I can’t remember what exactly inspired me to buy the book In Search of Organic Architecture by David Pearson from Amazon–but certainly almost every page contains a thrilling example of fearless organic architecture, an abiding passion of mine. I started from the back: an unnamed white church on a dirt road somewhere whose roofline and bell tower reflect the hills on the islands in pious simplicity–we had recently visited Croatia, and the photo reminded me of the seaside monasteries. The Roman Catholic church at Paks, Hungary, page 138, reminded me of Corbusier’s Ronchamp. Two of Mike Reynolds’ Earthships (Habicht and Weaver), page 81–I love the total integration into the land. Falling Water is there on page 77. When I saw Bart Prince’s Price Residence in Corona Del Mar, I saw a house so similar in its wavy-shingled roof construction to my house and noted that the “muscular pattern of wood shingles” may post-date the Lencioni Residence (1984-89, it says, and our project was 1985-87).
I handed the book to Greg who flipped back a few more pages into the introduction and casually asked, “What do you think of this place?”
There was the Scot Zimmerman photo of the Lencioni Residence, the house we were sitting in; this was taken right after it was completed before the wysteria grew in. The caption praises the “adventurous ideas of the young clients”–I like that! I was 25 and fearless at the time we built this house with Art Dyson.
Here’s the sidebar from the book on page 25:
“Arthur Dyson’s professional training is grounded in the very roots of organic architecture. He first started as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright, then worked for Bruce Goff. Later, he returned to his native California to work for William Gray Purcell of the revered Purcell & Elmslie partnership–George Grant Elmslie having been the former chief draughtsman to Louis Sullivan.
“Since he set up practice in Fresno in 1969, he has produced a cascade of novel and sophisticated designs. He prefers to to describe his work as “reflexive” rather than “organic” as its focus is to try to understand a express the flux of life and its myriad relationships. According to Dyson, the resulting architecture is not only practical in terms of economy and environment, but possesses the vital spark of originality that integrates and exalts the worth of the individual within the surging field of life. The building is an interactive membrane between the dynamic forces seeking expression from within and those coming from outside.
“One of his most successful designs for a private house is the Lencioni Residence, completed in 1986 and situated in a forested glade in Sanger, California. It was the rhythm of the site together with the adventurous ideas of the young clients that helped Dyson to create the the design’s dramatic sinuous and fluid forms.
Some notes from the inside:
It’s quite likely Art told Pearson that “He prefers to to describe his work as “reflexive” rather than “organic” as its focus is to try to understand a express the flux of life and its myriad relationships.” That’s a useful term coined by Mark Hammons, who was Dyson’s attache and who co-authored The Architecture of Arthur Dyson with photographer Scot Zimmerman. Dyson generally denies and defies labels, claiming they are walls which separate people. Architects are good at building walls, he contends, but prefers to break them down where possible.
“According to Dyson,” Pearson writes, “the resulting architecture is not only practical in terms of economy and environment, but possesses the vital spark of originality that integrates and exalts the worth of the individual within the surging field of life.” That’s all good and legitimate; it just could use some unpacking: The building reflects the “flux of [a client’s] life,” and, in so doing, it’s practical. In a small space, I was raising two little kids; we entertained and also had privacy. Dennis used the office for his business, and I wrote upstairs. Just as the house embraced multi-use spaces, I raised kids and a garden, taught classes, and got my master’s. Dennis ran a successful business and ran cattle on the side while taking engineering classes and being present for his children. We always had time, still, to show the house to architects or students or potential clients. As peaceful as the house could be, it was a buzz of activity–but we were young.
Practical in terms of environment it was–we had intended to live off the grid (novel in the ’80s), and, for the most part, we did. with the southern orientation of the house and all the windows on that side, we had warmth in the winter and, with a canvas shade covering the redwood deck, we had protection from the sun in summer. Although we have a dual-pack, we rarely use either heat or AC.
Concerning “the vital spark of originality,” we love the house design. Every time I drive in there, I smile. Some people think it’s too weird–oh, well. The intent was not to be odd–all the decisions were made for practical reasons.
That the house “integrates and exalts the worth of the individual within the surging field of life”–wow. Because the home is unique, those who dwell in its embrace release, by definition, any pressure to conform. Integration is also intentional in this house as all the spaces flow together. Besides the office (designed apart purposely), there are no cells; this space is free.
When I read the phrase, “The building is an interactive membrane between the dynamic forces seeking expression from within and those coming from outside,” I think of the immediacy of the forest. I remember watching a bobcat or a heron in the early morning when I was up with a baby or foxes in the evening. I think of my toddlers playing in the creek in all weather, of the honeysuckle winding its way up the oaks. When the weather is fine, the deck is the place to experience the pulse of the forest–as Pearson writes, “the rhythm of the site.”
The book is divided into interesting chapters: Ancestral Archetypes, reaching back to time-honored ideas; Healing Architecture (more on that from me later); Harmony with the Land; Vernacular Wisdom (as in use-what-you’ve-got!); Cultural Identity (what we build should reflect our lives and culture, not somebody else’s; and Living the Dream. (here comes a pitch) If you want to live the dream, the Lencioni Residence is available now as a retreat rental. Call 559-787-2321 for availability and rates.