Monday, July 16, 2007

A Few of My Favorites

I've already offered my views on the AIA Fort Worth list of favorite local buildings, and, as I mentioned, Anthony Mariani of the FWWeekly is putting together an Unsung List of Architecturally Significant Things to serve as a companion piece of sorts. I would like to submit the following buildings for consideration. I'm a modernist at heart, so that's pretty much the direction we're headed.

The Young Residence, Burleson: OK, it's not Fort Worth. Shoot me. This 950 square foot residence designed by Aledo architect Richard Wintersole is located on a half acre lot in an established 1970s suburban neighborhood in Burleson. According to the Fort Worth AIA site: "The design consists of three parts: a stucco clad double volume living room, a wood deck and galvalume clad support spaces. For budget and aesthetic reasons the material palette is simple: wood floors, drywall, plastic laminate counters, sandblasted steel and sealed plywood subflooring." I like this building because it shows what affordable residential architecture could be. I'm aware that most people want to live in those mass-produced David Weekley monstrosities. And, hey, that OK. BUT I wish there was more room in the panoply of home choices for something like this.

The Works of C.M. and Zoe Davis, Fort Worth: Charles M. Davis (1884-1974) was a civil engineer who helped develop slip-form concrete construction for use in large concrete structures, such as the Ralston Purina and Universal grain elevators built around Fort Worth in the 1920s and 1930s. Davis and his daughter Zoe became fascinated with the streamlined modernist works of designer Norman Bel Geddes and architects Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler. They also were interested in the potential of concrete as low-cost building material.

Of course, during the Depression, there wasn't much going on, so Charles and his daughter began to experiment with concrete construction by building several small, apartment-sized single home projects dubbed "Aparthomes" in the TCU area. They were able to purchase a few lots for $250 to $350 and persuaded the Portland Cement Association to sponsor the construction. Even still, the Davises had to cut as many corners as possible to make these houses affordable. One interesting feature of these houses was a ventilation system designed to remove hot air through the roof.

Four of the Davis Homes are extant. The one that has fared best is 2945 Lubbock pictured above as it exists today and as it did in years past. This home was purchased a few years ago by a couple of TCU professors who -- though they have significantly expanded and changed the structure -- have maintained the original integrity of the building. They've really done a marvelous job with the place.

Another Davis Aparthome that has fared well is 3241 Waits, which looks remarkably similar to the photo from the 1930s. The other Davis home directly across the street at 3240 Waits has not fared quite as well.

The only other Davis house is at 1010 Devitt, the lower photo of the house with the two windows with awnings. This house appeared to be in the worst condition of the four. However, even this house appeared -- at least from the outside -- to be restorable. Obviously, concrete structures have a durability of their own. Here's hoping that all of the remaining Davis structures get the chance for a rehab. Charles and Zoe Davis were homegrown modernists. I hope that their remaining work can be saved so future Fort Worth residents can see how modernism was interpreted in Fort Worth back in the 1930s. (Source: Cowtown Modern by Judith Singer Cohen, pages 99-101, 1988, Texas A&M University Press. The black and white photos are also from the book. The color photos are mine.)

Martin E. Robin Residence, 3817 White Settlement Rd., Fort Worth: This house, designed by Fred W. Murphree in 1941 is across the street from my first apartment in Fort Worth. As Singer described the house in Cowtown Moderne, the house is "an amalgam of the curves of the Streamline Moderne, the angles of the International Style and the decorative features of the Mediterranean Style." Built by contractor Martin E. Robin as his residence, he included a lot of unique features into the home, including a rooftop deck reached by an outside flight of concrete steps and -- my personal favorite -- a matching doghouse with its own rooftop patio for a little canine sunbathing. Awesome. (Source: Cohen, pages 105-106)

Fort Worth Public Health Building, 1800 University Drive, Fort Worth: I know it may not be sexy, but I have a soft spot for Mid-Century Modern municipal architecture, the sort of postwar government modernism that you are familiar with whether you grew up in the US or Europe. I don't know who designed it, and I guess it really doesn't matter. I love the glass, the brick, the angles and -- what is that? -- green marble? I don't know. There just something kind of optimistic about it. And I believe (but I'm not certain) that it has a date with the wrecking ball. (If someone out there knows for sure, please comment.)

However, I couldn't imagine this building holding off demolition for long. As Fred Bernstein wrote in an article for The New York Times in 2004, this style of architecture may be loved by some, but not by most: "In a society otherwise enamored of the styles of the 1960s, the architecture of that decade is rarely loved and frequently reviled. All over the country, '60s buildings are being torn down while much older buildings survive. Functional problems, like leaky roofs and inadequate heating systems, are often to blame."

Yes, it's mostly a matter of dollars and cents, but taste also has something to do with it. Bernstein continues: "But just as often, the buildings are simply disliked by institutions that have enough money to replace them."

This building and others like it may yet have their day, but I'm not expecting them to endure like the Courthouse and Post Office. This style is just not as easy for most people to love. And like many, many examples of Mid-Century Modern Architecture around the Fort Worth and Dallas area, I expect most of them to be gone before most people think preservation is important.

Please don't get me wrong. I like the buildings on the Fort Worth AIA list as much as anyone. And we're lucky to have as many fantastic modern structures here in the Fort -- from the ziggurats of the Art Deco skyscrapers downtown to the sublime minimalism of the Modern Art Museum. Fort Worth architecture has covered a lot of modern ground over the past 80 years. But there are some unsung beauties out there, too. They may not have been designed by the biggest names or had the biggest budgets. Let's recognize their beauty before they're gone.

BTW, I'd like to tag my other Fort Worth blog buds -- Ken and Kevin and Pete and Bernie and whoever else wants to play to name their favorites. I can't wait to read 'em.

UPDATE 7.17.07: Kevin at Fort Worthology brings it strong with his list!


Kevin said...

I will take you up on that. Fort Worthology will be featuring such a post today.

Steve-O said...

Awesome, Kevin. I knew you'd play ball.

Kevin said...

A day late, but my post is now on the Fort Worthology main page.

Stephen Darrow, AIA said...

I saw on the other thread where you suggested that AIA do a list of favorite residential projects. If we do another list, what other categories would you like to see?

Steve-O said...

I think it might be interesting to limit the favorite buildings list to top 10 and then have a variety of top 5 lists. Maybe different categories for residential, commercial and municipal. Maybe pre-1950 and post 1950. Maybe favorite buildings designed by a local architect. Maybe favorite building by a Fort Worth-area architect. Maybe favorite post-1990 buildings, since things have really started to cook in the past 20 years.

I think it would be interesting to recognize architectural solutions that overcome the limitations of the project/budget/client. That is one of the things I like about the Young Residence -- it's an elegant solution on a very tight budget.

Just a few thoughts.

Stephen Darrow, AIA said...

Thanks for the ideas

Steve-O said...

You're welcome, Stephen. Drop by again soon!

Joe Self said...

I was very pleased to see our house listed as one of your favorites (the white modern one). I am an architect and my wife is a designer. I no longer teach at TCU but we are building our architecture/design firm with the intent of bringing more modern to Fort Worth.

Stop by any time, we'll show you around.