Brandes House Tour

July 18, 2020 1pm–4pm

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In 1952 Frank Lloyd Wright designed a unique Usonian house for Mr. & Mrs. Ray Brandes for their acreage on the Pine Lake Plateau. The low-slung, organic design features Wright’s innovative use of natural materials including: the heated red concrete floor, rose colored masonry walls and natural redwood. Full height doors and casement windows open the house to the out-of-doors. Wright used his characteristic hovering horizontal roof to connect the main house to a separate workshop, thus creating a carport. The house receives natural light throughout the day via the clerestory windows. This beautifully landscaped and impeccably preserved home is complete with Wright’s original furniture.

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Frank Lloyd Wright Brandes House tour recap:

Last fall, in connection with the FLW Past, Present & Future lecture presented at the Raisbeck Estate, a July tour of the FLW Brandes House, 1952, Sammamish, WA was announced. Subsequent to that all of our lives changed dramatically due to the rise of Covid-19 issues. After a good deal of discussion it was decided that we could responsibly reformat the tour to accomplish appropriate Social Distancing and still provide a meaningful educational experience for participants. As a result the event changed from a ‘tour and reception’ to a series of small group tours where visitors wore masks and utilized social distancing. (Some visitors came with family or small groups of friends – which further accommodated social distancing.) Nibbles and refreshment were refreshed through the day which helped to provide a celebratory feeling for the occasion. I was very pleased with the results and the overwhelming positive feedback from the group was that everyone felt safe protected and well treated – and grateful to get out to spend time doing something rewarding and fulfilling with their time.

The transition of ceiling planes from interior to exterior were discussed and visitors appreciated (some were astonished to learn) the subtle but important relationship between ceiling heights and the apparent “flow of space” and Wright’s engineering techniques that allow this “slight of hand” to be achieved.

Although he had been working on the ideas exemplified in the Brandes House since the late 1930’s, many of the ideas discussed during the tour and explored in person were articulated in Wright’s 1954 Book The Natural House. In this book Wright uses the first Jacobs House, 1947, Madison, WI and as the principal example to demonstrate his use of “gravity Heat” (we now refer to as hydronic heat) integral color floors and the use of locally sourced materials used naturally to exemplify his ideals. In the chapter The Usonian House II Wright used the Goestch_Winckler House, 1939, Okemos, MI to illustrate further refinements of his concepts. (Goetsch-Winckler) was an important reference point for the Brandes house and later influenced developments for the plans of the Tracy House, 1955, Seattle, WA (now Normany Park, WA) The utilization of natural concrete block at the Brandes House also influenced an important decision to change masonry materials for the Griggs House, Tacoma, WA after Chauncey Griggs visited the Brandes House under construction.

Simplicity reigned: elegant platters of fine cheese and crackers were accompanied by French rose’ wines and other beverages served next to the fountain on the east terrace. Everyone arrived in masks and while - maintaining proper “social distancing” - managed to have lively conversations with their fellow guests. We are grateful to the owners of this important historic house for allowing our group to visit their private home. The weather was perfect, and visitors had plenty of time to roam the gardens at their leisure. It would be difficult to imagine the day running more smoothly.

Guests were also encouraged to study Wright’s original presentation plan and perspective drawings, allowing them to understand more fully the development from concept through execution – including pencil notes (sketched alterations) in Wright’s hand that reflected conversation between Wright and the original clients. Much can be understood from this kind of comparison and this is more effectively conveyed during an onsite examination than can be accomplished in a simple written article or lecture.

A good deal of discussion ensued about Wright’s ideals about how the building ideally relates to its site including his emphasis on the horizontal line (“the line of repose”) and the feeling of expansion he achieved in this project by connecting the original “Workshop and office” (now the guest suite) under one continuous flat roof. Guests took their time to explore the property to enjoyed the many amenities of the carefully considered and well maintained landscape as well as interplay of the many architectural concepts we discussed by exploring the house and site at their leisure.

Careful study of the interior volumes and the planning for light – both natural and artificial – were discussed and experience by all who attended. Valuable time was time spend leisurely exploring the many concepts of special perception and space transitions that are best understood when one moves through the space in addition to spending time sitting in the space.

Shared space is another concept best understood by experiencing the transitions in person. Many people commented on their perceptions and how they changed from understanding previously gleaned from reading…

The Brandes House was also illustrated in Edgar Kaufmann (Fallingwater) and Ben Raeburn’s 1960 book Frank Lloyd Wright Writings and Buildings (chapter titled World Architecture, Destruction of the Box.)

I particularly enjoy a paragraph from the preceding chapter – The Awakened Citizen – where Wright, always willing to embrace radical thinking; “…his sense of self is now not only on but of the ground. Actually they belong to those who make the improvements and learn to use them as features of their own life; use them well in relation to other lives. It would make sound economic sense for the homeowner to surround himself with all such ideal expressions as might seem square with his ideal. In worldly situations, radical changes necessarily due to fundamental realizations of freedom would render obsolete most of his old educational paraphernalia: destroy nearly all the so-called “traditions” once cherished by his teachers. He knew this, but know he realizes it. Then to what may he hold fast as he finds himself able to go forward to new life in this new way on his own ground? Power is now become his own responsibility—power never dreamed of before until he thus began to live as a free man.” (The Malcomb M. Willey house, 1934, Minneapolis, MN is also referenced in this chapter. A series of articles regarding this fascinating building will be referenced in future articles posted on this website!)

Finally, on a beautifully sunny day it was good to appreciate the peace of this large site, its wonderful gardens and the sound of water splashing gently in the fountain on the east terrace. It was a GOOD DAY.

We are very grateful to the Owners John and Marsha Shyer for sharing this very special property with us!

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