Northwest mid-century regionalism: Lessons for today
We had the honor of visiting another classic mid-century custom home recently; this one designed by Gene Zema for the Lupton family on Mercer Island. Thanks once again to Docomomo for arranging this tour!
This is a particularly interesting and, I think, relevant house. Built in 1961, it is a really good example of the “Northwest School”…that 50′s generation of Seattle area architects who embraced the newly emergent principals of Bauhaus modernism, but incorporated an influence of regional context into their designs. It is this uniquely local interpretation of mid-century modernism that I find so inspiring; it’s not found anywhere else! And it so embodies the essence of our region.
The designs of Gene Zema, Paul Kirk, Wendell Lovett, Roland Terry, Al Bumgardner and many others all embraced the tenants of contemporary space and form-making, but it’s their use of WOOD that set their work apart from their contemporaries elsewhere in the country. Responding to the local context of forest, views and rain, these architects developed a regional style known for its elegant structural expression…wood being the medium. These buildings were smaller in scale (wood not being suitable for larger commercial projects), featured pitched roofs, large expanses of glass for views and openness, and reached out to incorporate the landscape, often very dramatically.
There is a prominent Japanese quality to most of the work of this era…intentional in some cases, but also, I think, because of the same use of materials and same contextual features found in traditional vernacular Japanese architecture.
Zema’s work in particular is very Japanese in nature. The Lupton House plan is based on a 3′ module; multiples of this module are manipulated to create dynamic spatial complexities, either open and large or intimate and containing. Screens are employed in varying degrees to build a range of spatial experience and richness of detail that is seldom seen in today’s architecture. Yet his work is modest, simple, and inexpensive.
I personally think we have much to gain by revisiting the work of these Northwest School architects, and reconsidering some of those design qualities that celebrate the essence of this place we call home.
See our next blog entry for a more detailed analysis of the Lupton Residence!