02 May 2008

A Modern Story from Dallas

There's a terrific story in the Dallas Morning News about a modern architect named Harold Prinz and his wife, Jeannette, and the future of the house the built in 1950, now that he's dead and she's 86. I like it because it's really a sweet love story about a couple who worked together on every aspect of their living situation, even though he was an architect and she wasn't. They shared the same modernist sensibility and persisted until they got the house they wanted.

In a way it reminds me of my in-laws, who were exact contemporaries of the Prinzes, similarly steeped in modernism and collaborated on their house here in Pound Ridge, even though neither were architects. Here's what the reporter says about the future of the Prinz house:

In an age of bulldozers and zero-lot-line McMansions, what will happen to this one-of-a-kind home?

"Regardless of its pedigree, the Prinz residence could turn into a teardown scenario," warns Peabody. "The very fact this is a midcentury home, of smaller proportions than most, makes it more of a target for an insensitive renovation or demolition."

One of Prinz's contemporaries shares Peabody's concern.

"O'Neil Ford once told me there will come a day when you outlive some of your buildings. He was absolutely right," says semi-retired architect Ralph Kelman, now in his 70s, and best known for his design of the Hilton Inn (now Hotel Palomar) and Willow Creek shopping center.

"Things are more flamboyant now," says Kelman. "I think midcentury design was, comparatively, more honest."

It's an ideal description for the Prinz home, and a quality Jeanette hopes someone else will appreciate about her husband's design.

"It's time to let this place go and let someone else love it," Jeanette says. "I just hope they don't paint over my redwood walls."

One interesting aspect of the tale is that the Prinzes wanted financing from the Federal Housing Authority, but the FHA wasn't interested in anything but a conventional house. The reporter writes:

The FHA had four chief complaints against Prinz's design for his Oak Lawn Heights residence:

1. The lack of windows on the west-facing front of the house

2. The large expanses of uninsulated plate glass

3. The nonconventional heating system

4. The unlevel lot

Ironically, all of the elements the agency cited as not fitting in with the era's design standards were the very components Prinz used to make the house literally fit in to its site and region.

The west-facing front – red brick wall, solid and demure – was designed without windows to avoid interior heating from the afternoon sun.

Conversely, large expanses of glass on the home's south and east walls beckon in the rays, open views to the side garden and lush ravine out back, and help warm the home with sunlight in winter.

The dramatic windows in the living room stretch to the ceiling rafters and follow the peak of the high-pitched roof. Plate glass works fine here, thanks to strategic overhangs, which help to moderate the elements. ...

I also commend the Dallas Morning News for its use of photos (I'm sure my commendation will make their day). I've complained a lot about how lame newspapers can be: over and over they write about modern architecture and include no picture. The Dallas Morning News created a slide show of a dozen black and white photos from the 1950s, here (photo 6 caught my eye because of the Jens Risom chairs).

The story also includes a link to PreservationDallas.org. One of our loyal readers is in the Dallas area. Maybe he can do a drive-by of the Prinz house and tell us what it looks like in 2008. -- ta

No comments: