A design built for family.
I've always been drawn to Harry Weese's work. Sure, he blurred the boundaries of style and shunned a greater narrative, but his buildings feel, well, human. They are visceral and affecting, brave and sure-footed, but also cloistered in their own uniqueness, quiet in their detachment from the architectural winds of the moment. A bit of an outlier in the history of Modern architecture, Weese was an architect all his own- his work always inexhaustibly creative and never afraid of invention. To put it simply, Weese was a true original.
One of Weese's earliest projects, the Robert and Suzanne Drucker House is a scheme steeped in the architect's own familial bonds. Designed in 1952 for Weese's youngest sister, Suzanne, and her young family, the house is a picture of functionality and flexibility, a modern design carefully calibrated to meet the needs of the Drucker's growing brood. Situated along a tree-lined street in Wilmette, Illinois (just outside of Chicago), the minimal, low-slung residence, as distinctly modern as it may look, manages to blend with its more traditional surroundings, the cedar plank-clad facade and simple massing seamlessly tying into the suburban landscape.
Quietly closed to the street, the front of the Drucker House is spare, its modern geometry partially obscured by slatted screens and mature trees. The house is L-shaped and composed of two unornamented wings- one running parallel to the street and the other angled in a way that is not quite perpendicular (think obtuse angle)- a rather unique arrangement that allows for maximum sunlight and expansive views of the adjacent yard. Though the front of the house is largely closed to maintain privacy, the back of the home opens to embrace its deep, rectangular lot. Ribbons of thoughtfully placed windows take advantage of the warm light and connect the indoor living space to the outdoors (with no loss of privacy), while screened porches and a carport continue this communication with the landscape.
Completed just before Weese's firm began to receive widespread attention and a considerable number of high-profile commissions, the Drucker House reflects the architect's highly personal and sometimes, experimental, approach to Modern design. Weese's plan for the house is driven by geometry rather than ornament, flexibility rather than a traditional layout, and the total disregard for historical precedent. With an intimate understanding of how the Drucker family lived and played, Weese created a simple and functional residence that could accommodate the family's laid-back lifestyle. On the interior, Weese compartmentalized space into zones. The living and dining rooms flow easily into each other, divided by a fireplace and adjacent bookshelves. The kitchen was planned with convenience in mind and is filled with useful storage. Bedrooms are relegated to quieter areas of the house- the master bedroom at the rear and the children's rooms on the second floor. And by all accounts, the house functions well, the carefully considered interior offering casual, informal spaces for the young, active family to work and play. In 1963, as the Druckers continued to grow, Harry and Suzanne's brother, Ben Weese (working for Harry Weese & Associates at the time) designed a sympathetic second-floor addition that provided more space.
Displaying a sort of relaxed Modernism, the Drucker House exhibits Weese's early concern for context, climate, and client- concerns that would help set him apart from other architects of the postwar period. Characterized by a lack of ornament, rectilinear massing, a flat roof, natural materials, and a respect for the landscape, the residence recalls both a Miesian concern for formal clarity and the warm, human-scaled approach associated with Scandinavian design (and Alvar Aalto). High-style Modernism with none of the typical dogmatic concerns, the design is pure Weese, the textured facade, rational geometry, and flexible plan a more informal and humane solution for the new American house.
The Drucker House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. You can read more about Harry Weese here and here.
Have a good weekend!
Image at top:
Photograph by Susan Benjamin from the Robert and Suzanne Drucker House National Register of Historic Places Nomination, National Park Service, 2013.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.