For architects, 1945 is eight years after FW’s Fallingwater and four before either Philip Johnson’s Glass House or the Eames’ House.
The year 1945 doesn’t link to much architecturally but was it really such a slow year? WW2 was over but surely there must have been a bit more architectural interest in what kind of world it looked like it was going to be. Apart from those two houses, the history of architecture is rather silent until the 1950s Sci-Fi/Cold War phenomena of Googie and the modernistic world it represented. Things started to look like things they weren’t.
Googie opened the door for complexity and contradiction in architecture.
In the end, we learned from Las Vegas. The point to this post is that if post-1945 architects hadn’t been so keen to represent modernity, we might have been left with more of the buildings we’re probably going to need – or at least the skills to make them. In 1945, 2014 must have seemed like the distant future. Look around you – it’s not like Googie at all.
Like 1932, 1945 was another of those forks in the road and, like 1932 – the wrong choice.
Let’s check out the 1945 architectural zeitgeist.
Richard (Buckminster) Fuller’s DYMAXION HOUSE
In 1945 Richard redesigned his 1929 Dymaxion House in the hope its aluminium shell construction would keep aircraft manufacturers ticking over post-WW2.
It was a prototype proposed to use a packaging toilet, water storage and a convection-driven ventilator built into the roof. It was designed for the stormy areas of the world: temperate oceanic islands, and the Great Plains of North America, South America and Eurasia. In most modern houses, laundry, showers and commodes are the major water uses, with drinking, cooking and dish-washing consuming less than 20 liters per day. The Dymaxion house was intended to reduce water use by a grey water system, a packaging commode, and a “fogger” to replace showers. The fogger was based on efficient compressed-air and water degreasers, but with much smaller water particles to make it comfortable.
It’s all good aspirations. RBF even found himself an aircraft manufacturer, Beech, which, although a military supplier, was hardly a major one. Why the Dymaxion House never entered into production despite 3,500 pre-orders will forever be a mystery. Some mention RBF’s unwillingness to compromise on design but it all sounds a bit like bands splitting up because of ‘creative differences’. All the same, the Dymaxion House had much to recommend it. Perhaps Fuller was a bit too much ahead of his time. The fact is, the entire project went off the boil somewhere between 1945 and 1947.
As Matthew Fisher says in his essay, Prefabrication and the Postwar House: the California manifesto, the case study houses started off as exercises to make use of technologies of prefabrication perfected, some would say, by the war effort.
The instigators of the program were thinking a bit more broadly about prefabrication than Fuller was. I’ll keep returning to the Case Study House program. Such logical pragmatism was in the air. Where there’s a need there’s a market.
Pratt Residence aka SHIP ON THE DESERT
I know what you’re thinking, but that other Kaufmann House dates from 1946. Architects, we don’t know who, conceived the Pratt Residence in the International style and designed the residence of Wallace and Iris Pratt to resemble an oil tanker. I’m not sure if this makes it post-modernist or (because of the tanker–liner connection,) modernist. What we do know is that Mr. Pratt was a petroleum engineer so make of it what you will. Completed in 1945, the house has six rooms on the lower floor and a deck room on the upper. A two-car garage and guest wing form an L-shape at the northwest end.
It’s a simple structural system of local stone and steel trusses. Local stone is used because it’s already there. It’s doing what stone does best. Steel trusses are doing what steel trusses do best. What’s not to like? A rational system of construction that encloses space with the best use of materials is one of the characteristics of 1945 buildings.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s JACOBS HOUSE II
The Jacobs house is billed as a solar house. Building on George Fred Keck‘s pioneering work, solar houses were The Next Big Thing. 1945 was one of those brief periods when an awareness of conserving energy flourished.
The following paragraph comes from Delft Architectural Studies on Housing (DASH): The Eco House, p22
The use of thermally absorbent materials, the careful calculation of the overhang according to winter and summer solar angles, and the thermo-circulation characteristics of an open plan clarified the principle. ‘From here on,’ as Forum editors George Nelson and Henry Wright wrote in their 1945 book Tomorrow’s House: How to build Your Post-war House Today, ‘anyone who plans a house without giving serious consideration to the operation of the solar house principle is missing a wonderful chance to get a better house, a more interesting house, and a house that is cheaper to run.’
Ralph Rapson’s Case Study House #4
Rapson worked with George Fred Keck in 1941 hence his exposure to solar house principles. His contribution to the case study house program was the “Greenbelt House” that brought the possibility of vegetable production into the home.
DASH notes that the interest in solar houses was partially due to ongoing wartime rationing but also because people were beginning to worry about oil running out. Rapson wasn’t that worried it seems as Case Study House #4 still had underfloor heating.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s OPUS 497 “GLASS HOUSE”
In January 1944, the Ladies Home Journal began publishing new house designs by the country’s leading architects, “houses that point the way to better, less expensive living after the war”. FLW’s Glass House was published in the Ladies Home Journal in 1945. There’s a detailed description at www.steinerag.com
Opus 497… The world’s most distinguished architect designs a crystal house, for town and country, which can have far-reaching effects on future living for all of us. Four basic materials combined with brilliant designing, make this exhilarating house so substantial that it will last forever.
I never thought I’d see Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson share a photo, a theme, or a client.
Philip Johnson’s 1945 Glass House: As Simple As That
This house was also designed for the Ladies Home Journal in 1945 and is not to be confused with Philip Johnson’s 1942 Harvard House, his 1946 Booth House, his 1949 Glass House, or the glass house Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed in 1945-51 and that PJ is alleged to have copied.
Johnson’s 1949 Glass House and Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House are all that gets mentioned from this interesting decade.
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Philip Johnson completed Glass House anyway in 1949. By then, imported petroleum was more affordable, nobody had to worry anymore, and the marketing of buildings as solar houses ceased. In The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment, Reyner Banham notes that Glass House was heated by electric elements in the ceiling and beneath the brick floor. (Those are thick bricks! PJ must have had to turn it on in September to be toasty in November, but then, there were always other houses on the estate. People tend to forget that this house functioned as a Reception Room.)
The underfloor heating system was replaced in 1980 but with what, we don’t know.
The same disinterest in using less energy to heat a house can also be seen in the continuing Case Study House program. Here’s a nice resource with all the original announcements in Arts & Architecture magazine. These are the closing paragraphs of the Arts & Architecture magazine’s announcement of the Case Study House program. It’s rather open-ended agenda. It’s a notable one in that it aims to give some direction to creative thinking and provide American housebuyers with what they were wanting.
David Thorne, the architect of Case Study House #26 (Harrison House) (1962,) notes that the plan was flipped south-north (so the cantilevered terrace now faces north-west towards the view and not the sun). That says it all. It’s currently leased at $5,200 per month.
The Case Study House program was undoubtedly successful in giving direction to creative thinking to provide American homebuyers with what they wanted. It’s just that American homebuyers stopped wanting to enclose space efficiently and save energy, and started to want a view
and a lifestyle