firm active: 1907-1921

minneapolis, minnesota :: chicago, illinois
philadelphia, pennsylvania :: portland, oregon

Navigation :: Home :: Selected Works :: Residences :: Commission List :: Parabiographies
Parsonage for the First Congregational Church
Purcell and Elmslie
Eau Claire, Wisconsin  1912

Text by William Gray Purcell
Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1913

Job Date (in Parabiography): October 14, 1913

PARSONAGE, First Congregational Church, Eau Claire

It follows the general feeling and design concept but not the plan, of the gardener's cottage at the Crane Estate, Woods Hole, our job number 127. Although our work was generally thought to be based on the invariable use of very broad eaves and flat roofs, it is interesting to consider that we began using a no-eave pattern of architectural design on small houses long before this system was taken up and made a fashion by the Cape Cod Colonialists just after the World War. We tended to combine it by way of contract with portions of the roof which were given very liberal eave projections, as in this dwelling for the Congregational minister. We simply were not tied to any cliché, new or old. Certainly, we made use of corner windows, no cornices, low roof pitches, broad eaves, all glass walls, from the very beginning, but these were resultant patterns, not designers' equipment, and every building had freest opportunity to find its own forms - indeed we were much more influenced by the pressure of cost - materials - and the mechanics of building use - than by fixed furniture in our mental parlors.

In the Crane Gardener's Cottage, this parsonage, and other similar dwellings which grew out of them, we produced almost a classic type, within whose forms the changes of building material, surface treatment, planning and so on can be varied as it always has been done with the characteristic Colonial types. We accomplished very good cost results in these houses and an enthusiastic group of clients.

This is a good time to refer to one serious difficulty in all houses with this type of roof, gambrel Dutch Colonials, and indeed all "story and a half" types. The triangular under-roof spaces resulting from the attempt to have vertical walls in the bedroom and flat ceilings under the ridge, creates air pockets which are difficult to control in the matter of heat and cold protection. These under-roof spaces, when insulated at all, are usually insulated on the outside wall, so that when they do become chilled at night or during long periods of extreme cold, they tend to produce cold plaster walls in the bedrooms backed by large bodies of cold air. In the summer time the condition is in reverse, and even worse, for the large prisms of air behind the bedroom walls, under the roof, become overheated, and keep the already warm rooms warmer all night. The closets built into such under-roof spaces became ovens in summer, refrigerators in winter. It was my study of these under-wall spaces that led to a re-approach of the insulation problem of houses and my conviction that "dead air spaces" which were then universally looked upon as "insulators", were a delusion. It was certain that effective heat conservation and cold protection would never be accomplished until interconstructional space was entirely eliminated. This conclusion was generally conceded by 1916, and many plan and construction studies were made by architects everywhere in an effort to find the architectural catalyst that would fuse scientific insulation into the basic organization of a building idea and do it in such a way as to provide a three-dimensional area for poetic imagination.

Where such spaces exist in an otherwise perfect solution, and one faces the problem of actually producing the building, the only possible treatment is to carry effective insulation material, along the inner wall surfaces of the actual rooms, instead of following the outer wall and roof construction with the insulating blanket. Even so, it would be better to find some way to freely circulate the air out of these spaces, because heat will eventually penetrate, going or coming. Time is the one factor which has always been ignored in insulation. There is a point in old storage plants, steam conduit coverings, where the time factor finally becomes incidental, but not even in the best protected buildings for human occupation.

   Collection: William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota [AR:B4d1.7]
research courtesy mark hammons