firm active: 1907-1921
minneapolis, minnesota :: chicago, illinois
Gallagher Dwelling 1909
Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota
(June 15, 1956)
Editor's note: This manuscript appears in sequence between "Purcell and Elmslie - Part I" and "Purcell and Emslie - Part III," and there is no "Part II" found elsewhere. Here the text is structured as a response by Purcell to comments by David Gebhard concerning a particular house design in order to discuss the functions of conceptualization, process of development, and production of a result in architectural practice.
You write that those three long steps in bedroom #1 and the little three to bedroom #2 from the upper hall “represent a certain plan confusion — a factor in the basic concept of the building not quite solved.” On returning to study this plan after Iff years, rather than finding it complicated, I again recover my feeling of delight in it, and the assurance at the time that it was right. Here, it seems to me, is the soul of domestic architecture; houses which are like people — not perfect, not putting on a show, but humanly delightful in the ”un-perfection” which accepts, which deals with life’s surprises in an appropriate gesture, like the con-fident tennis player who returns the ball while lying on his back, and makes the point. I recall the challenge of that second floor. The problem was tied into the mass height of the building which just had to be kept low. And too, the halls above and below had to be kept low in order to retain the un-urban sense of a "home at the lake.”
Those steps saved 21 Inches of useless height and 1800 cu. ft.
of cost, at the same time developing a number of poetic possibilities in the living and dining rooms that were unique to this dwelling.
Again the steps in front bedroom provide an intimate sewing and reading retreat with fireplace, under low ceiling. It is so intimate, so sweet — a gay surprise to the hundreds, perhaps thousands, who have walked into that room through the years, A thousand visitors would be only twenty per year. I like to think of that company.
Please note in this connection a one-sided fireplace without any iron pipe crutch at the free corner — a double way cantilever for the hearth opening ready and willing to stand up and serve, 1’11 bet that was the first one ever built, and it just naturally produced its own form.
With this one-sided fireplace a person lying in bed could see the fire while going off to sleep, one of the most ancient and satisfying experiences out of the oldest ways of man. I reapplied this same feeling to a different facility with the windows of the child’s bed at ”2328 Lake Place.” He could keep watching the squirrel on the deck without raising his head, while he too drowsed away to slumber or awaked with the birds which he did; and however early, he remained happily quiet until we awaked and spoke to him.
Please make this point some place:
Purcell and Elmslie were not pioneering things, we were exploring for the first time the sources of happiness and how to implement them in buildings —
Not to be original
Not thinking up something clever
No "designing” - just a decent regard for people doing quiet, ancient, simple things — reading — relaxing — laughing — wanting to walk out in the yard — to easily come in again; people sleeping,
awaking Lull of peace, eating simple food unhurried, preparing living food in the craftsmanship of cooking.
Just imagine a whole nation, with no better idea of the ancient rite of a family eating together than to transfer today's depressing drug-store, stool-counter lunch rush to the home. This row of people on stools all planned so that instead of looking up into a child's face, one must look down into greasy fry-pans in the sink, the messy stove top, the cluttered working counters — what an offer — what a horrible memory of youth to carry for a lifetime.
Is that architecture? That is surely not any part of Sullivan's Great Life! Architecture is the practice of all those manifestations of dwellingness, public and private, which people have assimilated within themselves. It is having fun, trying out the best of that part of last year's thinking-by-act which has been made a part of one's life, and then, out of emotion, expressed as forms which will facilitate the unselfconscious recovery by useful token and implement of those good emotions.
The forms of architecture are not the visuality of the material building which is never the same — morning and sunset — winter and summer — "gray days and gold." Architecture is only concerned as a resultant in its own shape. Architecture asks "In what shape are you — are you in good form?" That is the essential. Architecture is the House not made with hands. It is the structure of your contribution, what you lifted and in what spirit you did it. Fail to record these qualities of life and your buildings will be as dead as that dusty clutter of pictures to be seen in the bound volumes of old architectural magazines, page after page, month after month, for fifty years. It is incredible that these designing buildsters were able to coax business men to spend money for all the silliness.