firm active: 1907-1921

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T. R. Atkinson residence
Purcell, Feick and Elmslie
Bismarck, North Dakota  910

Text by William Gray Purcell
Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1910

Job Date (in Parabiographies): March 12, 1910

T. R. ATKINSON, Bismarck, N.D.

Working drawings, June 10, 1910 Draughting: Marian [sic] A. Parker, W.G.P., G.F., Jr.

This was a commission that grew out of our contact with George H. Russ, of the Bismarck Bank. It is one of the characteristic developments in the Jones-McCosker series of open-plan types. Coming back this building after not having seen it for a quarter of a century, it seems very satisfactory. This house had a lot of very conscientious study in mass and articulation. The owner's budget allowed no marginal funds for decorative items, and we made every part count for all its possibilities.

Better Living Machines

We were particularly conscientious about getting rid of the old dark basements of that day which worked a few dark raw window openings into the exposed foundation wall of masonry, and concentrated the architecture at the front veranda. Wade Pipes, of Portland, told me years after, that the placing of a window to deliver the light where you needed it was more important than its size. He told me that Lethaby, his master in England, had made a very extended study of this question of placement of windows, and one can see it very plainly in all his work. This accounts for the fact that although the window areas seem to be small in looking at such houses, one does not feel any sense of gloominess in going through Pipe's Lethaby type of dwelling.

Not "Moderne"

Because these houses of ours, like Atkinson and Goetzenbirger [sic: Goetzenberger], are organic and obviously practical in construction and plan, they have a certain Scotch honesty and earnestness that puts them in the character of the very earliest Colonial, without the use of any of the Colonial forms, and since the various elements in the house are not forced into a particular design vernacular, they seem not to become so soon dated.

Via "Looks" or via "Works"

These early houses of ours have something of the stark design quality that fashionable architects began to find diverting and desirable in the 1920's. This they tried to achieve by paring off all the roof projections at the eaves, a procedure which often opened up seams where roof meets wall in such a way as to make it a very difficult problem in metal flashing to keep such construction weather-tight.

At an A.I.A. Chapter meeting, some architect asked a group what they thought was the biggest unsolved problem faced by the profession. All seemed to agree with the one who answered--"to keep water out of buildings."

Considering roofs with their snow filled valleys, window frames, and leaky sash, porous bricks, and water filled basements, that problem will always be with us.


   Collection: William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota [AR:B4d1.4]
research courtesy mark hammons