Friday, July 20, 2012

Built Environment

On Wednesday evening, a friend of ours who is a Realtor invited us to a high-end open house at a local architectural treasure - the Fisher-Kahn house.  Located on a quiet residential street in a distinctly middle-class community, you would more likely expect to find the house nestled among the mansions of Philadelphia's wooded and very private Main Line neighborhood.

Beginning in 1964, Norman and Doris Fisher and architect Louis I. Kahn collaborated to design and build a single-family residence on three acres along "my" creek upstream of the preserve.  The house sits just upslope of the floodplain, but the property also extends across the creek into a small woodland on the opposite bank that is accessible by a wooden bridge also designed by Kahn.  The house is clad with tidewater cypress set above a foundation of local stone.
The house is comprised of two "cubes" set at a 45 degree angle from one another, separating the living, dining and kitchen areas from the bedrooms and baths.  The house is a residential example of the ordering principles that are a hallmark of Kahn's larger and better-known institutional projects.
Dr. Fisher died about a decade ago, but Doris continued to live in the house until 2010.  That year, she moved to Annapolis, Maryland, with her daughter and son-in-law, and donated the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation (the Trust).  The Trust is selling the property, but because the house retains a very high degree of architectural integrity, it is placing a preservation easement on the property in order to ensure the protection of its architectural values.

Kali and I could never afford the property (the Trust is asking in the high $400,000s), and we're not sure we'd want to live in a "museum" anyway.  Nevertheless, it was a treat to visit the house, which we had toured once before years ago when the Fishers owned it.  Besides, one of the conditions of the preservation easement is that the new owners allow public access at least once a year, so we'll still be able to get a periodic architectural "fix."


Carolyn H said...

Gorgeous place. I think I could move right in--assuming I win the lottery this week. I'm a little surprised to hear the trust is selling such a place. Why wouldn't they want to keep it?

Grizz………… said...

That's a pretty neat house. Oddly, for my mostly traditional leanings—I tend to really like all sorts of modern, eclectic, and one-of-a-kind house designs. Key for me, regardless of style, is how this home seems to fit right into its setting. Nice pix and post. (I do wonder what the benefactor would make of the Trust selling off her gift—"preservation easement" notwithstanding?)

Scott said...

Carolyn and Grizz: Mrs. Fisher knew when she made her gift that the National Trust would sell the house to another owner with a preservation easement attached. While the house is certainly impressive, it's not an especially unusual example of Kahn's work. The Trust would never be able to make the house "work" financially as a house museum, so they are doing the next best thing and protecting its architectural value while not assuming maintenance obligations. After all, the Fisher's lived in the house for decades after it was built, and they largely kept to Kahn's vision, so, as long as the Trust does some routine follow-up, the integrity of the vision ought to remain intact with new private owners.

packrat said...

Well, that house certainly appeals to my sense of design. The setting put me in mind a little of Fallingwater--a place I've never seen except for photos. I have visited Wright's other house/museum several times: Taliesin West. I absolutely love the latter's architectural style. There's a woman in California who has specialized in pre-fab homes she calls a Glide House. Pretty neat for manufactured residences.

Scott said...

Packrat: I've been to Fallingwater (and to Taliesin West). There are some similarities between the Kahn house and Fallingwater (e.g., lots of large windows looking out over a stream), but being in the Kahn house didn't bring to mind being in Fallingwater. The feelings are really different. For that matter, Taliesin West doesn't feel much like Fallingwater, either. Not to me, anyway.