Protection and Connection Part II: Albert Frey

Frey House I: Showing extension of walls and overhang of roof.

Albert Frey is an important modern architect who studied under Le Corbusier for a time and built almost all of his work in Palm Springs, California. Most of his buildings are potent examples of the protection/connection duality that I have discussed in my previous post. He took many of these elements farther than any architect. The illusion of ambiguity he created between inside and outside was so effective photographs are sometimes no help in discerning where building and nature divide. Below I will discuss the connection devices of his work. The protection device will again not be discussed in too much detail, but it is found in all his works as a large flat overhanging roof. This roof is the abstracted buffer zone between inside and out. It hovers over the proceedings.

Connection devices applied to the works of Albert Frey

Horizontal Thrust: Most, if not all, of these connection devices can be shown in the constantly evolving house that Frey built for himself in Palm Springs. (Unfortunately this house was torn down in the 60’s by a developer who ended up going bankrupt. Nothing was developed on the site; the demolition was all in vain!) The horizontal thrust is shown foremost in the fact that most of his buildings are a single story. This gives them a horizontal appearance. In Frey’s house, as well as the Loewy House, a perimeter pergola around the outside of the private garden extends construction beyond the interior and creates an embracing line that combines with the distant horizon.

Floor to Ceiling Glass: This does not need to be elaborated, but yes, all of his later works incorporated floor to ceiling glass in almost every exterior facing wall.

Homogeneous Use of Inside and Outside Materials: Combined with the large expanses of glass and the extension of walls and roof, the homogenous use of materials is very effective in his houses and reinforcing this connection with outside space. In his own house he would transform the floor as it went outside. The grid of the concrete porch would protrude in spots and create chairs. These chairs looked like strange outcroppings with cushions on them. Creating built in furniture on the outside also furthered the blurring of the line between in and out.

The Extension of Wall: Frey used this device very effectively in his own house as well as the Hatton House. He said these, “walls that go out and make spaces within the landscape.” These walls used the same materials from inside to out and floated between the planes of the floor and the ceiling. The extensions of these walls in plan evoke a compacted version of the brick country house project by Mies Van Der Rohe. They accomplish a lot towards drawing one outside and bringing nature inside. An innovation Frey brought to this concept is the extending of glass walls. In his own house one can see a glass wall with a metal frame continue beyond it’s necessary edge out into nature. The frame continues but once it goes outside the glass is gone. This is one of the most effective examples of extended walls I have ever seen in terms of its ambiguity.

Frey House I: Extension of walls. Also note the inside/outside relationship between furniture.

The Overhang of Roof: In almost all of these low one-story houses the roof overhangs and the materials between inside and out on the ceiling are often the same. The overhang is very necessary in the hot desert climate of Palm Springs. But beyond pragmatism, the overhanging roof is just one more element that reinforces this embrace towards the horizon. At the same time it reaches out for nature it protects one from nature. The overhanging rood does double duty as protector and connector.

Disappearing Glass: He used sliding glass doors often and effectively in his own home. This literally destroyed the barrier between inside and out, and put the entire burden of protection on the roof.

The Pool: No other architect was more effective at using a pool that straddled between inside and out. Frey used it most effectively in the Loewy House. A large swimming pool dips into the living room. This combined with sliding floor to ceiling glass creates a completely ambiguous line between inside and out. The only cue of division is found on the floor; the living room is carpeted and the porch is concrete. Other than that the connection is perfect. The plan of the Loewy House perfectly shows many of the dualities I have been discussing in my recent posts. It is a perfect example of Mullet Architecture in that the front facade is private, has few windows and seems to hermetically shun it’s environment. The private garden facade is all glass and thus open to nature. The duality between order and chaos as mentioned previously with the Villa Mairea by Alvar Aalto is evoked in the relationship between the ordered house and the amoebous swimming pool. This whole house is about dualities.

Loewy House: The pool, disappearing glass, horizontal thrust.
Loewy House: The Pool, Mullet Architecture, order and primitivism.

The Natural Element: (This is a new connection device that was not in the previous post because I could not find a good example besides Frey.) An element of nature that is brought inside the house and integrated into the architecture is yet another powerful way of creating a connection with the outside. A wonderful example of this can be found in the house that Albert Frey designed for himself in Palm Springs in 1964. The house is built on a rocky mountainside and its most noticeable feature is the wall that separates the living room from the bedroom. It is not a wall at all but a giant boulder! The house was designed around the giant boulder. The rock is an integral part of the design. It also goes a long way in creating an ambiguity between the inside and the outside especially when used in conjunction with continuous glass curtain walls. All of the previous connection devices I have mentioned were aesthetic and mostly implied connections through a visual blurring of inside and out. At Frey’s house, the boulder is still nature. The house is connected to its environment by having a prominent piece of it in the house. The duality of protection and connection becomes more complicated here as well. The connecting element in this case is also the major protecting element. The rock anchors the house and gives the tenant a feeling of support and strength if any bad weather should strike. This is literally true because the boulder allows the house to be earthquake proof. Frey said; “..whenever there is a quake the house moves with the rock and there’s no damage.” The rock serves the dual purpose of protection from nature and connection with nature.

Frey House II: The boulder as natural element. Protection and Connection!

Albert Frey was a master at creating modern architecture that had a serious relationship with nature. Too bad, in the second decade of the twentieth century, most people are still choosing to live in houses that are cut off from the outside: Too much protection, not enough connnection.

Note: All the photographs in this post were taken by the amazing architectural photographer, Julius Shulman.

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