Bertrand Goldberg was born on this day in 1913- here's one of his final residential commissions.
Synonymous with corncob skyscrapers and cloverleaf hospitals, Bertrand Goldberg is not typically associated with single-family domestic design. But the radical Chicago architect spent much of his early career trying to crack the issue of affordable and efficient modern housing, developing a number of residential designs characterized by economy and innovation. In one of his final single-family residential projects, the Helstein House, Goldberg plays with the proverbial Bauhaus box to produce an unflinchingly modern take on the conventional American home.
Located in Chicago's Hyde Park, just blocks away from Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, Goldberg's Helstein House was always meant to standout. A geometric composition of concrete and glass, the residence sits back from the street, the corners pulled away to reveal an unadorned concrete frame. Raised on round pilotis, the home consists of thin concrete slabs that project beyond transparent walls of glass. The design is both Bauhaus and Goldbergian, its unapologetic concrete skeleton powerful in its contextual contrast.
Completed in 1951, the Helstein House demonstrates Goldberg's unconventional approach to homebuilding. Designed for Ralph and Rachel Helstein, prominent figures within the Chicago labor movement, Goldberg's design suited the young couple's lifestyle and was neither costly nor particularly indulgent. Ralph, an attorney for the United Packinghouse Workers of America (and later the organization's president), and Rachel, a student of literature and a part-time social worker, met Goldberg through mutual friends and considered the self-described humanist "a kindred spirit." With an interest in highly personal architectural solutions, Goldberg worked with his clients to develop a plan that could accommodate their specific domestic needs. The result was an open, flexible house that was just as much about the Helsteins as it was about Goldberg's allegiance to Modernism.
Free from traditional structural constraints, the open plan of the three-story home flows together in a statement of casual transparency. Open to the surrounding lot, the ground floor includes a deeply recessed entry, a sheltered terrace, a carport, and a small foyer that provides access to a suspended staircase. On the second floor, a two-story living and dining space leads to a small kitchen and three bedrooms, while the third level contains a flexible area originally used as a study with sleeping quarters.
Undoubtedly influenced by Le Corbusier's seminal Maison Dom-ino (Domino House) (1914), a mass-produced housing prototype that consisted of concrete slabs and an open structural system, Goldberg's Helstein House defied the notions of typical American housing by boldly exposing its structure. In his design for Ralph and Rachel Helstein, Goldberg chose common sense over confrontation, laying out a simple structure free from the limitations of conventional walls. Though the Helstein House has lost some of its original dynamism due to alterations over the years (as you can see above, the glass facade has been partially enclosed and painted green), the Goldberg design remains a symbol of the architect's innovative approach to architectural problem solving, an approach informed by the human experience and the desire to make architecture work for all.
You can read more Bertrand Goldberg on claass HAUS here and here. Happy Birthday, BG!
Photograph at top:
Helstein House, view from the street. Hedrich-Blessing photograph, n.d. Available at bertrandgoldberg.org.
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