firm active: 1907-1921

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Writings by William Gray Purcell
Publications (1920s-1960s)

Northwest Architect (1940-1955)

Introductory notes, regarding the editorial range of the NWA articles

The Northwest Architect writings represent the most complete published expression of Purcell's architectural philosophy. Many articles explained various aspects of architectural design from the "form and function" viewpoint, for example, the appropriate integration of doors, windows, and fireplaces [e.g. NWA 2-3, 10, 64]. "Say It All, Mr. Architect!" [NWA 43] described the human values encompassed in organic design principles. Purcell frequently exhorted architects to develop a playfully creative attitude toward design [NWA 8, 24] and to adopt democratically cooperative attitudes in their production procedures [NWA 1, 30].

The practical requirements of home building were a frequent subject in the Northwest Architect publications. Purcell was concerned with the post World War II housing shortage and devoted several articles to advice on financing [NWA 28, 49] and ways to cut construction costs [NWA 27, 30], referring to the easily assembled prefabricated dwellings designed by the John B. Pierce Foundation. "Hot Air Doesn't Rise!" [NWA 39] explained the practical difficulties of efficiently moving and retaining heat in a house. Two pieces [NWA 66-67] suggested circulating hot water through concrete slab foundations, a system applied in experimental housing built by Purcell and James Van Evera Bailey in southern California during the 1940s.

Other articles emphasized the universal influence of architecture in human affairs through the application of "form and function" understanding in other areas. "Noise as Music" [NWA 40] explained the acoustic relationship of a building to the performance of music. The role of advertising in creating public awareness of architecture was related to selling the services of the architect [NWA 6-7, 32]. A series of articles on urban development explained how a fresh, careful examination of economic, political, and social factors is necessary to effectively meet modern building needs [NWA 59-61].

Architectural history was presented in a variety of ways. Literary colloquies discussed the "form and function" understandings found in the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson [NWA 9] and John Ruskin [NWA 56]. "O! Pioneers Forgotten Builders, the Nation's Voice" [NWA 22] reviewed the contribution of the journeyman drafter to late nineteenth and early twentieth century American architecture. Two articles critiqued buildings by the Chicago firm of Holabird & Roche [NWA 26, 41]. Another detailed the remodelling by Frank Lloyd Wright of an Oak Park house that once belonged to Purcell's family [NWA 54].

Northwest Architect was also used by Purcell to recall the significance of Louis H. Sullivan and his architectural philosophy. Excerpts of Sullivan's essay "What is Architecture: A Study of the American People of Today" were published in two installments during 1944, then reprinted as an illustrated pamphlet for further distribution [NWA 19 21]. The importance of Sullivan's "form and function" thesis was explained in a later biographical piece that related the work of Sullivan to the contemporary movement in Europe toward a progressive expression in architecture [NWA 47]. Other Northwest Architect writings also frequently referred Sullivan.

In other biographical articles, Purcell reviewed the work of friends and associates. "Think Search Examine Create" [NWA 34] recounted the architectural thought of life long friend John Jager. Contributions by mural painter John W. Norton to the furtherance of organic principles in architectural painting were explained in the context of the progressive period [NWA 65]. Experiences with Charles S. Chapman and his innovative approach to art were remembered in anecdotes [NWA 33]. Another piece provided a biography of Purcell's childhood mentor and later P&E client, Thaddeus P. Giddings [NWA 6].

In his writings for Northwest Architect Purcell touched on his own life history as well. Articles discussed the building of two Oak Park residences designed by architect Charles C. Miller for W. C. Gray [NWA 13-14] and presented excerpts from Gray's Camp Fire Musings [NWA 37]. Numerous writings articulated the functionalist qualities of Purcell's childhood experiences at Island Lake, Wisconsin. For example, the appropriate design of a log cabins was shown to arise from the relationship of a man to his forest surroundings [NWA 15, 17, 29]. Purcell also recalled his exposure to Ojibway Indians, their history, customs, and language [NWA 63].

Office records related to Northwest Architect publications include production correspondence between Purcell and employees of the publisher, Bruce Publishing Company. Manuscripts contain an extensive selection of quotations, book excerpts, and similar short pieces intended by Purcell for editorial columns variously titled "Said Its," "You Said It," or "They Said It." Research materials for unfinished writings on many different topics include manuscripts, sketches and drawings, correspondence, photographs, and publications on many different topics, particularly the "form and function" thesis, city planning, Oak Park, transportation, and photography.

research courtesy mark hammons