died in 1989.-- ta

Happy 1st day of Autumn! But I’m not ready to close the doors yet. . .

Planhaus is an Austrian architecture firm which, according to my online translator, focuses “on the development of house types in system-building . . . in the area of the ecological low energy houses”. (I'm pretty sure 'system-building' means prefab.)

Next to their Haus kr35 is an outbuilding, or summer house, which does that total opening up thing I'm so crazy about these days.

Built in what looks to be a more suburban neighborhood is another summerhouse, more like a dining-house. I love the long built-in bench, but could do without the chandelier . . .

This city summer house sits atop a building in Vienna, and even has an outdoor shower.

Big windows, façades that completely open up, and interiors of light, clear, sweet-smelling larch wood give the rooms a cabin-like feeling, but none of the 'closeness' of a rustic cabin from which you might get a case of cabin fever. – GF

Photos seem to be by Wolf Leeb, Vienna.