Let’s Give Thanks for the American House
Coming from the other side of the pond one might be forgiven for thinking that the history of domestic American architecture is a mere twig on the architectural tree, bolstered by the International reputation of architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright. But, take a look at the recently published book ‘The American House‘ by Phaidon, and you might want to think again.
Through the simple, but effective process, of placing selected iconic houses chronologically side by side, the book stimulates a re-assessment of the significance of American domestic architecture on an International level. ( Main image: Delta Shelter 2005 OSKA)
The ideology of the cultural melting pot and the pioneering spirit runs deeply throughout all periods.
Thematically, there are representations from the Indigenous cultures and the Arts and Crafts movement, leading through to the International style and beyond. There are also individual contributions from, (amongst others): Rudolph Schindler, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles and Ray Eames, Mies Van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, Louis Khan and Peter Eisenman. Contributions from practices such as Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects and UN Studio bring the book bang up to date.
There are many surprising and enlightening juxtapositions; but equally, it is stimulating to recognise the homogeneous threads of influence which represent the warp and weft of American domestic architecture. One instantly recognises the stylistic links between the Vanna Venturi House of 1964 by Robert Venturi and the iconic and revolutionary William G Low House of 1887 by McKim Mead & White. More surprisingly are the similarities between the fading cultural strands that tie together the Nautilus Earthship of 1996 by Michael Reynolds and the Pueblo’s of Arizona of 1225.
You could also be forgiven for thinking that all this architectural influence is coming from one direction; until you comes across Louis Sullivan’s Bradley House of 1910, which is a reminder of Sullivan’s earlier impact on the young Adolf Loos during his stay in America between 1890 and 1893. As you may well know, Loos later provided the fertile ground in Europe for the birth of the Modern Movement.
Dare I say it? At this point American architectural influence beyond its own borders gains critical mass.
Well, you can weigh all this up for yourself, as you wander through several hundred years of American architectural history in this neatly packaged book all from the comfort of your own lap.
As an architectural photographer it is refreshing to see that each building features a full page, representative image with a short description of the house, its designer as well as its historical and architectural significance. Rather surprisingly there isn’t a map to get a visual representation as to the geographical spread of the houses on view, but the book includes a directory of houses open to the public as well as a glossary of terms and movements.
* all photographs courtesy of ‘The American House’
Phaidon Press 2008
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