The Subversive Origins of the Craftsman Bungalow

Charming, desired by many, and ubiquitous in the Pacific Northwest, the Craftsman bungalow is the quintessential Seattle home typology, yet its origins have a decidedly more contrarian nature than one would think given its pleasant demeanor. Granted, one’s attraction to any given building is typically founded on whether one finds its appearance pleasing, its utility supportive for its prescribed tasks, and it‘s construction and craft sufficiently robust – qualities that the Craftsman succeeds at with verve.  The bungalow is also noteworthy in that it is also one of our regions’ best representations of the ever-present, larger cultural forces shaping our built environment. These forces bear themselves out once one looks beyond the Craftsman’s ‘Northwest regional’ charms and compares it to the buildings it resolutely, if politely, stands in contrast to. As usual, our very own Capitol Hill provides among the best venues in Seattle to ponder the inherent contradictions of charming versus agitating exemplified by this building type.

The Red House, London, England (Wikipedia Image)

Tracing it roots to the English Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century and to such seminal works as the Red House by Morris and Webb (just outside of London), Arts and Crafts design and its progeny in the United States marked a massive shift in design theory that ultimately gave birth to modernism, albeit along a rather circuitous path few would have predicted. The designers of the Red House and other notable British architects of the time chose to reject the prevalent pedagogical reverence for classical antiquity with its emphasis on “universal” tenets of beauty, symmetry, balance, and proportion.  Instead they chose to organize spaces based upon use as well as on local cultural and construction traditions. This focus on the local, instead of the universal, led to buildings that looked less as if their origins were in ancient Greece and Rome, and more as though they were the stuff of local traditions and craft. While such vernacular building has existed for time immemorial, up until the Arts and Crafts movement, it had rarely (if ever) been embraced by either European or the nascent American architectural profession, whose pedagogy was founded upon classical traditions. By embracing the vernacular, many architects took a rather bold leap by acknowledging that non-professional/non-academic precedents actually had valid contributions to make.

The architects of the Arts and Crafts Movement shifted so-called good taste – and the taste of their clientele – towards the design of structures based upon the everyday, the serendipitous, and the utilitarian. To design based upon function was also, ironically, to become an underpinning of modernist design. The irony of the shared heritage is, of course, that modernism eventually fell into the trap of classical architecture – a desire to transcend national or cultural boundaries and create a universal architecture. End results aside, the premises of both the Arts and Crafts were provocative, even if the end results were at odds stylistically.

The Gamble House, Pasadena, California (Wikipedia Image)

In the United States, the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement trended to greater influence the farther one headed west. This makes a great deal of sense, as farther west the ties to European cultural traditions wane, and those of a more uniquely “American “ form take prominence. It’s a combination of geography over time. There is perhaps no better expression of the Arts and Crafts in the West than in the hyper-craftsman, American masterpiece by Greene and Greene -- the Gamble House, in Pasadena, California. Built in 1908-09 and a National Historic Landmark, the Gamble House exhibits many of the key features of the craftsman bungalow, the West Coast version of Arts and Crafts buildings., the In designing a home that emphasized the fine hand carpentry of Japanese ornamentation and building forms rather than the work of the mason, the Greene brothers created one of the truly great American buildings of the 20th Century.  It was a far cry from East Coast, Euro-centric establishment architecture. This emphasis on a fine carpentry and an exotic (Japanese-influenced) design approach had far reaching effects in the western states, especially in the Pacific Northwest where the traditional use and great availability of softwood lumber made the execution of Gamble House-inspired designs a natural progression of the Art and Crafts approach. Additionally, the long overhangs of the Gamble House proved to be welled suited as a precedent for providing sound weather protection in our soggy, maritime climate.

Private Residence, North Capitol Hill

Private Residence, Volunteer Park

A bit closer to home ,in the environs of Volunteer Park, sits a splendid array of these opposing design ideologies – providing an interesting laboratory of East (Coast) verses West (Coast), as it were. Pictured above, are a pair of photos of classically/traditionally inspired homes. Corinthian columns, dentils, the reddest of brick, all the details abound, but I would argue they are bit out of place in the Pacific Northwest. In Boston, Richmond, or Charleston homes such as this are the norm, and speak to that coast’s cultural heritage and proximate influences. More indicative of our region are the two homes pictured below. The top one is a fairly representative bungalow, and lacks the symmetry, clear massing, and classical details of the two former homes. In their place are rafter tails, large overhangs, and details based in the tradition of carpentry, not masonry. The lower example, while not as strictly “craftsman” as the other and hardly humble, was most certainly designed by an architect and follows the new professional traditions then blazed by the Greenes.

Private Residence, North Capitol Hill

Private Residence, Volunteer Park

The Arts and Crafts tradition influenced more than the Craftsman type. Its progeny includes Tudor-influenced structures such as the Red House, some of which are also be found on Capitol Hill. Those structures, however, are not based upon the local materials and traditions, and for that reason are not grounded in our region as is the beloved craftsman -- as subversive in its disposition as the city that has made it a favorite.

Harrison Modern -- Funky Mid-Century Modern that Speaks to Today

I have been riding my bicycle past the Harrison Modern for almost a decade now, always appreciative of its  design and one that I have been yearning to share for some time. Unfortunately, its predominant exposure faces north, making its photography less than ideal for a majority of the year and thus potentially depriving the building the adoration it so deserves. Imagine my great joy when, a couple of weeks back, I was walking past in the late afternoon -- camera in hand -- with the lighting just perfect for portraying the Harrison's many charms.

Located at the intersection of 12th and Harrison, the Harrison Modern is clearly a building whose designers were firmly rooted in mid-century modernism. Built in 1951 and designed by Victor Martin, the Harrison is not only exemplary of that era, but it also foreshadows current trends in architectural design in its use of layered cubic forms as exemplified by the work of such contemporary Dutch architects as MVRDV in the Edificio Celosía, pictured below. This stacking design approach, though all the rage now, was most certainly pretty avant-garde over 60 years ago, and continues to mark the Harrison unique among Capitol Hill's vintage buildings.

What I am calling a stacked or layered design is one where each floor (or grouped floors) is expressed individually and in a very like manner, without the more traditional base, middle, and top.  In both the Harrison and MVRDV example, this stacking is expressed not only by revealing the floor lines, but also by carving out voids for balconies that emphasize the volume of the floors above or below.  The Harrison's design captures this layered design approach to create cleverly framed outdoor spaces that exhibit the modernist desire forblending  indoor and outdoor space, including a generous upper floor balcony that must provide  a great view of the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains. On a more intimate scale, the north facing veranda of the Harrison is  crisply framed, forming a powerfully simple, elegant, and dignified facade along Harrison Street.

Along 12th Avenue, the busier of the two streets upon which the Harrison is sited, a more formal facade was in order and is fittingly more massive in temperament. The contrast, and utility between, these three elevations is achieved by the simple rotating of the lower and upper floors to best suite their orientation, an ease of effort to effect that has long captivated me. A powerful difference is accorded between the two floors; on the longer, northern elevation is the lower form which represents the void, and on shorter, eastern elevation, it is the upper form. A lower floor ying to the upper floor yang, as it were.

Contrasting the bold cubic forms above are the cascading stones and plantings that mark the entry ramp into the building. While on one level apparently quite different form the building's aesthetic, this little bit of landscape is actually within the spirit of its mid-century heritage, and provides a finishing touch to one of Capitol Hill's finest small buildings. If I squint a bit, I can imagine the Harrison at home in say, Palm Springs or Malibu, but am quite content knowing it is our neighborhood.

Create Communities of Opportunity

  On March 23rd, members of Schemata Workshop attended the Housing Development Consortium (HDC) 4th Annual Luncheon; HDC is a professional association and advocate for providing affordable housing in King County. Schemata Workshop is a sponsor and member of HDC and we are advocates for their cause. At the luncheon we were fortunate enough to have Angela Glover Blackwell, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of PolicyLink, as the keynote speaker. Her speech was so inspiring that we were compelled to take notes summarizing the key components to create communities of opportunity.

First, Angela described the St. Louis, MO community where she grew up and how the neighborhood children played together in the front yards and streets without fear of danger. A community where her mother anxiously watched, perched out on the front porch, as she made her way to the corner store for the first time. It was an economically diverse community of doctors and lawyers living next to the single parent receiving food stamps. It was a community that fostered opportunity.

However, not all of our society experienced the same upbringing as Angela and members of our society have children that run the risk of not succeeding to their full potential. As Angela said, in these economic times, this is the first time that children are not expected to have the same opportunities as their parents. In addition, she emphasized that one’s housing determines so much more than we think. It determines the type of education and healthcare one can receive; also it determines what types of jobs are available. Those who work on housing and housing policies are indirectly working on health, education and job policies as well.

After painting the picture of an excellent community and emphasizing the need and importance of successful housing, Angela began to identify the key components to create communities of opportunity.

Creating Communities of Opportunities – 5 steps

1. Place matters

  • Creating a sense of place contributes to a sense identity for the community


2. Access to reliable transit

  • Provides the opportunity to seek better jobs, health care, and education


3. Integrate income levels and promote racial diversity

  • Provides richness of life and opportunity


4. Sustainability

  • Provide all 3 components of sustainability – environmental, social, economic equity


5. Inclusion

  • Integrate yourself in the community to understand their needs


The key components to create communities of opportunity are not new ideas individually, but we often forget that we need to take into account all components to provide successful housing. Angela ended her speech with the statement “Don’t be nostalgic for a time that never was.” However, I think we can use nostalgia to create goals for achieving communities of opportunity.


Aging Your Way

Last year, Senior Services embarked upon an amazing series of community conversations which culminated in a Summit on Aging Your Way.  Over 250 people assembled to discuss seven themes that were prevalent in those community conversations.  Those themes were: Community Connections.



Health, Wellness & Fitness.

Local Economics.

Built Environment.

Lifelong Learning.

Arts and Entertainment.

[caption id="attachment_3560" align="aligncenter" width="687" caption="Jim Diers recounts Stone Soup story"]Jim Diers recounts Stone Soup story[/caption]


A personal highlight of the Summit was hearing Jim Diers remind us of the story of Stone Soup…how a little “magic stone” helped a village to create something truly delicious, in a time when people couldn’t imagine being generous.  He also reminded us that our society focuses too much on the deficiencies that people have.  And yet when we focus on the gifts and talents that each individual possesses, we can see them as full citizens of the community and the planet.

To me cohousing is the embodiment of celebrating each person’s gifts.  I was proud to present the concept of cohousing to this fantastic group of seniors who were actively engaged with their aging process.  Clearly cohousing was an idea that resonated with many to whom I spoke.

Not only did I host four 5-minute “mini-presentations” (more like a speed date than a presentation), I also facilitated two 20-minute workshops and reported on cohousing at the concluding plenary session.   It was a fast paced day, but one that was fruitful to all of us who participated.  Thanks to Senior Services (particularly Dori, Sabrina, and Joann) for planning such an action-packed agenda.

More information about the community gatherings, including an illustrated report from each one, can be found at the Aging Your Way website.

Project Profile: MCM Lakehouse

Schemata Workshop recently visited the MCM Lakehouse on Lake Sammamish for a construction tour.  This 1960s vintage home renovation project is nearly complete and the owners will be moving in next month. [caption id="attachment_3502" align="alignnone" width="687" caption="We started the tour at the driveway surrounded by the wooded site."][/caption]


[caption id="attachment_3501" align="alignnone" width="386" caption="From the driveway, the stairs lead to a courtyard surrounded by three glazed walls."][/caption]


[caption id="attachment_3503" align="alignnone" width="386" caption="The first space we entered was the two-story living room. The louvered wall and shoji screens above are original to the house."][/caption]


[caption id="attachment_3504" align="alignnone" width="687" caption="Around the corner from the living room is the kitchen. The steel moment frame provides support for the white quartz eating bar."][/caption]


[caption id="attachment_3505" align="alignnone" width="386" caption="Next, we ascended the original stairway with new treads that match the new second floor hardwood floors. The wood handrail is being replaced and will match the stair treads."][/caption]


[caption id="attachment_3506" align="alignnone" width="386" caption="The second floor bathroom is full of natural light. The red light fixtures are an unexpected color accent."][/caption]


[caption id="attachment_3507" align="alignnone" width="386" caption="The original closet drawers and shelves were able to be reused in the bedroom closets."][/caption]


[caption id="attachment_3508" align="alignnone" width="687" caption="Finally, we met outside near the lake. This vintage house now looks very modern!"][/caption]