Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Designer doghouse

In 1950, college professor Robert Berger contracted with Frank Lloyd Wright to design a house in San Anselmo, California, for his family. The plans arrived in 1951 and Berger built it himself, including construction of the furniture (see plans and construction photos here). After it was finished, Berger's 12-year-old son Jim decided to ask the architect if he would design a matching doghouse for his black lab Eddie. On June 19, 1956, the boy made his request in a handwritten letter (read it in its entirety here) and offered to pay for the design with money he made from his paper route: "I would appreciate it if you would design me a doghouse, which would be easy to build, but would go with our house. My dog...is 2 1/2' high and 3' long." Wright was by then busy with construction of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, so he asked Jim to contact him again in a few months. After a 2nd letter, a complete set of drawings arrived - without charge. Wright had sent plans for a 3' x 5' x 3' triangular structure with a hexagonal geometry similar to the main house (2nd image is rear view, interior photos here), and details typical of Wright's design, including an inconspicuous entrance and a low-pitched roof with a generous overhang. The architect suggested building the doghouse with scraps of the leftover mahogany and cedar, which the Bergens finally did in 1963. “Frankly, it’s the best story ever about Wright. People think he was this curmudgeonly old architect, but here he was, breaking down and doing something wonderful for a 12-year-old,” says Michael Miner, who has produced and directed a documentary about the structures Wright designed in California. Not only does "Romanza" include the story of the doghouse, it features Jim (now 68) and his brother building a new one using the original plans (1st image, photo of them both here, scroll down). Despite the fact that he asked for something easy to build, Jim - who became a cabinetmaker - says, "It was a nightmare." In addition, the filmmaker acknowledges that it suffers from a complaint common to many of Wright’s larger designs: “Yes, it does leak.” The 250lb finished product will be displayed during screenings that begin this month with a premier at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield on March 25th.

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