A divergent tale of Modern architecture: the classic and the… um…

Okay, so indulge me my love of architecture. A great building that has survived the test of time – structually and philosophically – carries the value of a great antique, in my book. And then some.

Two stories came across my path at the exact same time and they tell a very interesting story.

One is a story from the NYT on the sale of a houe designed by Louis Kahn – truly an amazing masterpiece of “Modern” architecture – being auctioned later this spring by Wright auctions in Chicago. Richard Wright is one of a handful of guys that knows Modernism,


Image by Ezra Stoller

The other is a story circulating across the AP wire and beyond – all around the blogosphere – about a famous Chatanooga, TN house shaped like a flying saucer.


Image by Greg Brown

There’s something here, in the connection between these two structures, that speaks to the deep love Americans have of their personal space and their once-upon-a-time penchant for personal architecture.

On one hand, we have the Esherick house, which Kahn designed, and which is – simply put – a masterpiece. It’s a one bedroom in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, that represents only one of three – THREE – homes that one of the 20th century’s most famed architects ever designed and built. Look at the NYT story, see the pics; you can feel the excitement of Mid-Century America and the need for redesignation of personal space. It’s small-ish, but wide open, with big windows and that undeniably classic Modernism look and feel. It’s expected to go for a few million buck. A steal, I’d say, given what the house means philosophically.

Kahn made no efforts to hide the structure, weight or design of his buildings. They are wide-open, honest and inspiring in the way that the best of American modern architecture is/was. Kahn wanted inhabitants of his buildings, and the appreciating looks of passersby, to be totally immersed in the fullness and “heaviness” of a structure. You cannot help but be sucked in by such simultaneous ideas, such disinterested interest, if I can go a little Zen on it…

The Flying Saucer house in Tennessee? Well, while maybe not a “classic” in the sense that classic means “judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind,” but it’s a real eye-catcher, huh? I mean, you’re not likely to see a house that says so clearly, “HEY! I WAS BUILT IN THE LATE 1960s/EARLY 1970s!” anywhere.

This thing came about, evidently built by two quite normal folks, about the time that Star Trek was cancelled and just as the U.S. was dominating the space race and putting its flag on the moon – which, if you didn’t know, means that we own it. Somebody put enough thought and time into this place to make a decent enough house to stand almost 40 years now, which means it will soon be eligible for historic preservation. Let me tell you, if the thing could actually take off, I’d buy it in a heart beat. I’m still waiting to hear back from the realtor if it has booster jets somewhere underneath there…

You can bid on both, you could own both, you could be the ultimate post-modern homeowner.

If I had to choose though – and I know this will surprise those of you who know my penchant for kitschy 1970s stuff that makes me feel like a kid eating cheerios to the 6 a.m. glow of Saturday morning cartoons as our Standard Poodles, Chauvinist and Nischi, wait for the few that would inevitably drop (was that really worth the time it took to write?) – I would go for the Kahn house in a second. Just look at it. What a beauty.

I would, though, love to get a look inside the Saucer house, and to see if the warp drive is fully functioning. That could change things quite a bit…

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