The eminent Yale English professor Harold Bloom wrote a book called The Anxiety of Influence that talked about a poet’s fear of being derivative (and thus inferior) because of precursor poets’ influence on his or her work. Well, in architecture, the influence of previous architecture on an architect’s new work may not be so anxious-making. And some, like Frank Lloyd Wright wouldn’t admit it anyway — remember his famous comment when asked if he was influenced by Gustav Klimt: “I was refreshed by Gustav Klimt.”
In many cases design precedents can provide architectural inspiration. For example, the firm of Turnbull Griffin Haesloop was asked to design a house to replace one by the late Bay Region modernist William Wurster that had burned down. (All color photos in this posting courtesy TGH Architects.) They sought inspiration in previous Wurster designs, like this Aptos, California, beach house, below, from the 1930s (Photo courtesy Environmental Design Archives.)
See how flanking wings cleverly create sun traps and windbreaks facing the ocean while the ramp leads down to the sand. Barn doors open the living room at the center. It’s a simple and brilliant design. Now see how the TGH firm adapted and reinvented it.
Coastal building regulations mandate “breakaway construction” so the main living areas are raised on concrete columns one level above the lot. Now the whole house is on the second floor, not just the bedrooms, which was the case in the Wurster example.
The flanking wings for sitting room and dining room are enclosed for year-round use and become vivid nature-viewing pavilions overlooking the ocean. The ramp has evolved into a kind of amphitheater-stair.
The ingenious flexibility of the Wurster design has been adapted to very different site conditions.
The lead image at the top of this posting shows the new living room looking toward one of the pavilion wings. To quote a famous headline from Sunset magazine: “It’s the same only different.”
Similarly, our FLEXAHOUSE plan introduced in the previous posting shares DNA with Wurster and other Bay Region touchstones. The trick is not to be bound by precedent but to bounce upon it.
Two New Books for More Inspiration
Ranch Houses: Living the California Dream, by architects David Weingarten and Lucia Howard (who have never shied away from history in their own design work), with eloquently sumptuous photography by Joe Fletcher, has just been published by Rizzoli.
It shows what a remarkably diverse form the ranch house can be, from rustic and romantic Spanish California ranchos to the crisp sculptural geometries of modernists like John Lautner (whose design is on the cover) and Marmol Radziner. The book made me realize that we have a lot of ranch house designs at Houseplans.com, with our FLEXAHOUSE being the latest example.
Prefab Green, by Michelle Kaufmann and Catherine Remick chronicles the rise of the firm that has done so much to make eco-friendly prefabricated modern houses a reality.
Michelle shows who and what inspired her work — from Michael Graves and Frank Gehry to Joe Eichler and Cliff May – and outlines her principles of green design. (Disclosure: yours truly wrote the preface.) There’s no anxiety of influence here, just the exercise of a disciplined imagination!