Architecture Misfit #6: George Fred Keck
Just when I said that there weren’t any more 20C misfits, along comes George Fred Keck! This image is of his Crystal House.
It was built for Chicago’s 1933 “Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition” where
[a] handful of architects and manufacturers was charged with designing housing prototypes that would conceptualize ways in which new technologies could change the housing industry, particularly of the prefabricated variety. [text from here at www.housing.com]
The most audacious of the houses, all built at full scale, was George Fred Keck’s Crystal House. … Equipped with a four-point manifesto, Keck defines not only a formal typology but also many architectural issues that were completely new. The first point discusses the open plan in relation to cost effectiveness; the second references the house as the servicer to its inhabitant, not vice versa; the third focuses on the importance to one’s health of passive heating and the modulation of natural light; the final point outlines the need to design within the boundaries of mass production without relinquishing the “opportunity for individual expression” tastefully and affordably.
I think this is sufficient to qualify him as a misfit.
Completely glazed on all sides, the house’s three levels were supported by an exterior prefabricated steel truss frame that allowed for a completely open interior plan. All glass panels and mullions were of standardized sizes, a provision that, despite the fact that the house was built as a one-off, implied future potential for prefabricated manufacturing and assembly. Keck described the house as one of a number of “laboratory houses that were designed not primarily to be different or tricky but to attempt seriously to determine whether better ideas and designs for living could be found.” He went on to comment, “probably the most important function of the Crystal House was to determine how a great number of the people attending the exposition would react to ideas that entirely upset conventional ideas of a house.” While the house did succeed on that level, it was not a commercial success and was never replicated. Nevertheless, the house’s influence on architects generations later remains palpable. The house was one of five from the exhibition that were relocated to the residential enclave of Beverly Shores, Indiana, where it still stands.
Keck was not a one-trick pony. Another of his designs was the House of Tomorrow for the same exhibition. Here’s a concept sketch, courtesy of here, and here where Dan Gregory observes how much like the present the future was going to be.
Note the airplane easing out of the ground floor hangar (every home should have one) on the left, while the automobile pulls away on the right, and Mom is left alone with the daughter in the center.
This is the House of Tomorrow having a nice time at the fair.
Once the exhibition was over, the future of The House of Tomorrow involved moving to Beverley Shores, Indiana along with the Crystal House and leading a quiet life amongst the trees beneath a sky that was not orange.
It’s Crystal House that had more promise for the future, despite Keck including an aeroplane hangar which, although a bit off-the-wall, was a common fantasy at the time.
Sadly, a lot of the rest was fantasy as well, including:
- the house as the servicer to its inhabitant, not vice versa
- the importance to one’s health of passive heating and the modulation of natural light
- the need to design within the boundaries of mass production
- an exterior prefabricated steel truss frame that allowed for a completely open interior plan
- panels and mullions of standardised sizes
- not designed to be different or tricky but to seriously attempt to find better ideas and designs for living