No. 523 . 13 July 2011 
ArchitectureWeek

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Gordon Drake's 1952 design adding on to a house on Telegraph Hill transformed its conventional backyard into an early icon of California modern living. Photo: Morley Baer/ Courtesy William Stout Publishers

California Houses of Gordon Drake

by Douglas Baylis and Joan Parry

Over and over again, Gordon Drake declared that it was his avowed intention to design decent homes for people on minimum budgets. It is natural enough, therefore, that he will be best remembered for his small homes designed for California living.

One kind of assessment of his work can be approached through looking at the things that he used.

He used light as an integral element of the structure, a device to stress a particular point in composition or in space. He brought in natural light from outside through clerestories, glass gable ends, translucent screens, glass walls. He captured and controlled artificial light in recessed frames, behind opaque panels, in directioned troughs.

Manipulating light, he furnished his houses with moods. He used screens to block off moments of solitude, enclosing an area within a room or in the garden with portable seclusion.

He used panels as backdrops to frame plant structure, to suspend in shadow movement a momentary breeze. He used the gentleness of diffused light for inwardness, the probing of morning's bright light for expansiveness.

But perhaps the material he used best — because only he could use it — was his struggle in the seven years he practiced professionally — 1945 to 1952 — to define and communicate his own values.

He was working with human values — handled, through his work, in terms of the particular client's desires. His questionnaire, headed "What are your requirements?" said in part:   >>>

This article is excerpted from California Houses of Gordon Drake by Douglas Baylis and Joan Parry, copyright © 2011, with permission of the publisher, William Stout Publishers. Originally published in 1956, this monograph by Baylis and Parry has been reprinted, with a new preface by Glenn Murcutt and a new introduction by Pierluigi Serraino.

 

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