Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Tolstoy House

The Tolstoy House by John Lautner is a remarkable structure built in the 1960's in the Alta Loma District of what is more widely known as the present day City of Rancho Cucamonga. It was built for a teacher whose family had cultivated the land years before as Citrus groves. Rather detailed descriptions of the house can be found in John Lautner, Architect by John Lautner and Frank Escher and in the monograph The Architecture of John Lautner by Alan Hess.
The house is all but surrounded by more recent developments but the carefully cultivated landscape isolates the home visually and it becomes a pavilion in a near tropical oasis.  The structure is a series of concrete curving walls with a daring steel cable roof structure over which is built a light weight wood sheathing.  Steel columns support plate glass windows.  The building is actually three detached structures( residence, a music studio, and an open air lath house) united by the common steel cable overhead.

I had the pleasure, honor really; of being a resident caretaker before the house was sold to the present owners, and my family were the first to live in the house after the Tolstoys moved out. It was a remarkable experience one I may detail in other posts but for now I wanted to post some images of this little known but significant design by one of the most important figures of 20th Century Modern Architecture.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A new chapter

When I set out to keep this blog (all 4 entries) I thought the focus would be primarily on the work I was doing for Modern Living Spaces. But life takes different turns, and the title of this blog is "How about a career in Architecture:, not how about a career at Modern Living Spaces. Let me say that my departure from Modern Living Spaces, was completely amicable, a good opportunity for my career and my family presented itself and I made the difficult choice of leaving an extremely satisfying position. I have nothing but warm feelings for everyone I had the privilege of working with there, wish them well in their endeavors and sincerely hope our paths will cross again. Modern Living Spaces will always be a fond memory and a highpoint in my development as a designer, the freedom, the canvas, the support of the team and the owner were overwhelming. To Mark Bodon, President of Modern Living Spaces I express a most heartfelt thank you for every opportunity you gave me, Thanks for taking a chance on me, I am very grateful for your patronage and your friendship.

A New Job

For the most part I have worked for myself doing small scale commisions for word of mouth clients, or have had work from smaller developers. People needing plans for speculative projects, some interesting work some not so interesting, but it was largely under my own supervision. My wife and I would work together on these projects. I am fortunate to have a strong enough relationship with her to be able to work along side her, something many people told us they would not have been able to do. In a creative sense this was a a highly succesful venture, and we still collaborate on projects in this manner. The work was dependent on a sometimes fickle construction market, sometimes we have alot on the drawing board sometimes not. My goal has been to one day become a licensed Architect, to do so requires a requisite amount of time employed by a Licensed Architect, although I met this requirement to graduate the flow of work was sufficient post graduate to not neccesitate my finding a job in the traditional apprentice model. With this thought always in the back of my head I kept a look out for the right position that might come along to put me on track for this requirement.

I was contacted by a firm intrigued by my independent experience and by my hand drawing abilities, after several interviews and an examination I was offered a position as a designer in their firm that designs large scale retail developments. I was completely open about my lack of significant computer ability, and to my surprise was informed that they would be willing to teach me. I have always been interested in Department Stores and hoped for the opportunity to design one some day. Resigned to the fact (for some unknown reason) that perhaps my destiny was as a residential designer I assumed I would never have a chance to work on any large commercial projects. So now I have a new job, learning by doing and getting paid for it, a truly happy occurence; CAD classes being very expensive. Plus the principal is a licensed Architect and should things work out will put me back on track to licensure.

It is a completely different environment from that which I am used too, and I am frankly pleased for this change, there is still a lot of design freedom, It is an informal yet corporate environment and the structure is actually not that hard to adjust to as I feared. I am very happy at my new post.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Googie Style

One of my passions is for the particular strain of modern architecture that is called "Googie" or Coffee Shop modern. It takes it's name from a chain of Coffee Shops named Googie's; several of which were designed by noted Frank Lloyd Wright Apprentice John Lautner. Lautner designed several other Coffee Shops as well and is commonly refered to as the father of this particular movement. Now he didnt set out to do this and did not care for the label. Lautner did not see himself as designing Coffee Shop architecture, he was doing REAL ARCHITECTURE and it happened to have the function of a Coffee Shop. Lautner saw Architecture as an individual response to an individual problem, his work is clearly of the "Organic" tradition of his mentor. Lautner was accused of arbitrary unsupported effects in his work, but he rejected the criticism as ignorant and had a justification for whatever he did, this was usually only communicated fully through the experience of one of his buildings. In fact pictures often do not do Lautner buildings justice, I had the honor of living in a Lautner residence and it truly is meant to be experienced. Lautner is about space, and how Architecture interacts with light, with the site, with the client, with the program. His work is never arbitrary nor is it a style with consistent repeatable motiffs, his language is not so much one of planes and structure like Neutra or most Mid-Century Designs but a language of form, solids, voids, light , and shadow. A unifying element of all of his work is the bold roof. Even his commercial projects usually are about a bold roof form. This is not unlike the legion of Coffee Shops by other Architects as well.

Why the emphasis on the roof? The fundamental principle of any architecture is shelter and a bold roof communicates this clearer than any other Architectural gesture. This is a recurring theme of Coffee Shop Modern. Think back to any vintage Denny's and the image is of that inverse check mark floating above walls of glass. At once you read the primal image of shelter, the cave and yet you know by the walls of glass it is no mere cave. Of course between the walls of glass are slender steel structural members, the real structure, but the image is communicated first, shelter, modern shelter. The Coffee Shop was refuge from the road, and yet with it's walls of glass the parking lot was practically wallpaper, It is an Architecture that is primarily associated with commercial uses but the underlying principles are not specific to those uses. There are Architects, like Lautner, who used the same ideas to inform their residential designs. That is the tradition I most like to work in. At BBarH Ranch there have been some opportunities to do so, here on this Desert Plain shelter is the first concern and so I designed a few projects around this idea.

This image is a view of a 3 bedroom 3 bath residence of 2200 square feet. At the heart of the plan is the Kitchen and Great Room, center of the family ala Wright. The imediate image read is the large soaring roof truss. It rises from a 8' plate at the bedrooms to 10' at the Master bedroom and kitchen before rising at another angle to 12' feet. The Soaring roof is the line of aspiration, it also provides at it's lowest point a sense of shelter and intimacy for the bedrooms. At the space formed by the intersection of the great room wing and the bedroom wing is a sheltered outdoor terrace, here both the greatroom and the master bedroom open onto an area the effectively doubles the living space. The Roof seems poised for flight being held in place by a slender steel V-Strut column and has two large openings through which pass mature Palm Trees blurring the distinction between the indoors and outdoors. Where feasable there are large expanses of floor to ceiling glass, and stone walls accent the stucco walls. The imagery is primal via the stone and heavy roof and yet sleek and modern through the steel strut and large expanses of glass. All of these being qualities compatible with the desert surroundings.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Ranch

Most of my energies are devoted to BBARH Ranch Estates. These homes are located between Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs on the grounds of the old B-Bar-H Ranch, a celebrity retreat prior to World War II. Stars like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power, biggies like that from way back when would come to unwind , ride horses, do the whole camping and dude ranch thing. At night there would be swanky parties with dancing and what not. The developer was a producer named Lucien Hubbard, was involved with the film "Wings", the first best picture winner at the Oscars. Later he would have former Wright Apprentice John Lautner design a motel a few miles north, a motel that still stands. Building Modern here is a way to tap into both the celebrity connection as well as the Modern Architecture pedigree. You might say we are picking up a time tested method of building in the desert. Which frankly I think is a valid approach. There is a quiet restfullness to the stark setting here, the mountain panorama is striking, and at night the stars shine brightly as the developed areas are farther away here. It really is a wonderful combination of the Martini Modern lifestyle crossed with a zen-like setting.

The homes are set among existing non-modern residences, and the project calls for some 70 plus houses. We even have inspired two copycat builders building lookalikes here. The moderns sell better here though. Why build here? This is the most often asked question, why not in Palm Springs? The builders have built these homes in Palm Springs, but they wanted to do more than tap into the modern aesthetic, at the heart of building these homes out near Desert Hot Springs was the desire to make the houses affordable. Attainable Modernism is what it is all about, and the mix of buyers has proved this a correct move. Here you will find middle class full time residents alongside with more affluent weekenders, wanting a getaway but not a budget buster.

Friday, June 23, 2006

An Introduction

Who am I? Why should you care about anything I have to say? I can only answer one of those questions. And you should care about what I say because... my name is Scott , Scott Kirk Cueto to be precise, and you must not forget the Kirk Cueto because like assasins all great Architects have three names. I have been urged by a close friend to blog, and I have resisted to do so for several reasons, but things change and now seems as good a time, probably the best time atleast for me to start.

Since the beginning of 2006 I have worked for a wonderful company that specializes in modern homes near Palm Springs. I act as a design coordinator making sure the houses are built to the spirit of Mid-Century Modernism, I'll talk more about that later. This isn't meant as a sales tool, and of course these are my opinions solely and in no way represent those of Modern Living Spaces or any of it's subsidiaries(now that is over with) it is just a way to chart the architectural journey I am on here as I design interiors of houses that I did not design and work on all new designs . I suppose I'll chart the progress of that here as well.

The title of my blog refers to a career guidance book I inherited from a library purge when I was in Junior High School. I went to a school built in 1967 and so everything in the library was state of the art to that year, by the time I came along in the early 90's this jewel stared at me from across the room, here you could draw all day, and make models all night, which frankly is what college was somewhat like. Of course the reality was a little bit different from the circa 67 book, and now everything is done on computers, but I continue to stand tall with my dixie cup ready to collect the water gushing through the dam as i remain committed to pencil, pen and t-square. This book extolled the virtues of the profession at the period in which I found myslf most drawn. I pursued other period books and became versed in Architecture at mid-20th century. My High School was built in 1959, and so of course all of the books there were state of the art 1959 . I found a book on Frank Lloyd Wright and that sealed the deal. It wasn't until 2006 that my passion for Mid-century combined with a client wanting the very same thing. So now armed with a passion for my work I can write about it. Although I'll warn that Architects are notoriously clunky writers and for that I apologize in advance, but hey I'll bet most writers would be hard pressed to design a house.