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    California Houses of Gordon Drake


    "It should be understood that any attempt to design a house which would be perfectly suited to your requirements and be esthetically pleasing must necessarily be in the nature of a compromise, since economic considerations and space limitations are usually governing factors.

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    "For example, a large and completely equipped kitchen might seem desirable, but might result in reducing areas in other parts of the house. This questionnaire is, therefore, an attempt to determine the relative importance of the various spaces of the house as they relate to your needs and desires."

    To try to measure his contribution to architecture is to try to measure the intangibles with which he worked. Every man who has ever dreamed of building a house deals with his own intangibles; he must question, at one level or another, the things that are important to enclose within it.

    Every builder or architect who has ever built a house must try to open up the lines of communication to arrive at his client's intangibles, and every builder or architect will impose upon his structures, knowingly or unknowingly, some of his own.

    Perhaps the best estimate of Drake's work can be arrived at through the recognition that in the very smallness of the things he appreciated most — the green grass, a breeze across a body, an untainted blue sky — is their largeness.

    Each bit of human experience, recognized and found valuable and passed on, is one more piece among the many millions of pieces in the total pattern of the relationship between man, his shelter, and his environment.

    Unit House, Hayward, California

    The fall of 1951 marked the completion of two important projects: the Unit House designed jointly with Douglas Baylis, and the Malibu House planned in 1947; and the studies and sketches for Baylis' own remodel on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.

    The [Unit House and Malibu House] are characterized by Drake's four basic approaches to modern domestic architecture: indoor-outdoor continuity, modular construction, architecturally-used light, and a sense of restraint.

    The Unit House is based on a three-foot [0.9-meter] module, designed with the flexibility to expand from an original one-room apartment to a two-bedroom house.

    It contains five distinct zones for California outdoor living: a roofed terrace at the end of the living room, a sun terrace framed into a curved retaining wall, a shade terrace under a light trellis of wooden slats, a sheltered terrace protected from the wind by screens and planting, and a play terrace that can be supervised from the kitchen.

    A small house that expands in stages, the Unit House was built in the Bay Area in the fall of 1950 for $5,600, which included the terraces, arbor, and brick seat wall.

    To expand the house for an additional bedroom, Drake designed the nonstructural walls to be removed easily. The tiny kitchen expands with the addition of a bedroom and complete storage wall.

    The second bedroom can be added at any future time. This house, by virtue of its sheltering roof, has the ability to grow with the family and to use the garden as auxiliary living space through climate control and demonstrates that you can achieve luxury living for a minimum cost.

    Baylis House and Studio, San Francisco, California

    The Baylis house in San Francisco, California, was Drake's last project, and his only remodeling job. Essentially a two-story glass cage sandwiched between old wood structures on the west side of Telegraph Hill and built to enclose an office-studio and living quarters, the remodeled building allows the owners to enjoy the garden while working at their desks. The remodeling was started in May of 1951 and continued on a do-it-yourself-basis until the fall of 1956.

    Gordon Drake was an award-winning California Modernist architect in the period immediately following World War II. A war veteran and protege of Hamilton Harris, Drake's work was published in many contemporary journals across the United States and internationally, including Progressive Architecture, The Architectural Forum, L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui, Sunset, and Better Homes and Gardens. Bursting with promise, he died at age 34, in a skiing accident in the Sierras, on January 15, 1952.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    California Houses of Gordon Drake, from which this article is excerpted, was originally published in 1956, shortly after Drake's death.

    One of the authors, Douglas Baylis, (1915-1971) was a West Coast landscape architect, often credited as one of the founders of the California school of modernism in landscape architecture. He was associated with Gordon Drake from 1950 to 1952, during which time the two collaborated on design of the Unit House, and Drake designed the home/ studio remodel for Baylis and his wife, Maggie, which was completed after the architect's death. In addition to his own practice, Douglas Baylis also lectured at several universities and was supervising landscape architect to the University of California.

    Joan Parry was a young freelance writer when she collaborated on California Houses of Gordon Drake with Douglas Baylis. Parry was educated in Great Britain and France, came to the United States in 1949, and spent three years traveling throughout the country before settling in San Francisco.

    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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    Drake's design of the Unit House incorporated many built-in elements that served multiple functions. The fireplace hearth served as seating, while beds doubled as couches.
    Photo: Julius Shulman/ Courtesy William Stout Publishers Extra Large Image

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    A single central room served as living space, dining area, and bedroom in the basic configuration of the Unit House.
    Photo: Julius Shulman/ Courtesy William Stout Publishers Extra Large Image

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    Multiple outdoor living spaces were integral to the design of the Unit House, on which Drake collaborated with landscape architect Douglas Baylis.
    Photo: Julius Shulman/ Courtesy William Stout Publishers Extra Large Image

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    Unit House floor plan drawings, showing the basic, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom configurations.
    Image: Courtesy William Stout Publishers Extra Large Image

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    Gordon Drake designed a major renovation of a two-story glass-and-wood structure on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill for Maggie and Douglas Baylis.
    Photo: Morley Baer/ Courtesy William Stout Publishers Extra Large Image

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    Inside the Baylis House and Studio, the ground floor was devoted entirely to offices, while the upstairs area contained the living quarters. The home was served by an exterior stair and private second-floor deck, while an interior spiral staircase connected the two levels.
    Photo: Morley Baer/ Courtesy William Stout Publishers Extra Large Image

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    The second floor of the Baylis House did not extend to the southern exterior wall, leaving a double-height zone just inside the building's glass facade.
    Photo: Morley Baer/ Courtesy William Stout Publishers Extra Large Image

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    Floor plan drawings of the Baylis House and Studio. This was Drake's last project before his untimely death, and was also his only remodel.
    Image: Courtesy William Stout Publishers Extra Large Image


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