Architectural designs have significantly evolved over many decades of innovations and technological changes. The dynamic nature of architectural plans is also influenced by economic and social occurrences that predispose designers to either construct expensive or affordable housing facilities. For instance, the baby boom period which occurred after the Second World War between the years 1945 to 1961 contributed to an increase in family sizes. Economic recession accompanied this increased birth rate resulting in high demand for larger and affordable accommodation to meet the large families. Prefabricated houses became a common source of housing which most architects embraced to meet the emerging needs. However, other forms of designs also emerged including organic and Usonian architecture also emerged during the 20th century. These designs not only responded to the need for affordable spaces but also the increasing availability of energy both natural and artificial energy and different construction materials that resulted in notable buildings. Frank Lloyds Gordon House located in Silverton, Oregon is one of the architectural designs which responded to not only the need for explicitness but also the accessibility of both light energy and electric power, different construction materials, and space.
Frank Lloyds Gordon House (Silverton, Oregon)
Gordon House is Lloyds last Usonian architectural design which he created ostensibly to offer affordable accommodation. Frank Lloyd designed the house in 1957, but its construction only ended in 1963 after his death. The house is an embodiment of Wrights attempts to develop affordable housing facilities for families with modest incomes. He referred to this new model for homes as the Usonian style which was an acronym for United States of North America. The building featured the use of low cost; mass produced and locally available materials. It had an open floor space plan which was ideal for social meetings. Gordon House was originally located south of Willamette River at a proximity to the Charbonneau development in Wilsonville. Later, Gordon House was salvaged from the verge of demolition, relocated, and assembled in parts to a beautiful sanctuary dominated with oak trees at the Oregon Garden in Silverton.
Wright incorporated pioneering technologies in his construction of Gordon House which was reminiscent of the accessibility of affordable energy supplies during the era. For instance, he introduced the under cabinet lighting in its design. This light would reflect off the backsplash to illuminate the open counter space. In addition, the houses cement floor which was decorated in Cherokee red encased a network of pipes connecting the taps to a source of hot water supply, and other conveyor pipes provided the house with radiated heat to warm the house especially during the winter season. The provision of these designs which were unique to the time implies Wrights cognisance of the developmental potential presented by the availability of various energy sources.
A brief history of the Gordon House
Wright originally designed the Gordon House in 1957 for Conrad and Evelyn Gordon. The couple kept possession of the house until in 2001 when they resorted to demolishing it. Due to the known contribution of its designer in the history of architecture, it was carefully destroyed, relocated, and reassembled in parts at in Silverton where it is currently located. Conrad and Evelyn Gordon sold Gordon house to the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy following an agreement that it would be removed from the Willamette River location within one hundred and five days. The conservancy chose Oregon Garden in Silverton as the new site for the Gordon House. This decision was partly influenced by the fact that the new location had a beautiful oak grove which gave it an articulate outlook. Due to the availability of energy to power automobiles, the house was successfully demolished and relocated. At the cost of approximately three hundred thousand dollars and with the availability of means of transport, the new owner of Gordon House facilitated its careful dismantling and relocation using slowly driven flatbed truck.
Architectural design of the Gordon House
The Gordon House is one of the masterpiece arts of Frank Lloyd that reflect the ignobility of organic architecture and simplicity. It is a clear expression of the exercise of utility in construction designs. In the words of Wright, the ideas of organic architecture are to attain a new sense of use and finer sense of comfort which is embedded in natural simplicity. These assertions best describe the Gordon House. In essence, Wright exemplified the need to bring out every detail through a clearly thought out implementation to avoid any flaws. The plan and execution were a reflection of the principle features of the Wrights Usonian ideals.
Gordon house has an open floor plan replete with overhanging eaves, carport, and a flat roof. At the entrance to the building, the flat foyer leads to a twelve-foot high room which is bound by windows that rise from the floor to ceiling. Both the doors and windows from the wall of the great room hence making and a continuum between the indoor and outside. A large fireplace dominates the wall reflecting. Even without the use of curtains or drapes, the wooden framework that covers the top windows defines the library thus maintaining the absolute sense of privacy. The availability of two-story skylight illuminating a tiny kitchen made of bright orange Formica shows the architects embrace of light energy in his design.
The Gordon House has a floor space area of two hundred and three square meters which is bound by outstanding floor to ceiling windows and door. Wrights classic horizontal designs magnificently protruded to connect the outer and interior spaces. The second story of the house has two bedrooms each having its private balcony. The building was primarily designed based on a seven-foot square grid. From a visual perspective, the Gordon House seems to be anchored to a single mass of concrete block which forms the walls but lacks windows. Apart from having a small basement and kitchen, the concrete block extends beyond the roofline thus blocking several vents and the two large skylights overlooking the kitchen. The house is constructed using cedar poles that are resultant to pressure exerted especially during relocation to the construction site. The use of cedar and painted cedar block in accomplishing the building is a progression of Wright's custom of using a lattice of wood cut out patterned window.
Fig. 1: Gordon Houses Floor Plan
A small doorway links the kitchen and dining. The kitchen space is comparatively smaller than those that are designed by contemporary architects but has adequate capacity to hold most of the modern facilities. Wright used a new technique of under the cabinet lighting to add to the glamor of the building. He not only exemplified his mastery of light energy but also pioneered in its integration into the mainstream part of the construction. The under-cabinet lighting reflects off the backsplash resulting in illumination of the ample counter space. The building also holds various electric cooking equipment that shows the architects embrace of electricity in his designs. Gordon House has built-in flip-top electric facilities for the kitchen. The wok space has two stacked ovens and a built in counter-depth fridge which all use electric energy. These electronic equipment were unique at that time. Apart from the under-cabinet lighting and variety of electric cooking equipment which showed Wrights incorporation of energy into his architectural designs, there was also a large skylight which was fit at the height of approximately twenty feet to illuminate the building.
Fig.2. Gordon House, kitchen
The first striking thing with Gordon House is its dominant horizontal lines that were meticulously executed by the builders according to Wrights embrace of them. The development of the pulley systems made it easier for architects to achieve Wights horizontal panels including lifting heavy panels to the top facades of the building. The long horizontal panels give the building a different outlook from virtually every vantage point. The walls are not made of thick concrete walls but instead dominated by floor to ceiling glass that allows the penetration of light into the living room. The thin glass veils that separate the interior living room from the exterior allows the reflection of light from the interior bulbs resulting in a well-lit building throughout. The glass windows are easy to remove and fit thus allowing for easy relocation of the building without necessarily damaging construction materials. Gordon Houses glass windows allowed a clear view of the Willamette River and the peak of Mount Hood in this buildings original location.
The glass windows that are reminiscent of prefabricated material articulate the buildings use of artificial light and natural light now provides a modest view of the ancient oak grove surrounding the home in its new location. The buildings East side has a semi-circular half wall and a cantilevered balcony that protrudes from one of the upstairs bedrooms.
Fig 3: The Gordon Houses east side
The buildings covered carport moves towards the foreground and joins the rest of the house at the front entrance. This structural design amounts to a miniature scale model that is characterized by several penetrations in the cantilevered flat roof covering the living room. This cantilevered roof allows the penetration of standard natural light into the interior space of the house. In the design, Wright expressed his signature of incorporating large walls of windows without curtains to allow the entry of natural light into every room, as evident in Gordon Houses living rooms north facing windows. Gordon House typically manifests Wrights Usonian designs that embraced the utilitarian function and consistency with nature instead of incurring high costs in buying expensive construction materials and struggling to ensure intricate details.
Fig. 4: The cantilevered flat roof that allows penetration of natural light
From the entrance into the house, the low ceiling that defines the entryway gives it a pleasant feeling which subsides when one enters into the sitting room whose ceiling rises twenty feet from the floor. This technique adopted by Wright in his architectural designs is called compression andcompaction. It characteristically allowed natural light to dissipate from a narrower entrance region to a more expansive interior space.
Fig. 5. Compression-andcompaction technique in the Gordon House
The buildings glass is rising from the floor to ceiling to form its walls all open to the outside thus not only blurring the lines that exist between the interior and exterior facades but also allows adequate penetration of the natural light.
Fig.6. Glass walls that ensure proper lighting
Wright also perfected the adoption of his construction to the effects of natural light in the building of Gordons Houses Eastern bedroom. The bedroom has two glass wall enclosing it. A small room designed by Wright at the top of the building was intended to provide Mrs. Gordon with adequate space for weaving cloth. Across the upstairs on the built-in cabinetry was Wrights fretwork which he used as a private screen. The balconies were reserved for the treehouses. However, it was observed that the ceilings were not high up which is a fact believed to have impacted a feeling of calmness among those in...
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