Category Archives: architectural toys

Diane Keaton, Design Books, and Toy Blocks

Five New Architecture and Design Books for your Holiday List

‘Tis the season to give architecture — as literature, I mean. Here’s a quick roundup of titles to consider for the design buff on your list.

Actor’s Equity. Stimulating the architectural imagination through playing with basic forms — the toy block approach! –  is the theme of actress Diane Keaton’s

beautiful new book House (Rizzoli, 2012). It’s a lavish and mesmerizing Continue reading

Architectural Gifts for the Home

Designs for Living

Call me obsessed (which I am) but during the holidays when I start looking for gift ideas I am inevitably drawn to architecture and design items — and then I spend a lot of time trying to think of people who might, say, actually like to have

a dish towel printed with the floor plan of an elegant 192os New York apartment, as shown above (how cool is that! available from FishsEddy.com) or a vividly Continue reading

Window Walls and Rooms-Within-Rooms

Every Solid Loves a Void — and Space is a Wrap

Let’s explore two strong architectural ideas — the window wall and the room-within-a-room — and how they can enhance house design. Both have long histories. In one sense the glass wall goes all the way back to the tall banks of windows at the Tudor estate known as Hardwick Hall in England, built by Bess

of Hardwick in the late 1500s, shown here (photo courtesy Anglotopia.net). At that time glass was an important emblem of power and wealth because it was so rare — thus it was a fitting material for the richest woman in England after Queen Elizabeth I. You didn’t mess with Bess. A more recent example is the glass

living room wall to the right of the tree courtyard, at the Pavilion de l’Esprit Nouveau designed by Le Corbusier and built as a demonstration house or “machine for living” for the Paris Exposition of 1925 (photo courtesy 4rts.wordpress.com). As we have seen in previous posts, the window wall became a signature feature of Modernism, especially in mid-twentieth century works like Mies Van Der Rohe’s Farnsworth house and Philip Johnson’s Glass

House. Our Plan 520-4, by Irish architect Frank McGahon, shown here with its flanking window walls, is a recent version. The great appeal of the window wall is to unite inside and outside while framing both. The trick is to beware of exposures — even insulated glass can transmit heat and cold.

The room-within-a-room idea is vividly illustrated by a piece of furniture, also from England of centuries ago: the Great Bed of Ware, ca. 1580, with its large

post and beam frame and heavy curtains closing it off for privacy and warmth (photo courtesy Wikipedia).

Thomas Jefferson’s bed alcove at Monticello, shown above, is a sort of built-in version, minus the curtains (photo courtesy Colonial Williamsburg). Architect Charles Moore was fascinated with this idea and referred to it as an aedicula, which is Latin for a small shrine. (The most famous example of an aedicula

is the baldacchino with twisting columns over the altar at St. Peter’s in Rome, by Bernini, photo courtesy Saintpetersbasilica.org.) Moore used a much simplified version of it in his own house at Orinda from the early 1960s, where the larger

living and smaller bathing spaces are defined by columns and skylights, like separate domestic temples clustered under one roof (image courtesy Eleanor Weinel’s Arch4443). Moore’s design partner, William Turnbull, used an even more spare — and more Jeffersonian — version in his Sea Ranch cottage of the early 1980s, which is our historical Plan 447-1, where the bed is an alcove

in the corner. A flexible contemporary take on this idea is “The Cube” designed by architect Toshi Kasa of Spaceflavor for Feng Shui expert Liu Ming in his live/work loft in Oakland, California (photo by Joe Fletcher via The New York

 Times). The 8 foot-square cube-on-wheels is a bedroom on one side and an office on the other, allowing Mr. Ming to use the rest of his loft for his classes. I trust the brakes are on in case there’s an earthquake.

An outdoor room within a garden is yet another way to go, as architect Ross

Anderson shows in our Plan 433-2, above. See the outdoor fireplace opposite the built-in bench forming a small living area at the edge of the courtyard in this partial view.

But where might the window wall and the room-in-a-room work together? How about Hojo House by Akira Yoneda of Architecton in Japan. The glass house is

behind an elegant scrim of steel tubes, creating a modified screen porch that distracts from the very tight infill site (thoughts of cages inevitably spring to mind; photo courtesy infoteli.com). But I think today’s most famous example of the two ideas working together might be the marvelous glass cube entrance to the Apple store

on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, where the novelty of a structure that is there-and-not-there makes you see everything around it — like the Plaza Hotel across the street — more clearly. The simple contrast between solid and void is visually refreshing and builds a larger whole. Designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Apple’s magic container makes you realize it is a room within the much larger room that is the terrace on which it sits, the street, and the edge of Central Park itself. Some ideas just expand!

“Mad Men” and Mid-Century Modernity at LACMA

Stereos and Studebakers

The start of Mad Men‘s fifth season this week on cable TV is fortuitous. Though the series spawned a new appreciation for slick Madison Avenue Modernism of the early 1960s — not to mention accompanying cocktails — it wasn’t easy to see

where part of that esthetic came from (photo courtesy shinyshiny.tv). But now you can, thanks to the exhibition running through June at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art called Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930-1965 curated by Wendy Kaplan. In fact, the advertising firm that the character Don Draper runs, seen above at his desk with drink in hand, ought to be developing campaigns for many of the products in the exhibition, like the Studebaker Avanti of 1961-2 by Raymond Loewy, below.

California — and especially Los Angeles — became a remarkable incubator of modern design during the middle of the 20th century. The benign climate, burgeoning post World War II economy and population, and movie mystique attracted imaginative designers and take-a-chance clients. I toured the exhibit recently and was impressed with the way it explores connections between popular and high style design, from furniture and clothing to houses and cars while bringing the Left Coast side of the Mad Men era to life.

Time here begins in the 1930s, quite literally, with one of the first digital clocks,

the Zephyr clock by Lawson Time, from around 1938 (photo courtesy LACMA blog). My uncle had one of these and I always admired it — when the numbers turned over they bounced slightly before resting in place (perhaps a metaphor for hanging fire?). Time did appear to be hustling as new tracts developed across

the LA basin. Modern architects were designing houses and filling them with furniture like this 1931 bent plywood chair by Richard Neutra or this squared off

corner grouping by A. Quincy Jones from 1961 and Mondrian-esque glass coffee table of c. 1950 by Milo Baughman for Glenn of California  — which look like they belong in one corner of Don Draper’s office. Living In A Modern Way shows how California designers celebrated the casual indoor-outdoor living that

the California climate made possible, as in this promotional image for a development called Monarch Bay Homes at Laguna Niguel by delineator Carlos Dini, from 1961 (image courtesy LACMA).  My favorite part of the exhibit juxtaposes two elegant designs from 1961 by LA’s most minimalist architect,

Craig Ellwood: a superb elevation of his Rosen house and the Rosen’s custom stereo cabinet. Now this takes Machine Age abstraction to its logical extreme: house and stereo are extensions of each other, if not virtually indistinguishable –  do I live in the stereo or does the stereo live in me? Talk about surround sound! The only real difference, besides scale and some plumbing, is that the stereo has four bays while the house has only three. Clearly the sort of house where you would expect to hear Frank Sinatra, not to mention the architect, crooning My Way — and sotto voce “or the highway.” (Images courtesy LACMA.)

Even Barbie went modern, and her Dream House of 1962, shown below, is fun to

to see. The largest element in the show is a replica of the loft-like living room of  the Charles and Ray Eames house of 1949, the most famous structure in the

Case Study House Program of the late 1940s and early 1950s sponsored by Arts + Architecture magazine (photo courtesy NY Times). It functions both as a frame for nature and an elegant specimen box for the Eames’ collection (1,869 items in this space alone!). Which reminds me: Case Study House #3 shown below, by William Wurster and Theodore Bernardi is not in the exhibit but is in the

Houseplans.com Exclusive Studio and is Plan 470-9. See how it too blends indoor and outdoor space into a seamless whole: the house is the lot. Our Eichler Plans offer further variations on the modern living theme. They’re all part of the Mid-Century Modern design history you can own.

So, Don Draper — time to put down that highball and get back to work. You have a lot of selling to do!

 

Plant Globes, Wrightian Doormats, and Other Holiday Ideas

Random Access Gift Online Update Tips (or RAGOUT)

Now that we’re in December it’s time to browse the i-cloud for holiday present possibilities, so here’s a quick website round-up. To set the mood: seasonal items from Flora Grubb Gardens online shop, an unusual design-oriented nursery in San Francisco (and mentioned in a previous post) famous for their vertical wall plantings. The hanging globe containing tillandsias — so-called air plants that need no soil (a species of epiphytes and part of the Bromeliad family) –

caught my eye for its elegant simplicity. And it’s growing. Another ingenious product is the succulent ornament consisting of a special hanger

for one plant. Living ornaments for living trees! Speaking of succulents, Flora Grubb now offers a do-it-yourself kit to help you approximate their impressive succulent wall gardens, like this one

Here’s the tray that holds all the plants.

(Previous photos courtesy Flora Grubb Gardens.) If you plan to be in the San Francisco Bay Area during the holidays this

place is worth a visit — and there’s even a cafe so you can sip while you search. I photographed the wall of succulent wreaths when I visited last week.

To continue the nature/diy approach, what about drink coasters made from  your own images downloaded from the computer?

I used my photos of things like — naturally, for me, chiseled granite  — and they seemed to work well. I ordered the photo coasters from Shutterfly.

Candles are an easy and festive present but it can be difficult to find simple ones.

I found these slender vividly-hued, 13-inch tall, dripless tapers at Terrestra, a store of well-curated modern objects.

Industrial designer Eric Pfeiffer over at The Utility Cooperative continues to produce innovative furniture. His most recent introduction is the series of  memorably monikered “Cross Dressers,”

so-named because each bureau or end table rests on crossed legs. The handsome contemporary units are made of hand-selected veneers mounted to formaldehyde-free plywood panels. 

If you have followed this blog you know my fixation with architectural toy blocks. I recently found other sources for the artificial stone Anchor blocks, made in Germany: Fatbraintoys offers a basic set of the blocks, which can build a small Medieval 

gateway like this (photo courtesy Ankerstein, the key Anchor Stone Building Block site in Germany). The sets are numbered and provide plans for larger and larger structures, from houses to castles. The Toy House website offers a variety of sets, explains the building sequence, and provides resources for the surprisingly large and devoted world of Anchor Block aficionados (that includes — as you would expect — an associate professor of Medieval History at the University of Chicago.)

Ever since boyhood when my mother gave me a set of Swiss Naef blocks I have loved these Bauhaus-influenced smooth wood elements. A new set is called Tectus and

is perfect for building the odd Miesian apartment house.

Toy block-talk makes me think of Frank Lloyd Wright (his mother gave him Froebel blocks — maybe I just got the wrong set…). The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust has a large and exciting new website — ShopWright — devoted to products inspired by Wright, from textile block planters to Fallingwater T-shirts. I was intrigued by the nightlight

based on a geometric railing design from the Rookery in Chicago (the building was designed by Burnham & Root, then remodeled by Wright) and by the doormat

inspired by the glazing pattern in Wright’s famous Robie house, also in Chicago. The tough coir fibers are anchored in black rubber.

So now that you know where to get the doormat, how about a house plan like

Design 530-2 from Classic Colonial Homes. Why not put something substantial under the tree.