Platform House in Platte County
Cross ventilation is an important part of the natural cooling process of the house and this is facilitated by operable windows on the east, west and north sides as well as a ventilation flap on the south side.
An outside door, accessible from the living space to the east, leads to an external stair up to a roof terrace with clear views of the skyline of Kansas City.
Almost Hidden from View
Commentary by Brian Carter
"The dividing line between high and low culture is utterly fictitious. Genuine culture is neither high nor low; it involves ideas you're happy to keep returning to for the rest of your life." 1
In 1862, the same year that the Homestead Act was passed, Christian Schussele completed a painting entitled Men of Progress. Portraying "the most distinguished inventors of this country, whose improvements... have changed the aspect of modern society, and caused the present age to be designated as an age of progress",2 this painting acknowledged the significance of agriculture in America.
Cyrus Hall McCormick, Henry Burden and Isaiah Jennings, all inventors of new equipment to improve farming, were included in that group and, as if to further underline the importance of farming, Schussele also painted a model of a proposed new mechanical reaper into the foreground of his painting.
The design, production and distribution of these new farm machines were pursued aggressively and the ploughs, reapers and mechanical rakes patented in the mid-19th century were quickly followed by tractors, balers and combine harvesters that enabled farmers to develop extensive systems of cultivation that transformed the land. These inventions also placed the new and sophisticated machines alongside simple buildings built to house the American farm.
These transformations initiated by the mechanization of agriculture prompted the invention of other machines. Silos, grain elevators, windmills, fuel tanks and storage bins created new mechanized infrastructures that were made of metal, fabricated in factories and shipped across the country. This sophisticated equipment was plugged into sheds to create collages of machines and buildings that caught architect Dan Rockhill's interest.
Seeking to record this agricultural vernacular, Rockhill photographed the places in ways that recall the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher. The interest of these two artists in everyday industrial structures — water towers, blast furnaces, coal bunkers, ore mines, steel mills and the like — has produced an impressive and systematic collection of carefully composed records.
However, their readily identifiable grids of black-and-white photographs shot from set vantage points reveal more than the mere constructional detail or architectural form of these indigenous buildings. For example the Bechers' images of the wooden mineheads, or "coal tipples," built by jobless miners in the wooded foothills of Appalachia, not only record these flimsy temporary structures and provide opportunities to compare the ingenuity of their design and construction but also provoke other responses.
So the tipples "have an aura about them like craft, or art. We want to 'read' into them. As anthropological artifacts or as art, for example, they express a lot about a local economy based on individual or family enterprise and a self-reliant way of life in general... tell us about the spirit and something of the physical character of this region."3
Rockhill's collection of photographs of agricultural buildings in Kansas captures the ongoing vitality of life on the farm. Assembled over many years, his is a collection that records small modest vernacular buildings, many of which are still in use in the vast rural landscape of the American plains.
Images of houses, outbuildings, sheds, small shops and barns are placed alongside others showing grain silos, oil tanks, crop sprayers and farm machinery in ways that highlight old and new, reveal both landscape and buildings, show equipment and the occasional animal, trace marks of human activity and note the impact of weather.
The designs of Dan Rockhill also consist of small buildings and machines. Most are new but some are historic structures that he and his team have helped to carefully restore. All are local to where he works. They use familiar materials and are in places where the weather is extreme. Some are in towns but others have been built in wide flat landscapes of the plains. Yet each has been carefully sited with an eye for the climate and constructed with a directness that recalls the insight and ingenuity of the farmer and conspicuously references the American farm.
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Dan Rockhill is a principal of the architecture and design-build firm Rockhill and Associates in Lecompton, Kansas. He is also the J.L. Constant Distinguished Professor of Architecture at the University of Kansas and the executive director of Studio 804, which produces sustainably designed modern prefab housing.
Brian Carter is a professor of architecture at the State University of New York in Buffalo. He previously practiced with Arup Associates in London. The curator of exhibitions on the work of Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, Albert Kahn, and Peter Rice, Carter is also the author of several books. He initiated the MAP series, which won an AIA International Book Award.
This article is excerpted from Designing and Building: Rockhill and Associates, 2nd edition, edited by Brian Carter, copyright © 2011, with permission of the publisher, Tuns Press.
- Hugh Kenner. The Elsewhere Community. Don Mills, Ontario: House of Anansi Press, 1997. Kenner's book was based on his 1997 Massey Lecture at the University of Toronto.
- Carolyn Kinder Carr, National Portrait Gallery (Smithsonian Institution), National Portrait Gallery (Great Britain). Americans: Paintings and Photographs from the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC. London: National Portrait Gallery, 2002, page 88.
- Bernd and Hilla Becher. Pennsylvania Coal Mine Tipples. New York: DIA Center for the Arts, 1991. Foreword by Charles B. Wright.