Page C1.1 . 31 January 2001                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department

 

 
QUIZ

Saving Wright's Gordon House

by Brian Libby

For the last few months, a Chicagoan who died almost forty years ago has been the most celebrated architect in Portland, Oregon. That's what happens when somebody tries tearing down the state's only Frank Lloyd Wright building.

Since September 2000, Wright's Gordon House in Charbonneau has come close to demolition, been fought over, and finally been spared. Now crews are preparing the little palace for disassembly and transport to nearby Silverton for its new life as a museum.

The Conrad and Evelyn Gordon House (S.419) is based on Wright's "House for a Family of $5-6,000 Income" plan, originally published in a 1938 issue of Life magazine. (That wage translates into $65,000-$75,000 today.) Wright designed a lot of big buildings in his career, but this minister's son was also faithfully committed to dwellings for the middle class, which he christened "Usonian."

Designed in 1956, the 2,100-square-foot (190-square-meter) Gordon House is Lilliputian by today's building standards, but it radiates beauty and craftsmanship in a way that most cavernous houses in Portland's "upscale" West Hills never approach. In other words, Wright knew it's not size that matters but what you do with it.

Making the Most of Little

Architect and historic preservationist Al Staehli, FAIA, visited the house and commented: "Wright's houses are delightful to walk into. Unlike most of what I call "McMansions," you don't walk into this totally inappropriate corporate-sized lobby where you feel lost."

 

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ArchWeek Photo

Frank Lloyd Wright's Gordon House, built in 1964.
Photo: Brian Libby

ArchWeek Photo

The reds and browns of the trees and leaves reflect in the house, creating a unified composition.
Photo: Brian Libby

 

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