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F. W. Bird Competition
Purcell and Feick

Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1908
Text by William Gray Purcell

Job Date (in Parabiographies): March 13, 1908

Also same revised for advertising.  An organic project along the lines of an open plan with fireplace in the center which Frank Lloyd Wright had just designed, and which was appearing in the Ladies' Home Journal.  This unique and basic plan type of Wright's started him on a long series of houses.  We took up the same theme and began our series of variations which soon led to the development of plans and buildings far removed from Wright's projects in both organization and design.

Traditional Architects Meet American Business

The Bird Company, manufacturers of finest building and roofing papers, called for a national competition to show the value of and new uses for their product in architecture.

Nailing a fresh "Form and Function" banner to this new mast, we studied Bird products, analyzed the relation of waterproofed "paper" to the needs of Man, and produced a design that used these materials upon and within the building everywhere.  The outside walls were to be covered with broad bands of their red waterproof material in heaviest weight, held top and bottom with a modern wood or metal dripcleat, with an over-the-top edge and under-the-bottom edge detail, that would hold the paper firm and keep out the weather.  Although the Birds made great claims for this "red Rope" paper, we did not, of course, know how long that red color would have lasted, nor how long this roofing material would have stood up as siding, but it is certain that the jury did not trouble their function-free consciences with such considerations.

Not until 1936 was an American building thus designed in broad horizontal bands of long sheet material - the new permanent and durable waterproof ply-wood siding.

Business Losses

The jury awarded the first prize to a conventional little Dutch Colonial in which not one Bird product appeared  - and all the rest of the prizes were likewise given to similar failures to give any attention whatsoever to the reason for holding the competition.  Since the object of the competition as stated in the program was to bring Bird products into the public view, the Bird Company's efforts were sold down the river in order to maintain that particular "system" which, riding the crest of the popular wave in those days, served the Architectural Aristocracy, according to the rites and deferences of its high priests.

The High Priests Lose

Today the Beaux Arts reactionaries have been forced, for the time being, to accept the outward appearance of conformity with a great movement, called by them "modern," which welled up from below about 1931, and which they are doing everything possible to head back into an aristocratic tradition.  It is discouraging to view the rapidity with which living creative art is seized upon by the seekers after personal power and place, in order that they may catalog lifeless images of the great modern works and organize a formula which can controlled for the selfish advancement of the incompetent, the materialistic, and the unimaginative.

For other plans which are variations on this basic open plan arrangement, with chimney and fireplace in the center, see our buildings, numbers 23-33-40-60-77-81-83-102-155-174-200.

   Collection: William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota [AR:B4d1.2]
research courtesy mark hammons