Blog by Curator Emeritus Waverly Lowell
October seemed to be Domoto month. A wonderful exhibit in the Lifchez cases in the Library and a great program with family, scholars, and friends honoring the life and work of architect/landscape architect Kaneji Domoto.[i] Being on the East Coast at the time, I couldn’t attend the program but was lucky enough to visit two Domoto Houses in Usonia, a neighborhood in Pleasantville New York. My host Lynnette Widder, lives in Domoto’s Lurie House, [image 1], curated a 2017 exhibit on the Usonian Houses [ii]at the Center for Architecture, and is working on a monograph about Domoto’s work. Lynette was busy with the ongoing restoration of the house and preparing to give a tour to the New York chapter of Docomomo the following day, but graciously showed us around.
Usonia, 35 miles north of New York City, was founded in 1944, as a unique demonstration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision of a designed community. Wright created the site plan [image 2] and designed a few of the homes, the rest were designed by a number of Taliesin Fellows. Kaneji Domoto studied at Taliesin prior to being interned during World War II, then opened his own practice in 1948.[iii] His five Usonian houses demonstrate his integration of Wrights ideas, Japanese aesthetics, the natural environment, and affordability.
The 1949 Lurie House is the most compact of Domoto’s five Usonian homes. [image 3] Comprised of a single-level rectangular plan covered by a shed roof and surrounded by what is now a mature woodland, a surprising amount of light passes below the tree canopy entering the house through south facing windows in the living room and a number of strategic skylights. Responding to his client’s requirements, the kitchen counters were built low for the petit Mrs. Lurie (impossible with current codes) and a bi-fold wall constructed between the daughters’ bedrooms should they wish to share the space, which according to Widder, was never opened. [image 4] The house was constructed primarily of solid cypress for the exterior and plywood veneer for the interiors. The living room was anchored by a large stone fireplace and separated from the kitchen by a suspended cabinet. [images 5 & 6]
The owners of the Bier house then welcomed us dropping by for a look in. [image 7] Also designed in 1949, this is the largest of the five Domoto Usonian homes. Large and airy, the cantilevered living room is open on all four sides either to the interior or the woods and floats above the surrounding meadow. [image 8] This house too has skylights and the sectioned windows originally had areas of colored glass glazing. A stone fireplace separates it from the slightly raised kitchen and other public rooms. [images 9 & 10]Domoto was also responsible for the landscaping that included wrapping a pre-existing tree with a dining terrace to preserve the shade it provided.
[ii] F.L. Wright’s Usonian houses were smaller and more affordable than his sprawling Prairie style residences, containing little ornamentation, and lacking basements or attics. Also, a concept or manifesto about housing and living that Wright began crafting in the 1930s
[iii] Widder, Lynette. Five Usonian Homes: Kaneji Domoto. Pleasantville, NY: Center for Architecture, 2017.
EDA Digital and Collections Archivist, Emily Vigor, and Reference Archivist, Katie Riddle are teaming up to process the Aaron G. Green Collection. The collection contains correspondence, photographs, project records, and a wide-ranging assortment of drawings that document Green’s extensive career.
Born in Corinth, Mississippi in 1917, Green studied architecture at Cooper Union in New York City where he learned about the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Green was invited by Wright to join Taliesin as an apprentice in the early 1940s. His architectural career was interrupted by WWII, during which he served as a bombardier in the Pacific theaters. After the war, he moved to Los Angeles to work with industrial designer Raymond Loewy, before relocating north to San Francisco where he founded Aaron G. Green Associates in the early 1950s, a practice dedicated to service-oriented design.
During this time, Green acted as Wright’s West Coast representative, including seeing through the completion of the Marin County Civic Center after Wright's death. During his career, Green designed residential, commercial, industrial, municipal, judicial, religious, mass housing, and educational projects. Some of his well-known projects include The American Hebrew Academy (1999), The Marin Civic Center in San Rafael (1960-1966), Aaron Green Residence at Nine Oaks (1954), St. Elizabeth Seton (1987-2000) and both mausoleum and chapel additions to the Chapel of the Chimes Memorial Park in Oakland, CA (1955-1997).
This collection contains 200 cartons of manuscript and photographic material as well as over 700 tubes of rolled drawings. Emily and Katie are jointly working on processing the manuscript materials before tackling the drawings. During this process, they are re-housing the collection into acid-free folders and containers to preserve the materials. Once the processing is completed, they will finalize a project index, file list, and finding aid which will be available online to researchers. Look below for a sneak peek at some of the amazing projects in this collection: