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