Two Saarinens, one house.
Flying a little under the (architectural) radar, the A.C. Wermuth House stands (a bit unexpectedly) on a flat expanse of land in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Stretching low across the midwestern landscape, the long, rectangular house remains one of the few residential commissions completed by the father/son partnership of Eliel and Eero Saarinen. Designed for A.C. Wermuth, the contractor responsible for Cranbrook and First Christian Church, the house is emblematic of the Saarinen partnership, a symbol of the duo's inimitable approach to modern architecture.
Completed in 1942, the Wermuth House (much like Marcel Breuer's New England experiments) spreads horizontally across the flat site; the only vertical element- a tall, undulating brick chimney- rises dramatically above the house and lot. A series of rectangles, the plan is divided into three parts- the living area (public), sleeping quarters (private), and the garage (a separate building that divides the public and private spaces). Sheathed in local limestone, the public volume sits low to the ground and is shaded by an overhang ornamented with punched geometric openings, while the private bedroom wing hovers above, covered in wood cladding and supported by columns or pilotis. On the interior, rooms are again defined by function with the living areas forming a procession of open spaces and the upstairs bedrooms finding seclusion along a narrow hall. Characteristic of the pair's work, vast expanses of windows combined with meticulously planned built-in furniture complete the orderly interior, reconciling Eliel's idealized stylistic features with Eero's overall formal simplification.
Embodying the principles of "organic unity," the A.C. Wermuth House is a modern experiment responsive to its flat, midwestern site and residential function. Stylistically independent from the International Style, the Saarinens' revolutionary approach to architecture as a "total work of art" is on clear display in the Wermuth residence, a modest design that addresses form, function, and the creative ideal. Though the house might not dazzle like Eero's solo design for J. Irwin Miller or Eliel's more famous commission, First Christian Church (both in Columbus, Indiana), the A.C. Wermuth House remains a true expression of the modern zeitgeist imagined by the most famous father and son team in architectural history.
Read more about Saarinen-designed residences here.
Image at top:
A.C Wermuth House, Fort Wayne, IN; Exterior. Eero Saarinen collection, 1880-2004 (inclusive), 1938-1962 (bulk). Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University.
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