No. 420 . 18 March 2009 
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The Textile Block Houses

by Tim Street-Porter

As the Hollyhock House neared completion in 1920, Frank Lloyd Wright received a second Los Angeles commission, from antiquarian Alice Millard, who had arrived in Pasadena from Chicago in 1914. With her late husband she had commissioned a classic Prairie-style house from Wright in 1906; now she wanted something new, inspired by the palazzi of Venice.

The prospect of designing an innovative house on the available lot, which was flat and undramatic, was unappealing to Wright, who persuaded his client to buy the adjoining arroyo and to straddle it with the house that would be known as La Miniatura. A reflecting pool on the downstream side would evoke a Venetian lagoon.

As built it remains one of Wright's most magical houses. Viewed from the lower arroyo, mirrored by a reflecting pool and framed by giant eucalyptus trees, the south elevation resembles a temple lost in the jungle. A house of pronounced verticality, La Miniatura's cubistic form has a sculptural balance evident from any angle. Cast-cement blocks extend a modular grid over every surface, as if the house was constructed of Legos, and lend order and rationality to the design.

La Miniatura was the first of four L.A. houses that Wright built between 1923 and 1924, all constructed with cement block. In adopting this most humble of building materials, Wright hoped to create a new model for inexpensive housing.   >>>

This article is excerpted from L.A. Modern by Tim Street-Porter, copyright © 2008, with permission of the publisher, Rizzoli.




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