29 August 2005

O'Keefe Residence -- perspective sketch

A sketch by architect Harris Armstrong for a house to be constructed in Moberly, Missouri. The design dates from 1937. It may have been constructed, but in a modified form. The only record of the house are some sketches for its design, but no photographs or articles document it's construction.

This drawing reveals a number of characteristics of Armstrong's designs. While it clearly shows his inspiration by the modern architecture of Europe, the concept for the house is not a pure geometrical form. Although rendered in white stucco, having flat roof, glass blocks, corner windows, and other features typical of this design approach, the manner in which he incorporates landscape and gardens into the basic idea for the house.

In this way, the O'Keefe Residence follows the precedents set by several of his earlier built works: the Shanley Building (1935) , Cori Residence (1935), and Deffaa Residence (1937). In each case, white surfaces (either painted brick or stucco) were used as a foil for plantings which were selected and positioned as integral to the design.

28 August 2005

Deffaa Residence -- exterior

Armstrong designed this small brick masonry home in 1937 for the Deffaa family. The house is located at the end of a street at the top of a rise overlooking Chippewa in South Saint Louis.

The whiteness of the painted brick tends to de-emphasize its physical materiality abstracting the form as a cubic mass, rather than as a structure assembled from many separate modular elements. The horizontal banded bricks at the building corners tend to provide shadowing which relates to the adjacent dark band of glazing. This detail aesthetically breaks the corner, while still allow for the load-bearing condition.

As is typical in Armstrong's work, attention has been paid to the composition and selection of plant materials to complement and accentuate particular aspects of the design. The evergreen plantings surrounding the house at grade emphasize the overall horizontality of the composition, while the two vertical junipers accent the subtly emphasized vertical mass designed to contain a fireplace and chimney. The planters located on the roof are signature Armstrong elements which help to ground the ethereal, futuristic lightness of the house.

Deffaa Residence (by Hilary)

Classic 1930's modern.
Originally uploaded by Hilary (curioush).

Here the house looks like it's in a tropical climate with the palm tree on the terrace.

Photograph by Hilary, October 2004.

Deffaa Residence (by Anna)

Merry Christmas!
Originally uploaded by annappleaday.

A Christmas image of the house taken in the rain. Because of its prominent location on a hill overlooking Chippewa, this house seems to be relatively well known around Saint Louis (at least among photographers and lovers of modern architecture).

Photograph by Anna, December 2004.

Deffaa Residence -- interior composite

View of the main living space of the Deffaa Residence. Originally designed in 1937, this house is fortunate to have had owners willing to respect and care for the character of the house. Homes of this age require a commitment of resources and an eye for making an older home function to satisfy contemporary living standards.

Photography by Andrew Raimist.

Deffaa Residence (by Toby)

Exterior view of the Deffaa Residence designed by Armstrong in 1937. The cubic brick masonry structure was painted white. Although the house appears to be two stories and positioned up on a hill, it actually has three stories. On the upper level in the southeast corner, there's a terrace located over the main entry.

Photograph by

27 August 2005

Deffaa Residence -- front yard

View from terrace down to front yard. Concrete stairs connect the sidewalk to the main entry. The house is positioned high up on a hill. The curvilinear form the the snaking walk contrasts the rectilinear form of the house.

Deffaa Residence -- railing

View of steel guardrail at Deffaa Residence terrace. Originally, translucent glass panels filled the openings.

24 August 2005

Deffaa Residence -- roof terrace

This steel rung ladder provides access from the upper level terrace to the main roof. The steel rungs are anchored into the brick masonry.

Deffaa Residence -- terrace railing

View of guardrail at upper level terrace. The portion that has been painted purple originally contained panels of wired, frosted glass. The remainder of the steel guardrail structure is coated with the zinc protective paint similar to the original finish of the entire metal structure.

Deffaa Residence -- light shaft

Vertical strip of glass blocks facing west at the stair hall.

Deffaa Residence -- stair hall

View of the Deffaa Residence stair hall looking from the upper level landing. The vertical strip of glass blocks is set into the brick masonry exterior walls with a full height of one and one-half stories. This vertical accent of natural light and space is a dramatic feature in this small, economical cubic home.

Deffaa Residence -- stair

View of staircase with bent aluminum handrail and vertical shaft of natural light. The Deffaa Residence was designed by Harris Armstrong in 1937. The floor structure at the upper level is cantilevered at the inside corner of the stair.

14 August 2005

Graham Residence -- sculpture maquette

This photograph is a snapshot taken by Harris Armstrong in the studio of a sculptor. The piece depicted is a maquette for a "totem pole" beside the entrance to the Dr. Evarts Graham Residence (1941).

Graham Residence -- model for "totem pole"

Model for carved wood "totem pole" in the sculptor's studio. Snapshot taken by Armstrong (c. 1941).

Graham Residence -- main entry

Dr. Evarts Graham Residence designed by architect Harris Armstrong in 1941. Dr. Graham was an important researcher at Washington University's School of Medicine.

Graham Residence -- north perspective

Perspective drawing of North elevation that looks out over the Missouri River valley.

Graham Residence -- fence

A fence designed by Armstrong at the Dr. Evarts Graham Residence.

Graham Residence -- main entry, snapshot

A snaphot taken by Harris Armstrong around 1941 of the Graham Residence not long after its completion. These snapshots appear to be sort of "scouting" shot to work on evaluating good viewpoints for the professional photographer.

The limestone wall at the left simultaneously conceals an exterior service court adjacent to the garage and directs the visitor toward the main entry.

Graham Residence -- solarium

Interior garden and solarium adjacent to the entry to the Graham Residence. The angle in the brick wall is the "result" of the main staircase bridging over the opening.

Graham Residence -- solarium/greenhouse

View looking into the solarium / greenhouse to the right of the main entry hall.

Graham Residence -- entry close-up

An alternate view of the entry shot later in the day (more light is reaching the flagstone path). In this version, the curved line of the canopy's shadow draws the visitor's eye to the entry door. In this version, the sculptural totem is visible, but not as emphatic.

11 August 2005

Graham Residence -- specifications title sheet

The cover sheet from Armstrong's set of typed specifications. Drawn and typed on a thin sheet of yellow tracing paper. Above is a perspective view of the Main Entry Hall with Main Stair at your immediate right, glass door to Solarium, and steps down into the Living Room.

At the bottom is a location map indicating the locations of "The House", Kirkwood (Armstrong's Office), Saint Louis, Alton, the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and majors roads connecting these communities. Drawing accurately detailed small location maps was a personal quirk of Armstrong's.

Graham Residence -- entry canopy

A sort of totem appears to support the right side of the entry canopy. The design evokes intentional contrasts between natural form, natural materials, abstract form, and modern materials.

Vines curls around wires leading them onto the canopy. The massive limestone wall at the left directs the eye to the entry. The curved forms of the overhead canopy, including its tapered columns, speak to Armstrong's simultaneous engagement with modernist form and natural materials.

Graham Residence -- front elevation

The front facade of the Graham Residence (1941) faces toward the South. The angled stone masonry wall conceals a five car garage and a service court. The white limestone leads to the shadows of the main entry canopy.

Graham Residence -- rear elevation

The rear elevation of the Graham Residence overlooks the Missouri River. Extensive horizontal bands of glass give panoramic views. Horizontality is emphasized with the combination of glazing and roof planes. The masonry chimney is almost like a stake anchoring the house in place.

09 August 2005

Armstrong III -- family room

The double height Family Room with full glazing out toward the back yard (toward the South). A large indoor planter built-into the floor is located along the inside of the glass.

At the upper level overlooking the Family Room is Louise Armstrong's bedroom. Operable shoji screens offer a feeling of open space or visual privacy. It also allowed Mrs. Armstrong the ability to keep view the family's ongoing activities.

Below her bedroom, recessed down half a story is the Dining Room. The brick masonry chimney serves the three levels. There are small corner fireplaces in the Dining Room below and Bedroom that supplement the primary hearth in the Family Room.

Armstrong III -- rear trellis

Steel rods suspended from the roof beams support the horizontal wood trellis. Wire links climbing vines to the trellis. In the summer, the deciduous vines provide additional shade for the South facing glass, supplementing the horizontal roof overhang and trellis. In the winter, when sunlight enters the home at a lower angle, allowing sunlight to penetrate the South glazing. Armstrong developed combined system of solar control over several decades working in the Midwest, with its extremes of weather.

Armstrong III -- rear facade

Rear of the Armstrong Residence III is composed almost entirely of glass. This facade faces south and collects solar energy (i.e., during the winter). A trellis structure allows vines and vegetation to grow up to shield that house from the sun's harsh rays in the summer.

The larged glazed area to the right is the double height living space.

Armstrong III -- facade

The third home Armstrong designed and built for himself and his family. The house is divided as a "split-level". At the left is the double height space of the main Living Room. To the right the structure is on two levels: bedrooms above and kitchen, dining room, and carport below. The large glass windows at the Northeast corner of the house overlook a private golf course.

07 August 2005

"The Rockpile"

Harris Armstrong's weekend cabin in DeSoto, Missouri. The upper level contained a large fireplace and beds. The lower level (sometimes prone to flooding) contained a very basic kitchen. Armstrong built it himself during World War II, when there wasn't much construction acitivity. Unfortunately, it burned down in 1972.

04 August 2005

Siegfried Reinhardt portrait

Siegfried Reinhardt's sketched portrait of Harris Armstrong. The approximate date of the portrait is 1960.

Reinhardt was a noted painter and educator in Saint Louis, Missouri. He taught painting at the School of Art at Washington University in Saint Louis. His work combined realism with elements of surrealism and what woud later be called super-realism. In his most well-known Reinhardt created large scale murals depicting various groups and organizations. In some cases, Reinhardt and Armstrong collaborated on architectural projects that featured murals.

Plaza Square -- with George Kassabaum

HOK architect George Kassabaum views a rendering of the Plaza Square redevelopment with Harris Armstrong. HOK and Armstrong collaborated on this project to create new housing in downtown Saint Louis.

Richard Neutra and Harris Armstrong

This photograph of architects Richard Neutra and Harris Armstrong was taken in 1959 while they were attending the American Institute of Architects' (AIA) convention.

03 August 2005

Epiphany -- facade detail (c. 1960)

The free-standing steel cross is one of the critical elements of Armstrong's design that suffered due to budget constraints.

The third design featured an extruded crucifix that strongly modulated the entry experience. By being physically detached from the structure, the cross became a more purely sculptural signpost indicating to those driving by that this cubic block of brick was a christian church. Exterior articulation of the structure was reduced to a great extent, unfortunately diminishing it's sense of the human scale.

Epiphany -- site plan

Site plan with topographic contours for Armstrong's Epiphany Episcopal Church. This drawing represents the final version of the plan as it was built. No landscaping is indicated (save one portion of the pavement right of the main entry).

Epiphany -- final floor plan

Floor plan of final version of church as built. The front entry has been reduced to a bare minimum with the steel cross to the left of the entry and a planting bed to it's right.

Epiphany Church -- as built

This exterior snapshot of the church was taken shortly following it's construction. At this point, the landscaping remained incomplete. No trees had been installed in the planter outside the entry (as shown in the perspective rendering). It seems final grading was complete, but no grass or groundcover had yet been installed.

Due to financial constraints, I suspect these parts of the project were omitted from the contract and completed as volunteer projects by the congregation.

There was apparently considerable strain between the architect, builder, and church during the course of the construction. This can be attibuted to changes made necessary due to the budget limitations.

Epiphany -- final design

Armstrong's rendering of the final design, essentially as it was built. Many reductions due to limited funds severely minimized the integration of the building into the landscape or articulating its exterior in general.

Epiphany -- mass

View of church following construction. The black and white view from the rear emphasizes the solidity and massiveness of the stucture. It become virtually scaleless save the bricks. The white steel steeple is very light and subtle compared to the weight and blockiness of the building itself. Its so different in character and form, that it would be easy to assume it was part of another structure beyond.

Where the steeple meet the building's roof, it splits into three legs spanning over a skylight. The skylight admits light directly over the altar and its massive sculptural crucifix. The bottom of the steeple also holds the bell for the church.

Epiphany -- interior rendering

This is a one-point perspective rendering of the interior of the Epiphany Episcopal Church. The primary skylight admits light over the altar and the crucifix. Other skylights are positioned across the ceiling.

The choir and organ are located behind the brick screen wall at the right.

Epiphany -- building dedication

Newspaper article regarding church dedication on 2 November 1960.

02 August 2005

Epiphany Episcopal -- second proposal

This perspective rendering, produced in Armstrong's office, depicts his second proposed design. The form has a mixture of elements that include japanese design, contemporary design, and new construction technology.

01 August 2005

Epiphany -- third proposal, rear perspective

This rendering depicts the rear of the church were the social gathering spaces at the lower level and the instructional classrooms were intended to be located. The perspective is based upon Armstrong's third proposed design.

Epiphany -- model, third proposal

A color slide of Harris Armstrong's model for the Episcopal Epiphany Church proposed to be constructed at Ballas and Dougherty Ferry Roads in Kirkwood, Missouri. The brick masonry cube would house the sanctuary while the lower level would include meeting rooms, classrooms, and other spaces. Funding for the church was very limited, so the only portion built at the time was the sanctuary.

The model is shown located on the building site. The photograph was taken around 1959 by Mel Disney, an employee of Armstrong's at the time.

Epiphany Episcopal -- third proposal

Harris Armstrong's third proposed design for the Epiphany Episcopal Church in Kirkwood, Missouri. Although this congregation had been in existence for many years, it was its first physical, architectural manifestation. Prior to the construction of this structure, the congregation operated primarily out of homes and other borrowed spaces. It was a part of the Episcopal Church, USA.

This perspective drawing represents the third design proposed. The drawing was made in Armstrong's office around 1959.

The built version is fairly similar to the design shown here, except for the following: the three-dimensional crucifix on the facade became separated and free-standing; the walkway around the perimeter of the main sanctuary was eliminated; and the school structure shown beyond the terrace (as well as the lower level beneath it) were eliminated from the project. These changes were all driven by a lack of adequate funding, resulting in a great deal of frustration on the part of all parties involved.