Beyond the Flange — or How to Give Your Home A Little Something Extra
A recent car trip lead me to the famous Sundial Bridge across the Sacramento River in Redding, California, built in 2004. Designed by the eminent engineer- architect Santiago Calatrava, this remarkable footbridge is worth experiencing.
The span is supported by cables strung to a soaring, tapered, and cantilevered concrete mast pointing due north, thereby becoming the gnomon (shadow-casting centerpiece) of a gigantic sundial — and hence the bridge’s name. What a great metaphor — not just a bridge but a bridge from past to future. Tempus
fugit! Time’s a-racing, like the waters flowing beneath it. To my eye the stretching support trusses, in-curved railings, glass panel decking, and upswept cable tower resemble a mythical modern-day schooner straining to set sail. It’s what a public structure should be: practical and poetic at the same time. And it made me wonder about getting something of that suggestible combination into the single family home. Of course an architect like Le Corbusier did this long
ago in his Villa Savoie near Paris of 1928, with its ocean liner-esque roof deck and triangular ramp (photo courtesy Poissy). The Swiss-born architect
Albert Frey, who worked briefly for Le Corbusier in 1928 before emigrating to the US and helping develop what’s now called “Desert Modernism” in Palm Springs, showed a similar gift for machine-age drama. His House #1 of 1941 — 1953 is glimpsed at left in a famous photograph by Julius Shulman. Architectural historian David Gebhard noted that Frey’s work was more playful than Corbu’s, and took a popular science fiction approach to the machine, which is definitely the case here as that mechanistic cylinder with projecting portholes rises beside the pool like the conning tower of a surfacing submarine (photo courtesy egodesign.ca). Bruce Goff took things
even farther, becoming perhaps the most expressionistic American architect of the 20th century, with designs like the Al Struckus house in Los Angeles of 1979, where eye-popping shapes and textures — is it a redwood rocket ship?– leave earthly reality far, far behind (image courtesy bruce-goff-film.com). But it might be hard to live with so much fantasy, so here are simpler ways to get a little visual drama into your home.
Sarah Susanka’s Prairie Home 454-8 includes a “floating office” on the balcony
overlooking the living room. It turns what would otherwise have been a simple balcony into an exciting multitasking space. In Lorenzo Spano’s Plan 473-3
the straightforward L-shaped stairway adds drama with a glass railing and storage and display shelves below the treads. Nir Pearlson borrowed an idea
from Japanese design in his Plan 890-1: the tokonoma, an alcove for the display of a decorative object. See it on the wall behind the wood stove. So, if bridges and balconies are a reach too far, maybe all you need is a niche!
For more on visually dramatic houses click here.