Sunday, November 16, 2014

BERKSHIRE PHOTOGRAPHS: Architecture


During the past two summers, my wife and I vacationed for several days in the Berkshires. We stayed in a wonderful house on the outskirts of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, situated directly above the Housatonic River.  My post concludes with photographs of this house, one of two very special examples of the main focus for this blog: modern architecture in the Berkshires.

Most visitors to the Berkshires, however, think it more a place to encounter traditional and historical architecture, whether Colonial, Federal, the various 19th century revival styles, or early industrial building. And so I begin with the following six photographs, offering a cross-section of this more traditional architecture.






Willow Mill, Stockbridge/South Lee, MA, 1806-1872

Early industrial building enriches much of the Berkshire landscape (and the rest of New England as well). Willow Mill typifies its simple, honest style of raw-boned, 3-to-4-story masonry structures. In 1806, Samuel Church built the original paper mill on this site.

Paper mills of the Upper Housatonic River produced much of the nation's paper in the last century, and Willow Mill still is a functioning operation, producing(since 2009) Onyx Specialty Papers.   The first American paper mills date from the second quarter of the 18th century and served as important political statements in opposition to the British Crown after the Stamp Act of 1765.



First Congregational Church, Stockbridge, MA, 1824


Two pediments of different scale rising from Ionic pilasters reveal the Palladian influence of this simple, elegant church of the Federal Period. 




St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Stockbridge, MA, Charles Follen McKim, 1884

This Romanesque Revival church by Charles F. McKim shows an early, eclectic creativity with those two heavy, round piers of the entry porch (closest to us in this photo) suggesting Norman architecture; but then McKim combines Romanesque round arches, Gothic pointed lancet windows, and an overall asymmetry to define a set of differently functioning spaces. 

This was McKim's first church, and he donated his design services, because he was building a summer house in nearby Lenox for Julia Amory Appleton, whom he would marry in the following year.





Naumkeag, Stockbridge, MA, Stanford White, 1886

Naumkeag is one of many architect-designed "cottages" of the later 19th century, built for the wealthy Boston and New York families of the Gilded Age. This belonged to the Republican lawyer and eventual ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Hodges Choate.  In one of his cases of 1895, Choate successfully argued before the Supreme Court that the new income tax law was unconstitutional (a decision that stood for almost 20 years). 

Fortunately for America's prosperity and the growth of its middle class, Choate's success was short-lived and the 16th Amendment gave us the Revenue Act of 1916.   But back to Naumkeag and Berkshire architecture:

Choate consulted with McKim, who then gave the design project to Stanford White.  White's design reveals a combination of Shingle Style and French Norman features enlivened by a variety of porches, gables, dormer windows and chimneys: quite the cottage!  




Chesterwood, Stockbridge, MA, Henry Bacon, Interior with Corn Cob Capitals, 1900-1901

Chesterwood was the home and studio of Daniel Chester French, the sculptor of the seated Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.  Henry Bacon, the architect of the Lincoln Memorial (1915-1922) began a decades-long association with French in 1900, first designing French's house and his studio outside of Stockbridge, and then designing the architectural settings for over fifty of French's public sculptures.

Bacon's house for French is fairly conservative and straight-forward, which is why I don't picture it.  However, you will notice that these two interior columns sport capitals decorated with a motif of corn cobs. Bacon's unusual "maize" capitals reference the 1807 renovation of the Senate vestibule by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, whose idea was to "Americanize" the classical column for the nation's Capitol.




Arnold Print Works, 1866 ff, North Adams, MA, now MASS MoCA, 1992-1999, Bruner Cott & Associates

Thirteen acres, fifty-six buildings and the Hoosic River reconfigured as a flood chute in the 1950s constitute the grounds of MASS MoCA. This industrial mill site was converted into a museum of contemporary art once its last manufacturer, Sprague Electric Company, closed.

This sprawling site supported manufacturing as early as the Revolutionary War, and several of its businesses served war efforts: armor plates for the Monitor were forged here; Arnold Print Works made fabric here for the Union Army; and Sprague Electric Company made weapons components for the World War II effort, including the atomic bomb.

In a future blog post, I will return to MASS MoCA with a look at some examples of art in the Berkshires.  Now, however, I picture two very special examples of modern architecture: the recent work of the Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect, Tadao Ando, for the Clark Art Institute, and a modernist house situated above the Housatonic River by the architect, Christopher Owen.






Tadao Ando at the Clark Art Institute:



Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Entry Walk, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

 


Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center & Reflecting Pool, Rendering, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

The original Clark Art Institute, a simplified classical building of white marble which opened in 1955, here is seen, cut off, in the lower left of the above aerial perspective. The first fully-roofed oblong form in front of it is Tadao Ando's Pavilion, serving as a new entrance to the Clark.  The rest of Ando's design can be seen as our eye moves up and to the right.

With Ando's new design, the original Clark Art Institute building remains invisible from its automobile parking lots.  The visitor simply encounters a long, angled wall of red granite, pictured in the top photograph.  This wall can also be seen in the aerial rendering directly above; it angles in from the center of the far right edge of this rendering.  This wall, twelve feet high, acts both as barrier and guide. It channels the visitor towards that long oblong building that occupies the right-hand third of the perspective rendering.  This building, called either the Clark Center, Visitor's Center, or Visitor, Exhibition, and Conference Center (VECC), houses special exhibition gallery space, an events pavilion, dining, museum store and family spaces.




Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Entry Walk, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

A cantilevered, concrete slab marks the halfway point of this red granite wall and indicates a waiting area for public transportation. Here, also, are public restrooms and a recessed area where visitors can find maps, literature and an introductory video on the complex.






Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Entrance & Entry Walk, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

In this view, we look back towards the parking lots from the Visitor's Center.




Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Terrace & Reflecting Pool, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

Ando's design invites one to pass straight through the Visitor's Center and behold the beautiful 140 acres of Berkshire landscape  from an expansive terrace and reflecting pool.  It's a magical  transformation from the hard, narrow, linear confines of that granite wall to the soft openness of clouds, trees and water. 

It's almost as if Ando has created a metaphor of Snell's Law on the refraction of light.  As light (the museum visitor) enters at a non-perpendicular angle (dictated by the wall) into a slower medium (the interior of the Visitor's Center), and then exists into a faster medium (the open air and Terrace), it is refracted or in this case, otherwise transformed.

The visitor's initial entrance is into an interior space that is totally open with no visual distractions.  Large doors to the Terrace invite. Ticket counter and other activities are pushed off to the left; a multi-purpose exhibition space is off to the right.  Like a moth to light (or maybe a light refracting), the visitor moves past these, and proceeds across-and-out to the open Terrace beyond. There the viewer is treated to a completely changed experience.


As Boston Globe writer Robert Campbell states, here
"the architecture and the surrounding landscape have been choreographed into a single work of art." Ando explains his design philosophy more poetically: “We borrow from nature the space upon which we build.”






Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Terrace & Reflecting Pool, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

Here we look back to where we exited the Visitor's Center.





Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Terrace & Reflecting Pool, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

Here, in a detail of the Visitor's Center, we see the recessed steel structure of a corner, a motif implying that Ando is referencing the designs of Mies van der Rohe's steel structures.





Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Terrace & Reflecting Pool, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

Maybe here as well, where architecture, water and stone wall intersect, Ando might be tipping his hat to that iconic design by Mies, the Barcelona Pavilion of 1929.





Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Terrace & Reflecting Pool, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

The partially-hidden pediment in the distance is the original Clark Art Institute.





Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Terrace & Reflecting Pool, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

Looking in the opposite direction from the previous photograph, one sees the Reflecting Pool, a boundary red granite wall, and the Berkshire countryside. The four benches are a permanent installation by American "neo-conceptualist" artist, Jenny Holzer.





Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Terrace, Light Well, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA




Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Light Well, Interior, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

In these two photographs, we see the water of the Reflecting Pool at one level below grade, enabling Ando to create a light well and bring daylight to this lower level.   In fact, one of the other designers of this complex, landscape architect Reed Hilderbrand, has designed this three-tiered Reflecting Pool as  "part of an advanced water management system that reduces the Clark’s forecasted potable water consumption by approximately 50 percent, or one million gallons annually." Another source states that the water system "operates on a cycle of evaporation and bioretention, which allows the water to go back through the water table and into the landscape."





Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Terrace & Reflecting Pool, Interior, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

The transparency of this wall facing the Reflecting Pool emphasizes Ando's tendency to place his buildings within the natural environment and, in this case, to encourage us to look out at the natural environment as if it, too, were art.



Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Terrace & Light Well, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA




Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Terrace, Umbrella, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA




Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Terrace, Umbrella, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

I was unable to learn the name of the designer or manufacturer of these umbrellas, but they function as beautiful Terrace furniture and are almost works of art in themselves.



Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Terrace, Detail of Red Granite Wall, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

Here, a detail of that gorgeous red granite wall.





Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Corridor to Museum Pavilion, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA






Clark Art Institute, Corridor from Museum to Visitor Center, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA





Clark Art Institute, Visitor Center, Terrace, Detail of Concrete Wall, 2014, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

My long-time friend, Gabriel Yaari, who also is a master architect and wonderful designer, here indicates one of the special qualities of so many Tadao Ando buildings: a concrete wall so smooth that it really feels soft--one might almost say, "like a baby's bottom."

Wendy Moonan, writing for the Architectural Record, refers to this signature "'Ando concrete', poured into forms of birch plywood covered with phenolic surface film that make it silky smooth." 

I can only imagine the anxiety of our American contractors, trying to achieve the level of perfection demanded by this Japanese architect--who, in his earlier life, had been a truck driver and a boxer.  




Clark Art Institute, Lunder Center at Stone Hill, 2008, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA





Clark Art Institute, Lunder Center at Stone Hill, 2008, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

A ten-minute walk up the wooded hillside beyond the Visitor's Center leads to Ando's first building and the first phase for the Clark Art Institute and Williams College, the Lunder Center.  It houses public galleries, private spaces for the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, and a public terrace which can be used to exhibit sculpture.




Clark Art Institute, Lunder Center at Stone Hill, 2008, Tadao Ando, Williamstown, MA

From below, one can see a major concrete wall that angles through the structure. From above, however, the materials are steel and gray-stained cedar wood, chosen possibly to connect it better to the nearby wooded hillside.

I selected this detail, which flanks its main entrance, to suggest that Ando again is referencing Mies van der Rohe.  In this case, his steel I-beam functioning as a column and being recessed behind the exterior wall sheathing reminds me of Mies' early buildings of 1945-46 for Chicago's Illinois Institute of Technology. Only there, Mies' sheathing was glazed brick, not wood.






Christopher Owen's House on the Housatonic:




House on the Housatonic, Plan, 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

One enters the grounds of this house from the south, from an almost-hidden driveway entrance and through a dark, wooded drive. On this plan, the entry would be from the top.  Entry into the house proper (indicated by the black arrow) leads into an open living/dining area.   To our left (as we look at this plan) is a bedroom wing with a master bedroom on the lower left and two guest bedrooms above (to its south).  The checkered area to our right is a summer living room, stepped down from the main living room and designed to be closed off in winter to save heat.  The guest bedrooms may also be closed off in the winter, and the all-glass north wall (bottom of the plan) holds insulated, recessed shades that may be lowered on cold winter nights.



House on the Housatonic, Entrance, South Façade, 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

The entrance façade is opaque, a simple, horizontal white wall of vertical wood sheathing. Its only accents are a segmental pediment over the entry door and several narrow clerestory windows near the wall's top edge. From this side, the house reveals almost nothing about its interior space.



House on the Housatonic, Living Room (looking north), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

Upon entering, however, the house presents us with floor-to-ceiling fenestration, opening up to the landscape and the Housatonic River below. The effect is almost like walking through a wall and into an outside garden.



House on the Housatonic, North Façade (looking west), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

While the south (entry) façade appears anchored into the ground, this north façade seems to hover or float above the ground.  Its outer edges don't touch the ground because, as you will see in a later photograph, its structural columns are recessed in from the exterior wall.




House on the Housatonic, East Facade, 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

While the land slopes down sharply towards the river on the north side, it runs more gently and extensively on this east side.  The master bedroom is seen here on the right, one of the guest bedrooms is on the left. 

Note that a deep beam extends from the parapet level of the roof well beyond the east wall of the house and is anchored to the ground by a steel column.  In this manner, on the east (and the west) Owen extends his house far into the landscape, again masking the boundaries between inside and outside. 



House on the Housatonic, Master Bedroom (looking east), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

Each bedroom has its own, private sun porch; this one adjoins the master bedroom and looks east down to the river.




House on the Housatonic, North Façade, North-West Corner, 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA





House on the Housatonic, West Façade, North-West Corner, 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

In these two photographs of the west side, we can see the same sort of extension into the landscape beyond the actual enclosing walls of the house. 

Extending these structural elements quite far beyond the peripheral walls of glass and rooting them in the landscape, Owen is able to create outdoor living areas in the form of delightfully irregular decks.  These decks, in turn, challenge the traditional geometry of the right angle and create another layer of ambiguity between interior and exterior.





House on the Housatonic, Dining Room (looking east), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

Here is the corridor leading towards the bedroom wing. In the distance we see the master bedroom. Because the house originally was designed for a college professor of English, every space contains built-in bookshelves.



House on the Housatonic, Dining Room (looking east), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA




House on the Housatonic, Dining Room (looking south-west), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

Behind this island bar is a full kitchen.



House on the Housatonic, Entry & living Room (looking south-west), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

The main entrance is on the far left of this photograph. This open study, desk, and bookshelf area separates the living room from one of the two sets of steps that lead down to the summer living room.





House on the Housatonic, Living Room (looking west), Hearth, 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA




House on the Housatonic, Summer Living Room (looking east), Hearth, 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

A single chimney serves two hearths, each made into a sculptural statement through some fancy bricklaying. Note that the asymmetrical recess containing a painting in the main living room mantle suggests the form of a kiln. 

The idea of a fireplace as a sculptural object reminds me of the great Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier, but I have no idea if Christopher Owen was influenced by "Corbu" as he designed these elegant hearths.




House on the Housatonic, Summer Living Room (looking east), Hearth, 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

If you look carefully to the right of the hearth in this photograph, you will see that a heavy glass pane separates the summer living room from that open study off the main living room. This, of course, insures the efficient closing off of the two spaces in the winter. 



House on the Housatonic, Summer Living Room (looking east), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA




House on the Housatonic, Summer Living Room (looking south), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

Here we can see one of the main structural columns of the house and how far it is set back from the outer walls.  By doing this, Owen frees himself to treat the windows like transparent walls. Also, in this way he follows one of the main tenets promoted by Le Corbusier in his house designs.   Interestingly, Le Corbusier also was fond of using square tiles in some floor areas, like the ones Owen uses here.





House on the Housatonic, West Façade, Summer Porch, 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA




House on the Housatonic, North Façade, Summer Living Room & Porch, 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

One of the wonderful aspects of Owen's design is the fact that any corner on the north façade is a glazed corner. The floor-to-ceiling glass wall is butt-jointed; any opaque, stiffening structure is set in and away from the corner. This enhances the feeling from inside that one might, in fact, be outside.  



House on the Housatonic, West Façade, Summer Porch (north-west corner), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA




House on the Housatonic, West Façade (north-west corner), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA



House on the Housatonic, West Façade, Summer Porch (north-west corner), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA




House on the Housatonic, Sculptural Maquette, Living Room (north-east corner), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA




House on the Housatonic, Sculptural Maquette, Living Room (north-east corner), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA


This is one of two indoor sculptural maquettes by the Stockbridge artist, Robert Bartle.





House on the Housatonic, Summer Living Room (north-west corner), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA




House on the Housatonic, Summer Living Room (north-west corner), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

These two photographs, in particular, reveal the spatial ambiguity that accompanies Owen's butt-jointed corners. Both are taken from the inside, looking out; yet, it's truly difficult to know where one is.




Glass House, 1949, Philip Johnson, New Canaan, CT



Farnsworth House, 1945-1951, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Plano IL

I offer as comparison the two most iconic glass houses of the twentieth century. Although Johnson's Glass House and Mies' Farnsworth House have glass walls on all four sides, each wall ends with an opaque corner of structural steel. What this does is to make a frame. No matter how expansive the wall of glass, it remains a window acting as a picture frame; and so, it frames the landscape. There is no ambiguity between interior and exterior; the distinction between inside and outside remains unchallenged in these famous glass houses.

Even in one's peripheral vision, one sees those vertical end frames when looking out from these two houses.  These frames act as gauges of the occupant's position in space; they indicate that one is clearly inside, looking out at the natural world.  Johnson and Mies, no matter how large their glass walls may be, have not succeeded in erasing the window as a framing device for the landscape. 

Owen succeeds in doing this with his design.



House on the Housatonic, West Façade (north-west corner), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA



House on the Housatonic, West Façade (north-west corner), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA




House on the Housatonic, Living Room (looking north), Night View, 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

One final thought, given my comparison with Mies and Johnson. When I sit in the elevated living room of the House of the Housatonic at night and face the wonderful view to the north, my back, naturally, is to the south.  But, since that south wall is opaque, solid, and impenetrable, I feel protected.  I don't worry about "who or what is behind me." I suspect, with four glass walls and only curtains to draw, I might no feel as secure in the Mies of the Johnson house. In this way, the House on the Housatonic makes the dark night much more benign.




House on the Housatonic, Living Room (looking north-west), 1979-1980, Christopher Owen, Stockbridge, MA

Finally, as this late afternoon photograph reveals, because the house's main view is towards the north, its all-glass face never has to deal with direct morning or late-afternoon sun. One may enjoy the angled play of light on ceiling and floor, yet never have to draw the shades to block direct light.
I would argue that Christopher Owen's house is as beautifully and thoughtfully sited within its natural environment as is Tadao Ando's Visitor's Center at the Clark Art Institute. Both rank among the best examples of modern architectural design to be found anywhere--even here in the Berkshires!



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