Friday, March 15, 2013

Bungalows, Pi, Tau, Brackets

A bibliographical note at the end.
Some more images in Picasa Album
See also addenda throughout the text, made on 16 March 2013

Consider Very Early Frank Lloyd Wright
(G) 2332 Wisteria. The additions to the sides date from 1936.
(G) 2332 Wisteris

(G) 2332 Wisteria

(F), below,  is as nearly a duplicate of (G) with pi rather than tau below the slab and even with brick pillars and a balustrade made of bricks, too, as I have found anywhere in the Garden District.  They also have that squared bracket with bevels making a sort of blunt nose.  We are reminded of all the publications of Japanese prints and studies of Buddhist temple bracket roofing that were available worldwide just after WW I (and since the Chicago Fair, 1893, which had a Japanese temple).
(F) 840 Park Blvd. (not 822)
(F) 840 Park Blvd. (not 822)

(F) 840 Park Blvd (not 822)

(F) 840 Park Blvd (not 822)

These put the houses with the most similar details, in the two blocks of Wisteria between Camellia and S 22nd (nos. 1968, C, and no. 2142, B), discussed previously only as "minimal", in a different light.  The tau motif houses also have smaller brackets, not of squared timber beveled to make blunt ends.  They are small houses.  The Drehr Place house (G) even has these square brackets on the side.
Since I could climb a bit onto house (B), I was able to show its porch pillars with the tau motifs on three sides and, in profile, looking indeed like tenons to secure the joint to the pillar of the slab that holds the bracket (though these occupy a different position at Horyuji).  You can see how the idea of joinery interested the designer (and presumably the contractor, too).  I think I have seen such a device if not in Stickley then in Roycroft and, I think, in some beautiful specimen in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg (a museum for evryone who really loves furniture and cabinet work and photography, too—as you see I do, and, yes, they have pottery, too).

 (B) 2142 Wisteria
  (B) 2142 Wisteria
  (B) 2142 Wisteria
  (B) 2142 Wisteria
 (B) 2142 Wisteria
(B) 2142 Wisteria (details 
Though the brakets are triangular, they have their edges beveled in the same way.  And notice the little bar across the head of the main gable bracket.
(C) 1968 Wisteria (with Halloween decorations removed)
Both of the last two have transoms over their doors.  (C) seems to have the same floor plan but it may have been "simplified" as in series  that the MacAlesters show, pp. 18–19.  It is not so much changed as having lost some elements.  That is why when I say that only a few houses share traits, it must be remembered that like ancient coins that have passed through naive hands for cleaning and have been "tooled" many little houses have become hard to study comparatively.
Somewhat "exceptional" colors of paint can make a simple little house look strange.  I wondered whether this one's balustrade was Japanese-inspired, too, but, though probably meant as "oriental", I haven't found one in any of the Genji scrolls' illustrations or on a screen or in a print.  It is sad, though, how few Asian images I now have access to.  There are "oriental" oddments in Late Victorian, too.

(H) 1001 Park Blvd, at Olive

Some useful references on line and  in general books:

The bracket system came to Japan with Buddhism, but Japan which retained and evolved architecture in wood and joinery without metal as an aesthetic is the best place to look and a century ago was best known in the west (and well published).

Alexander Soper (for the architecture) in Pelican History of Art

Robert Treat Payne and Alexander Soper, The Art and Architecture of Japan, Harmondsworth, 1955.
This is the 1st edition, which I have at hand, in which Horyuji veranda is Figure 5 and other drawings, the Kondo Figure 7, details of other roof bracketing Figures 8–9.
Horyuji is what I thought of on seeing 2332 Wisteria Street, not that Horyuji is copied, but that I knew it was, along with Todaiji, the one that American architects, especially the Chicago school of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Prairie” period, would be sure to have known.  The low profiles are shared by the Prairie House and the American Bungalow (California included), and Japanese prints were well published, too (though Wright had a lot of late printings of them), and the Japanese temple at the 1893 World’s Fair was probably influential, too.  To my shame, I don’t know if San Francisco had one, too, but Golden Gate Park has its Tea Garden (which during WW II we did not call Japanese, though it was).
By the time, 1923 ff, that the Tokyo Imperial Hotel was built, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture was in a different phase.

Spiro Kostof, A History of Architecture, OUP, 1984.
p. 652 and p. 654, where with the title The Japanese House, we have plan and section and the established ratios based on tatami mats and then beautiful drawings of classic Japanese joinery.  That is how the 8th and 9th century temples were built, too, entirely without metal or glue.
The Craftsmen and those sympathetic with them understood, indeed adored, this Japanese aesthetic, but what we have on our bungalows is expressive of joinery; as in early Doric order in Greece the forms come from and express the wooden origin.  That is the only reason I mentioned it; the international Arts & Crafts, and specifically the Craftsman movement, is a tincture to the souls of all the early modern movements, in whatever form it takes.  Early 20c theories on the formation of the Doric and Ionic orders participate in it.  Craftsman pottery is just as japonais as the cult of joinery and the use of painted screens.  Just look at the Whistler room in the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.  Compare Hiroshige's (themselves western-influenced) prints with Monet's famous Impressions that gave their movement its name.  Consider Mme. Monet's silk kimono.  Our brackets are the last echo of the movement for, at once, the foreign and the primitive.  Did Gauguin mind putting a Buddha in a Gallo-Tahitian painting?  So it doesn't matter whether the buyers of some of Baton Rouge's bungalows knew or did not know (or that the minor architects knew or not) the japonaiserie of bungalow brackets.
We tend to think of OUR age as the one of dissolving cultural boundaries.  Nonsense!  I wish I had a set of photos of all the sets in major opera houses of performances of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" in its first quarter century on stage.  More than screens and kimonos, I am sure.

For that little house with a green balustrade, see the porch of the Griswold house in Newport, RI; ibid., p. 646.  I think this belongs to Victorian stick style.  And it seems, if the limited repertory on line is not misleading, that this kind of balustrade was really Chinese.  A young architect drunk on folios of beautiful engravings of Asian temples and palaces and gardens may not have cared, just so long as it was "oriental".