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Pasticheur

Louis Sullivan (and his office staff) designed a number of single-family residences. Those that date from the Adler & Sullivan years (pre-1895) are interesting for their spatial qualities, their modularity and interpenetrations. I hadn’t known very much about these until the publication of The Complete Works of Adler & Sullivan, a book that went out of print almost immediately (they must have printed an incredibly short run) and it now retails for $450 of you can find a copy in the OP market. Many of those early houses were for Dankmar Adler’s relatives and friends–names like Adler, Kohn, Felsenthal. All of those houses are long since gone to kindling, but happily many were photographed and a handful were even measured by architectural photographer Richard Nickel.

The later houses, those that interest me for similar qualities but are more applicable to the Agincourt library project, are roughly contemporary with Sullivan’s smalltown banks of 1908-1919 and are similar in scale to Carnegie libraries of those same years. Since you may not be familiar with them, let me post a few photos here, both as information and as sources for Agincourt.

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The Henry Babson house stood in Riverside, Illinois and is an almost exact contemporary of Wright’s Avery Coonley house, a near neighbor in the same Chicago suburb. The Babson house is sadly gone, doubly frustrating since it stood while I was in high school. I could have seen it!

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The Babson property must have been about the size of the Coonley site, because the site plan survives and shows extensive lawns and outbuildings–one of which, the stable, survives as a single-family home. The house plan is a freight train of a building with porches, living, dining and other social spaces strung out like so many cars in a long train; some accessible along a central axis, others “in line” but reached by a parallel corridor. From the time that I saw its plan forty or fifty years ago, I have loved this place.

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The long pure shape of its brick rectangle is violated by Richardsonian arched openings and a large second-story porch looking for all the world like the sidewheel cover of a Mississippi River steamboat. While the hosue compares very favorably with Wright’s Coonley design (Wright comes out on top in terms of livability), the Babson house perhaps ought to be seen against Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s “House for a Lover of the Arts”. I’ve only recently come across an image by Richard Nickel of the sidewheeler under demolition, a sad commentary on Sullivan’s value to mid-century Modernists.

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For Agincourt’s purposes, Babson was a likely inspiration for Anson Tennant, a building he could have seen during his brief period of study in Chicago and also conveniently published in The Architectural Record.


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