07 May 2018

Danna House: Kirkwood Case Study

Danna House (1960) –– Front Elevation facing East

The Danna House will be celebrated on Wednesday, May 9 at Kirkwood City Hall at its Favorite Building Awards. The event begins at 7pm. Please join us to honor this historic Mid-Century Modern home! The event is free and open to the public. Doris Danna and members of her family will be in attendance. Many other homes will receive awards!

This architectural gem is a classic mid-century modern home drawing upon Case Study houses and Bauhaus precedents. The home is efficient and economical in its design and construction. Its structure is clearly expressed, yet the form is restrained and disciplined. This modernist structure thoughtfully respects its landscape, climate, and solar orientation. The house has maintained its essence over more than five decades.

Charlie and Doris Danna met in 1952 at Washington University in St. Louis while attending the School of Architecture. They married soon after and began searching for a natural site on which to build their family home. In 1953, they were fortunate to befriend Russell and Ruth Kraus who were building their Frank Lloyd Wright designed home on a wooded lot near Ballas and Dougherty Ferry Roads. Wright had designed a proposed subdivision of architect-designed homes on the eastern portion of their property. The Danna's were the first to realize their home in this neighborhood.

Doris Danna had been working as a site planner for architect, landscape architect and planner Emmett Layton. She took on the job of redesigning the proposed subdivision which builders were unwilling to undertake. Initially, Charlie had begun working for William B. Ittner before moving to the newly founded architectural practice of Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum.

Danna House –– Living Room with continuous window wall on the South (right side)

The Danna's were inspired by the Case Study Homes published in Arts & Architecture magazine. They drew inspiration from the work of Richard Neutra, Charles & Ray Eames, and Craig Ellwood. The philosophies of architectural modernism expressed by Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer were clearly informed their approach to the design.

Danna House –– The floor plan clearly delineates the four cardinal directions: passage at the East and West, protected openness toward the South, and protection and privacy to the North.

With an eye toward practicality, efficiency, and simplicity, they kept their design minimal, logical, and economical. The plan is thoughtfully oriented to the four cardinal directions. You enter the house from the East crossing over a porch that doubles as a bridge over a gravel drainage path. A porch with a matching width extends out toward the West.

Danna House –– West Elevation with projecting above-grade porch

Toward the South, a balcony extending the full depth of the house admits sunlight, while providing an overhang which helps to keep direct sun out on the hottest summer days. Deciduous trees were thoughtfully deployed to provide additional summer shade while admitting the warming ray of the low winter light. The views from the house are breathtaking. The extensive glazing brings the changing seasons into the home as an integral aspect of its atmosphere.

Danna House –– South Elevation with continuous cantilevered balcony

The house is compact and efficient. The first floor space is open with entry, living room, dining room, kitchen, flowing around a central hearth. Three compact bedrooms and two bathrooms are arrayed along the North Elevation which is more enclosed with narrow windows.

Danna House –– Living Room features clerestory windows at East and West ends

Plants and musical instruments (like the grand piano and modernist harp) become sculptural elements in the open, light-filled interior. A massive masonry hearth fills the wall opposite the view South. The fireplace, together with the Kitchen and Utility Room anchor the center of the house leaving the exterior walls free of intervening elements. The Danna's later commissioned the neighbor Russell Kraus to design stained glass for the clerestory windows at the East and West ends of the main living space.

Danna House –– Looking from the Dining Room to the East

The home's design is particularly expressive of the structure within its walls. White bands at the top and bottom of the exterior walls express the horizontal floor and roof structures while the vertical white accents highlight the locations of structural wood columns. In this way, the home has the classical grace and clarity of the much more expensive, elaborate Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois fashioned of steel and glass.

Danna House –– Balcony cantilevers to the South protecting the openings at the lower level

The house declares its presence as unapologetically modern with fieldstone walls highlighting its geometrical simplicity and marking its separation from the natural environment within which it stands proudly.

Danna House –– Site Plan reveals original driveway accessing Dougherty Ferry Road

The house is intelligently oriented on site to capture the most compelling natural views toward the South and West. Their property abuts the land that is now a part of The Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park which is a modernist house museum of the highest quality surrounded by the natural landscape intended by Wright's design. The rolling hillside connects to the nearby Sugar Creek Nature Preserve along Ballas and Adams.

Danna House –– Original Treehouse mirrors the geometry and logic of the home

The raised porch employs the same structural forms as the Treehouse. These structures make explicit what the cladding of the house suggests. Vertical and horizontal structural elements predominate. Elegant and efficient structural design reveals the home's profound and clear design conception and realization.

Danna House –– Protected Porch extends toward the West

The design of the Porch and Treehouse allow the children to appreciate how special their elevated preserve up in a massive elm tree truly is. They can look down on the adults at the house and understand the formal and structural elements which support each house.