I have often wondered what my legacy would be or perhaps more directly what it should be. If the course remained unchanged I have no doubt that the house that I truly am would be lost to an idealistic vision of what Purcell has attempted to accomplish in me. He would rant, Purcell, about the houses of the time, filled with wasted spaces which were included only because society seemed to require them. Cluttered, he would explain that these spaces were thoughtlessly designed. I was to be the answer to them, the “breaking out of the box” as Frank (Lloyd Wright) described me. What I accomplished was socially transformative and unless I am able to break the veil of romanticism about me, what I achieved will be overwritten by idealistic and fabricated interpretations. I was good at what I was intended to accomplish and wish to be remembered justly and accurately.
Elmslie always called me the little joker, because my design laughed at social customs. When Purcell placed me on the plot, he put me further back than the other houses, which line up against the street in a continuous row. My side windows overlook the rear gardens of other houses, my rear view captures the lake and out front a garden was designed with a reflecting pool. All of this added up to me being an oasis for those who lived with me. I offered a life worth living, unrestrained and open to the world around me. It appears no one else could break out of the mold, still setting next to one another with small side windows, if any. Why do we have to be so rigid in where we are placed amongst each other? Instead I explore the land, offering views and light everywhere. Even though others haven’t followed, it is beyond doubt that they are unable to offer the depth and richness that I provide from my panoramic vistas.
Much is made of my living space on the first floor, often times the poetic tone ignoring the reality of what exists there. Purcell kept copious notes on his intentions for me, calling for “an open space where living can happen all over”. Elmslie thought he was a bit off when constituting my plan to have one grand room that encompassed many different functions, but that was the goal. Many times occupants of other houses sat facing the same center of the same room every day, never looking out of windows or changing their regiment. I was Purcell’s design retort to these cultural phenomena. But as time went on my plan continued to change and the once continuous floor morphed into two separated floor spaces that still held conversation with each other. The vaulted ceiling runs across the interior cosmos with the wall continuing unfettered, uniting the segmented living area. This maintained formality when social situations demanded it, while still showing the way forward to the truly open floor plans of the future. When tours were given, often times the guide would mistakenly call me an open floor plan, which while it may be the easier explanation, it is not true. Although there is no wall separating the living and dining room spaces, I am there. Do they not see my prow shape, forcing the visitor from the dining room down through the entryway to the living room? It is easy to claim the space is one, yet it isn’t just one space. I am both one space and two, allowing for the slow decay of those social constructs that Purcell found so infuriating. If I had been merely one space for living on the first level I would have been discarded as merely pedestrian and rudimentary. Instead, I was complex, profound in my response to being both multifunctional and adaptive while maintaining social understanding of space. That is what I need to be remembered for. Not the eventuality of completely open space that I do not possess.
Purcell complained that houses were thoughtlessly designed. Yet he wasn’t completely void of his own predispositions when designing me. One look at me and you can tell that I am a prairie style house. Many cast aspersions at me saying that my flat roof style is ill suited for the Minneapolis winters. They have a point, as my front cantilever had to be stabilized by the addition of steel reinforcements as indeed much of my roof had to be supported by steel. But looking at the roof detracts you from what is there. Consider my detail, the thought, time and effort that went into every aspect of the interior. Elmslie designed 80 unique windows for me, having uniformity in design but distinction and individuality throughout. Purcell carefully worked out the various colors, artwork and finishes to be used throughout me. Consider the quality of life achieved by those various details. To live with me was to have a quality, a richness of life where every experience is luxurious. These details add so much to life, with generous areas yet an economy of space creating luxury without waste. Life became no longer frivolous, but rather cultivated a depth and fullness to existence which elevated mere normalcy to exquisite. By design I was space transcending meager existence by making every aspect of life celebrated and joyous.
It is no small oddity to be spoken of as a masterpiece, a work of art; to be told that you are worth more than your contemporaries amidst a host of them. Then, while praising those qualities they claim make you great, they do not discuss attributes you possess, but rather those ideals and ideas you were intended to address. Is there anything more frustrating to the integrity of a legacy than when attributes, hard fought for and won, are displaced by mediations recorded and viewed oftentimes under the sole lends of the art critic? There is more to me than ascetics, more than simple artistic expression. I, as all, wish to be remembered, not in poetry and abstract terms for hopes and aspirations of my architect, but as I am. Remember me as I am, if what I truly am is of note.